As many of you know, I live in South Texas. Earlier this year, we got to experience something that might have been a once-in-a-lifetime event; it snowed in our area of Texas. Yes, we occasionally get a good cold snap and may get a wintry mix, but this was snow that fell and accumulated. Those in San Antonio saw 6-8”, in some areas more. In my neck of the woods, we saw just over three inches. I know, if you are reading this and you live up north, you may laugh at three inches, but to us South Texans, it’s a big deal.
As photos are being snapped and snowballs are being made from what little snow could be gathered, It occurred to me that this was a memory in the making. Carolyn, myself, and our kids were in the process of mentally recording something we would replay in ten or twenty years. I love being cognizant of these little moments. So much of my life is played out in reruns in my mind. To be consciously aware of being in the moment of creating a memory is exhilarating. It enables you to make quick decisions that help the memory more poignant.
This is what I want to talk to you about this week; creating the memories for the future through what we are doing today drawn from what we experienced growing up. I have so many memories of Christmas’ long ago, as I know you do. But are we taking those memories and telling those stories to our children? Do they know what it was like for you growing up during Christmas time?
I know that Christmas may still be three weeks away, but for moment earlier this year, we were creating a memory that would last a lifetime. There is much more to this story, like the power outage for two days and neighbors pulling together to help one another. I’ve written in detail about our experience. You can read it here.
Memories of Christmas Past
I grew up in Southern California. This meant that if you wanted a White Christmas, you had to drive up into the San Bernardino mountains. Yet, year after year we would watch the snow line dip lower and lower and prayed that it would fall far enough to get a few flakes at the house. To my recollection, it never did. So, I don’t have a story of, “that one Christmas when…”
The stories I do have were of family, faith, and traditions. There are so many that I would have to write a series of blogs to cover every single one of them. I will hit the highlights and move on.
The first thing was the Christmas tree. I remember going to a Christmas tree lot to buy our tree. The sights and smells filled that young child with excitement. I don’t know what they do to trees nowadays, but I don’t think they smell quite like they did back then. I remember coming home to decorate it; always with a miniature train rolling on its tracks around it and Carpenters Christmas Portrait playing on the 8-track. My father loved trees, trains, and Karen Carpenter.
Christmas’ in the Bray family were pretty hectic. Many houses to visit, each with presents, food, and holiday cheer. It began Christmas Eve at my mother’s aunt’s house. They called it an Open House. It was my mom’s side of the family get-together. I remember virgin Pina Coladas, and I remember that one time my colada was not so virgin, but that’s my little secret.
After the Open House, we would go home and wait for Santa. My sister and I would listen to the Muppet’s Christmas, also on 8-track, waiting for that knock on the door. In our home growing up, we did have a fireplace, but Santa did not come down the chimney in the middle of the night. He came to the door to deliver presents. And every year, my mom would send my dad out to get milk. And every year my dad would miss Santa’s visit. My sister and I never caught on.
Early the next morning, we would pile up in the station wagon and head to my grandma’s house. We ate breakfast there and opened gifts from the family there, about 10-12 of us. After those festivities, we would head over to my grandparents on my dad’s side house for lunch and presents there. Then we would end up back at my mom’s aunt’s house to open stockings.
These stockings were the highlight of my Christmas’ growing up. These were no ordinary stockings. They were basically laundry bags, and they were filled with items my aunt and grandmother collected throughout the year. They had a closet they would fill with items such as books, school supplies, candies, canned food that we liked, T-shirts, and if we had a hobby, you could guarantee you would receive plenty of things to keep you busy for a while. Then they would wrap each item and then put them in these ginormous stockings.
This tradition continued into adulthood; my wife nearly fainted when she received her first Christmas Stocking. For a while, our kids got to experience the pandemonium. After we moved back to Texas, that all stopped to an extent. My grandma, the kid’s great-grandma, still sends out gifts that cost my mom an extra bag charge when she visits each year.
Those memories stick with you. I’m sure most of you have similar stories out there, even as you read my account, the theater screen of your mind is replaying your memory reels of long ago. The real question is, what are we doing with those memories? Are they remaining in the past, or are we using those experiences to keep traditions alive today?
Living Christmas Present
As I have grown older, I’ve realized that traditions don’t have to remain the same, they can evolve as the child you were, becomes the adult you are. Times change, and people change. However, we must not let anything keep us from enjoying the here and now. Just because I don’t give my kids the same size stocking I grew up with does not mean that we cannot have as much fun at Christmas time as I did growing up. It’s just a different kind of fun.
The family I grew up with is 1200 miles away, I don’t have those two-day celebrations anymore, but what I do have is that my mom comes to visit every year. During her early December visits, we celebrate Christmas. These are gifts from my mom and the California family. Then, come December 25, we celebrate Christmas again. So, the tradition my kids are growing up with is that they celebrate Christmas twice.
The one adjustment I am trying to make with my kids is that we try not to focus so much on the getting as the real reason Christmas is celebrated. The church we attend has a Christmas Eve service; we attend every year. Songs of remembrance that Jesus Christ was born, the One who would grow up and save humanity through his death on the cross and resurrection three days later.
I also make attempts to read the Christmas story every year. The story we all know and love of the pregnant Virgin Mary and her husband Joseph. They had to sleep in a stable because the inn was booked solid because everyone was in town for the census. Then in the middle of the night, she goes into labor while shepherds in the field receive an angelic message saying that this baby, the one prophesied about, was being born. The baby Jesus was born, and everyone marveled at him. The songs we sing are memories they had of their baby being born. A tradition I am trying to keep going so our kids will always remember.
It seems that from the Friday after Thanksgiving, to the day after Christmas we tend to lose sight of those truths. It’s all about what we want and what we are going to get, and hardly ever about what we want to give. I will admit, I get lost in it too. I, just like everyone else, can’t wait to see what is under the tree with my name on it. Although with four kids those gifts are few if any. But that’s what Carolyn and I have agreed upon, to give what we can for our kids and not so much for each other, but that’s a whole other story for another blog.
Creating a Christmas Future
So, what are you doing this year that will have your children saying, “remember when” when they talk about being a kid to their children? You will find that it is the little things they will never forget. Those silly little dollar store gifts that were in my stocking as a kid made an impression on me that still last until this day. The things you find for your family to do will be imprinted on their minds and hearts far into their adulthood. It could be an unexpected snowfall, a planned trip to see Christmas lights, or a quiet evening at home with hot cocoa and Christmas music; it doesn’t matter as long as the family is part of it, as long as your heart is in it, and as long as you keep on doing it.
If there is any takeaway you could have from this week’s blog is that to remember that Jesus is the real reason we celebrate this holiday. I encourage you to attend a Christmas service in your local community. Take the family and discuss what Jesus’ birth meant for this world, and even more, discuss what his death and resurrection mean. That is the true meaning of Christmas, and the ultimate gift any of us will ever receive.