Christmas always started with the gathering of family and friends. We came from our various homes to my parents. We no longer were those more than you can handle three sons. Okay we were still hard to take as grown men. But we gathered from our various places. We would once again unite and become one as we once were.
The food was busy being prepared and if you were not careful you would find yourself peeling potatoes or snapping beans. The children were being spoiled by a grandfather with his game of Oreo checkers. Where you played with Oreos and when you jumped and captured an Oreo you got to eat it. Never before have our children shown such concentration as they played a game of checkers. Games of cards would begin. Discussions of theology and politics would begin. Sometimes the conversations about politics would become as heated as the game playing.
We would read ‘The Night Before Christmas’ on the night before Christmas followed by the opening of one present. But on Christmas morning before the first present could be opened we all sat around the living room and the youngest child who could read would open the family Bible. They would read the Christmas story from the Gospel of Luke. It was a solemn occasion followed by the joy of presents. One present at a time would be open. And then the obligatory hug was exchanged between the giver and receiver and the process repeated again and again. The grandparents would have many presents not necessarily to spoil us but to receive the hugs from the children. Even the macho grown men were obligated to hug each other and say thank-you. It was a love feast.
Afterwards it would have looked as though some thief had ransacked the house looking for diamonds as the wrappers and boxes were all over the place. It was abundance of presents but also of joy. One year one brother received a movie camera and from then on would film every transaction. He would even want us to watch it later that day. I never did. I said I had already lived it “this morning” I would say.
A few hours later we would have a meal fit for the gods themselves. Others would join us throughout the day. My parents would always have presents for them too. But before the feast we all gathered and circled the feast and held hands and usually the oldest would pray. Occasionally they would insist one of the two ministers pray. It was with dread when it was grandmother’s time to pray. We listened as grandmother prayed and prayed and prayed. Jesus was more than thanked for the food and the good years we were all having and would have. The smells of the food wafting into our noses and the would cause the grandchildren to shuffle their feet but we all endured and were never more thankful to Jesus than when we heard those words In Jesus Name. Although once or twice I think to show us who was in control grandma would continue even after those words. But whenever she ended it was as after the National Anthem at a sporting event an almost joyous shouts of not let’s play ball but let’s eat.
Plates were never large enough. Tables were never big enough. Pants were never large enough. The praise of the food would resound in my mothers’ and others ears for the fine dishes they had prepared. It would show the Greek Gods what a bacchanalia should look like. We were grateful and yet never completely realized these were moments we would never be able to create later. It was the magic of good things and family shared with each other and the world about us. But like all shows it must come to an end. Divorces, deaths, distances, drugs, drama, all would take its toll on these moments. We each have our family gatherings on Christmas now. Our memories now float in the clouds of unknowing. But somewhere deep inside of us live those moments of jubilation of an unclouded day. It is in the quiet of the night in the dark, I find myself looking into the stars of the heavens and am reassured that those Christmases can never be taken away. They exist in the eternal stardust of time. It is then I can smile in the dark and know life has good.