The Things That Really Matter
In December 1981, as I attempted to prepare for the holidays, I became increasingly dissatisfied. With three young children, the house seemed too small, and the constant Christmas advertising encouraged me to long for things I knew we couldn’t afford.
Despite these feelings, I wanted to make the season special for my family. The local historical society had restored a 125-year-old house, once the home of the town’s doctor, and had decorated it as it would have been decorated for Christmas in 1860. We decided to take our children on the tour.
The little house had two bedrooms downstairs, but one had been rented out to help meet the family’s expenses. The family’s five children had all slept upstairs in the loft. All the cooking had been done over an open fireplace in the basement, and the clothes had been washed by hand. Each person had had only two or three outfits to wear.
As I looked around, I realized how thrilled the owners of this home would have been with our three large bedrooms, our indoor bathroom, our furnace, and our electric stove.
The home was carefully decorated with strings of popcorn and cranberries, homemade cookies, and a hand-carved creche. As I stood by the fire, a still-warm gingerbread man in my hand, my thoughts traveled even farther into the past. I remembered the mother who had spent the very first Christmas in a stable, with only a manger for her child’s bed. I believe she was content, knowing she was where her Heavenly Father wanted her to be, with her newborn son safe in her arms and her husband at her side. Because, after all, those are the things that really matter.
A Time of Enrichment
Mary and Martha, sisters of Lazarus and friends of the Savior, have served Christian women as symbols of the contemplative and the active life. Mary provides a comforting example of the need for contemplation. There may be no more important season of the year to follow her example than at Christmastime.
I have found two ways of structuring quiet moments into the Christmas season. One of these involves our ward, as we come together as the Lord’s family to pay homage to him. Traditionally, on the second Sunday in December, we have a special spoken message as well as a musical presentation which usually involves soloists, choir, and instrumentalists. It is a serious yet joyful occasion during which we contemplate Christ’s first coming as the babe of Bethlehem and, as with the primitive church, reflect on his second coming. The music is selected to represent the most mature and refined aspects of our spiritual growth and is in a very real way a gift to the Lord.
Privately, as a family, we also plan for contemplative times. On one evening we gather our children together to read Luke’s timeless account of Christ’s birth, sing carols around the piano, and read stories (Truman Capote’s “A Christmas Memory” and Dylan Thomas’s “A Child’s Christmas in Wales” are two of our favorites). In addition, my husband and I always plan one or two evenings during which we use music to help us sustain our spiritual contemplation of Christmas. We choose one of several large musical works (such as Bach’s Christmas Oratorio or Handel’s Messiah) and listen as we read the text. When we add a warm fire to these quiet moments, we create an atmosphere that encourages the Spirit to enter our home at this special time of year.
Los Angeles, California
Sharing the Season *
Our family has a tradition that helps us begin the Christmas season with a spirit of giving. During a family home evening near the end of November, we carefully select a family to share our Christmas with. Then, beginning twelve days before Christmas Eve, we leave a gift or treat on their porch every evening. A note is placed with the first gift explaining that two rings on the telephone will announce the arrival of a gift on the following eleven evenings.
We do not reveal who we are, so delivering the gift without being observed is a real challenge. We’ve had some exciting close calls.
When we shared a Christmas with nonmember neighbors it was gratifying to note how our feelings changed toward them. The year we shared with a family whose mother was terminally ill became particularly fulfilling when a member of their family commented that they didn’t need to do extra cooking for the holidays: someone was anonymously helping. It became even more special when the father of that family stood in testimony meeting and thanked whomever had done this service. We all sat trying to look innocent, but we were happily bursting inside.
It takes extra time and effort to keep up this tradition, but it’s worth it! Like nothing else, it helps to make our Christmas season a spiritual experience, especially when we see our children learn the joy of sharing with others.
Name withheld by request
Year-Round Christmas Spirit
While I was growing up, our family focused our Christmases on the Savior and the blessings that his life and mission brought us. Instead of pictures of Santa Claus and reindeer, Mother displayed pictures of the Savior. We traditionally held Christmas Eve devotionals, where we read accounts of the Savior’s birth from the New Testament and the Book of Mormon. We shared testimonies and sang Christmas carols. We commonly shared plates of cookies, Swedish tea rings, clothing, and toys with other families, often anonymously.
But Christmas wasn’t the only time we centered our thoughts on the Savior. A picture of the Savior hung in our living room in a prominent place. Pictures of our temples and latter-day prophets were hung throughout our home. Dad printed favorite scriptures and had them framed. In family home evenings and at other special times our parents shared their testimonies, and a love for the Savior and his latter-day prophets was planted in our hearts. And throughout the year, our parents shared their time and means with those around them. The spiritual feeling of the Christmas season became a daily and monthly experience.
Now, as a mother in my own home, I reflect upon the legacy my parents provided me. I realize that we need to focus on the Savior continually. By doing this, we can extend the spirit of Christmas throughout the year.