I’ve been visited this week by the spirits of Christmases past.
An early memory I have is of Christmas 1955. We – mom, dad, my sister Sue and I – were living on the top floor of an old mansion converted to apartments. The week before Christmas, a measles epidemic swept through our small town. Measles was serious business ... a child my age had already died from it. Sue and I both got sick, and shared a bed in a windowless room, since light hurt our eyes. What I remember is hushed voices, doctor’s visits, and mom sitting anxiously beside our bed keeping vigil. During the worst of it, I slept round the clock. I cannot imagine the anxiety my parents must have felt, but I do remember the glad sound of relief Mom expressed when I finally opened my eyes, the fever broken and the worst of it over. A day or two later – it must have been Christmas eve – Mom and Dad each picked one of us up out of bed, saying they had a surprise for us. When they carried us into the darkened living room, there stood a Christmas tree glowing with lights and tinsel. How beautiful! The spirit of that Christmas was the spirit of joy and gratitude. Just as Advent leads to Christmas, the hard wait was over, the celebration could begin.
My parents tried hard to hang on to the Dutch tradition of keeping the
secular and the sacred as separate celebrations. St. Nicholas Day in
early December was the day for giving small gifts, while Christmas was a
spiritual celebration. But it was a losing battle. So for a few years,
we’d do our gift giving a week or so before Dec. 25. Gradually the
gift-giving migrated to Christmas Eve. That evening, we’d do what was
rarely done: we’d eat a supper of finger foods in the living room –
chunks of sausage, pickled herrings, cheese, potato chips and other
treats, followed by the gift opening. It was our own special tradition.
Truly gezellig (cozy) as the Dutch would say. I’m not sure which year
this Spirit of Christmas Past comes from – perhaps about 1963. It was 5
o’clock, and we were preparing bowls of snacks and setting out the
candles for our special time, when there was a knock on the door. We
looked at each other in horror – it couldn’t be Mr. V, could it? Mr. V, a
travelling salesman and a fellow immigrant, made periodic unannounced
visits to our home, always at suppertime so he could be invited to join
in our meals. I am ashamed to say now that we teens called him Freddie
the Freeloader. Not only did he like to eat, but he also loved to talk,
and talk, and talk. Sure enough, Mr. V it was. We told him what was up,
but he didn’t take the hint, so he joined us for our special feast,
amended by hastily warmed-up soup and a few sandwiches. At the time, I
was well and truly ticked by this visit, which lasted about an hour too
long, in our opinion. Now, years later, visited by the spirit of that
Christmas, I think about the old familiar story, Mary and Joseph asking
for lodging. My teenaged heart would have closed the door to Mr. V, but
thank God, the Spirit of Generosity and Hospitality implanted in my
parents’ hearts was bigger than that. There was room at our table for
When Al and I got married and had our first child, we
moved west to Edmonton, far from home and family. For a few years, we
tried to go back to Ontario for Christmas, but that became too much. Our
friends became stand-ins for family.
May the spirits that live in the
message of Christmas – the spirits of joy, gratitude, hospitality,
generosity, hope, expectation, and so much more – bless you as you
celebrate the coming of the Gift of Love this year.