Christmas Memories. - A Light Shines in the Darkness
What are your favorite memories of childhood Christmases?
While mine may differ from yours in the details, I imagine that most of us have some similar memories:
Opening the best gift (for me, usually a Barbie).
Eating lots of sugar (my Mammaw’s Cherry Delight!).
Singing Christmas songs (my favorite: “A Rootin’ Tootin’ Santa Claus.” Tennessee Ernie Ford. Google it.).
Most of us probably idealize our childhoods to some extent. And I think that’s okay. Everyone deserves to hold on to happy memories, moments we can return to when life as an adult is challenging, or just exhausting.
As you may have done, Harry and I very consciously created some Christmas traditions with our children. Decorating the tree as a family. Watching Charlie Brown and The Grinch for so many years that we now know every line. Opening our stocking gifts after church on Christmas Eve. Of course, those traditions changed as our kids grew older. But I’m sure that they sometimes remember, and that the memories make them smile.
Special Christmas memories are important. They can be comforting—especially if we carry some painful ones as well.
My father was an alcoholic. He mostly drank on the weekends, but often on other special days—Christmas, birthdays, Father’s Day. Any time the whole family got together to celebrate something. And so, too often, the day revolved around him—his mood, his sobriety.
If your life has been touched by alcoholism, you know exactly what I mean.
We always went to our Aunt Maxine’s for supper on Christmas Eve. Mixed in with the excitement and anticipation of opening presents and singing around the piano was the anxiety of not knowing when or if Dad would show up, how drunk he’d be if he did, whether there would be an argument or a wall of silence between our mother and him.
And of course, this carried over into Christmas morning. Would he be hung over? Or drinking? Or crabby because he was sober?
Living with an alcoholic has been compared to walking on eggshells. You do everything you can to keep things calm, to keep from breaking the illusion that your family is fine. That it’s just the same as what you imagine other families are like.
And so you try to disappear, to avoid drawing attention to yourself so you don’t get sucked into an awkward or frustrating conversation—equally hard whether you’re being criticized or being told you’re loved—something you may never hear when the person is sober. You want desperately to avoid any conflict, to avoid doing anything that might set off an argument, and ruin the day. And often, that means you have to smile and laugh, and pretend everything is just fine, no matter what happens. For a child, carrying both that anxiety and the excitement of Christmas is difficult, and confusing.
And so, I choose to focus on happier memories. And I choose to make beautiful memories with my own children and grandchildren. But I share these painful experiences with you because you—or someone you know—may be living them now. Or maybe you grew up with them, and—like me—have learned to let the joy of Christmas shine so brightly that the shadows are mostly hidden by the Light.
Most importantly, I share my story as a reminder that Christmas is not a Hallmark movie for everyone, though our culture constantly tells us it should be. Even followers of Jesus, who know Christmas is so much more than gifts and decorations and parties, can struggle with memories of Christmases past.
And so…hold on tightly to every blessing of this season, friend! Let the mystery and wonder of God’s sweet Love fill your heart. Let the Light shine into the darkest places in your life.
And if there’s a “Rootin’ Tootin’ Santa Claus” somewhere in your childhood, welcome the memory! Sing, laugh, and praise the One who is in all of your yesterdays, and todays, and tomorrows.
Merry Christmas, and all the blessings of the season to you and yours,