Though my mother loved Christmas decorations and the legend of Santa Claus, she was clear with her children about the true meaning of Christmas. The holiday would not pass without the telling of the holy story.
That brings me to my favorite childhood Christmas memory of all.
One of the words I use to describe my mother is resourceful. She used what she had to run our household, and she made sure that we children did the same. Money was scarce, and we didn’t ask for much. Perhaps that is what made Christmas so special for us. After a full year of not asking, we received something.
Mom recycled before it was trendy. Back then, most moms collected items and stored them for future use. They weren’t being “green”; they were being plain ol’ thrifty. It was the usual way of life.
For my mom, it was a necessary way of life. And when her children needed materials for artwork, she had a ready supply of paper, pencils, and crayons. So, when Christmas came around, Mom had enough in her closets to keep us busy with Christmas projects.
One of those projects was a nativity scene. Mom could not enjoy her Christmas without one.
I don’t remember a time when I did not know about Jesus — how he was born, lived, died, and did not stay dead. We had Bible storybooks to read and a mother who would share the stories and make sure we prayed every night before we went to sleep:
Now I lay me down to sleep,
I pray the Lord my soul to keep,
If I should die before I wake,
I pray the Lord my soul to take.
God bless Mom and Dad and Lynne and Marvin and …
Yes, we were all well versed in the story of Christmas. Mom made sure of that. Santa brought the presents, but Jesus Christ was born.
Sandra and I were early elementary school age when Mom first gave us the nativity scene project. She settled us down at the kitchen table with a shoebox, her bins of scrap, and the Christmas story.
We got to work. Mom hovered, but the only thing she contributed to the task was answering our requests for ideas, like what to use for hay and how to make the angels fly.
Sandra looked up to me, so she accepted my creative advice, though with a hint of frustration as I “fixed” her work. She understood that I wanted the best for Mom, and when I demanded a re-do of the three wise men, she did it without complaint.
We brought in grass from our lawn and collected rocks and spools of thread for the animals. We drew the story characters, cut out the images, and used our knowledge of paper dolls to make Mary, Joseph, and the other worshippers kneel or stand.
The angel was our masterpiece, but it kept falling to the stable’s roof. Mom did her magic, and the angel held forth in glorious flight.
We drew a smile on the Baby’s face and laid him on cotton and grass. It was a reverent moment as we placed Jesus in the manger. We knew the story: He was God who had come to Earth.
The finishing touch was the star of Bethlehem. We cut paper to shape, colored it yellow, attached it to the stable with a stick and tape. Mom gave us a smile that let us know she was pleased. She transferred the Christmas nativity scene from the kitchen table to the center of the living room shelf. She kept it there until the New Year began and then stored it with the other treasures her children had created.
It is hard to convey why I cherish this Christmas memory as my “Number One” from childhood. The memory seems uneventful and straightforward.
Yet it is my favorite because of the three persons who shine through it: Mom, Sandra, and Jesus. They were the constants at a time when life was harsh for my family.
- I was in awe of Mom. I trusted her with my body, soul, and spirit. Though she would one day forsake her children, my early childhood is full of happy Mom memories.
- Sandra was my best friend. Close to the same age, we were always together sharing space, clothing, laughter, and tears. We leaned on each other even into adulthood, as we made our way through the disappointments of life.
- Jesus was my hope for better things. That’s what Mom kept telling me with every nativity scene, bedtime prayer, and dinner blessing, and despite our family difficulties.
Where are they now? Mom is spending her twenty-second Christmas in heaven. Sandra and I live in the same town, and she will be hosting the family Christmas gathering.
And Jesus? He is no longer just the main character of a wonderful story Mom would share. I’ll be celebrating him on Christmas Day — as I do every day — as my Savior and Lord.