The following post was written by my good friend Annie Grevers. Annie and I swam together in college but swimming was just many of the things that bonded us as friends. We soon found out that our love for San Antonio, the Spurs, Jane Austen and Anthropologie were really the foundations of our friendship. I was so excited when she agreed to do a guest post here at BM. Annie blogs over at anniecdote! Stop by her little corner of the internet to read more of her stuff!
Chandlers take Christmas seriously. I grew up thinking it was normal for the entire family to rush to the garage to witness the descent of Christmas decor from the attic. We have a home video of my dad and brother handing boxes down the ladder. The camera pans around the garage to children growing giddier as they sense the Christmas bomb ticking, about to explode all over our house. The credit must go to my parents, who added substance to the Christmas bomb over the years. They knew how to inject enthusiasm into every part of Christmas and quickly cement each chapter of the process into our book of Christmas traditions.
Father and Mother Christmas
Here’s the shortlist of our family Christmas traditions:
~Watch every version of A Christmas Carol. The 1938 Reginald Owen version, the 1951 Alistair Sim copy, 1970’s musical with Albert Finney, 1983 Mickey’s Christmas, and our favorite- the 1984 adaptation starring George C. Scott (to be watched on Christmas Eve).
~Indulge in each aluminum tin filled with Christmas calories (Little Debbie trees, Mom’s magic cookie bars, Mom’s fudge, the inevitable gift of variations of caramel corn, Costco’s holiday cookie assortment (Kirkland, where would we be without you?), and decorated gingerbread cookies.
~A ginger bread house was masterfully constructed by Mom. We four kids spent an afternoon decorating it and had an odd gingerbread house demolition party on New Year’s Day. Really, we just competed to see who could grab the biggest chunks of the candied house. I did not care that the m&m sidewalk and gum drop bushes had been sitting out for almost two months. As a kid, sugar was sugar. Little Annie stole pieced of exterior decor throughout the Christmas season. Forever a sneaky, sugar burglar.
~Decorate every nook and cranny of the house. The Dickens Village is a mini-town of porcelain plugin houses my mom started collecting long ago. Each year or two a new house would be added to the village. It was a real honor to get to set up the fake snow blanket and situate the Dickens Village, porcelain Scrooge and all. Illuminating the village for the first time was as ceremonial as Chevy Chase’s grandiose Christmas light reveal.
~The Glory of Christmas. A 3LP box set my folks happened upon in the 70s, not knowing it would become the soundtrack to every Chandler Christmas. If you have a phonograph, this is a necessary addition to your record collection.
Dad’s Famous Chili and tamales on Christmas Eve (if this was messed with, Santa probably would not come). Tamales from south San Antonio are hard to beat.
~It’s A Wonderful Life on the 23rd of December, at the peak of Christmas anticipation. I fall deeper in love with Jimmy Stewart/George Bailey every time I watch it. If you’ve never seen it, your heart will grow five sizes watching this flick. It’s that good.
~The Snowman. The beautifully-sketched, animated tale of a Snowman coming to life and befriending his creator. It’s silent, but the music somehow communicates all you need to know.
~Santa never disappointed. He displayed our gifts in the living room, with a masterfully block-lettered name tag and glitter surrounding all of the goods he laid out in Martha Stewart fashion.
I am sure I did not cover all of our traditions, but that there is enough to expose the absurd breadth of our Christmas observances. It does crack me up to watch Chevy Chase in Christmas Vacation, because some of his mannerisms remind me of my dad (please don’t take offense, pops). Not Chevy’s air-headed side, but his crazed faces and zeal for certain parts of the holiday.
Joy. It’s found all over the country during the Christmas season, and those of us who know it hate to think of anyone without it during the holidays. One of my oldest, yet most vivid memories is of being a part of the Elf Louise project in San Antonio. Elf Louise collects toys and assigns volunteer Santas to deliver presents to needy families in San Antonio. My dad dressed up as Santa and we were his elves. I remember being bummed that they were out of elf costumes for us to wear. Delivering gifts to kids who only received one present, without the sparkle layout on a plush couch, affected me. My brother continued the tradition and donned the Santa suit when he was fresh out of college. A photo was taken of him giving a gift to a little girl and her face is filled to the brim with delight, completely surprised with joy.
I never needed a bounty of gifts. I grew accustomed to it, but so many people grow accustomed to nothing. I grew up hearing Jesus was the perfect gift, but I do not know that I ever stomached that simple, profound lesson in my youth. Santa showing up at that little girl’s house with a present is a fluffy, bearded metaphor for God showing up in our lives. We may have been used to life without Him and understood others had faith in their lives, but we got along fine without it. And that was fine. Then he hands us the gift of his son. He says, “Here. He’s yours. For you to enjoy. You can shelf him. Or welcome him with overwhelming joy. He loves you so much. He will die for you. Even if you put him on the shelf. He’ll love you from the shelf, until you’re ready to receive his enduring love.”
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
I’m not sure what the mood was like in that stable 2,000 years ago. I’d guess there was a pulsating joy in the air. We could argue all of the Christmas traditions I rattled off were distractions from celebrating the birth of Christ, but I’d say Jesus would have a great time at his birthday party. Love, Himself, is personified in each and everyone’s Christmas season. C.S. Lewis powerfully describes God’s love in his book, The Four Loves:
“God, who needs nothing, loves into existence wholly superfluous creatures in order that He may love and perfect them. He creates the universe, already foreseeing – or should we say “seeing”? there are no tenses in God – the buzzing cloud of flies about the cross, the flayed back pressed against the uneven stake, the nails driven through the mesial nerves, the repeated incipient suffocation as the body droops, the repeated torture of back and arms as it is time after time, for breath’s sake, hitched up. If I may dare the biological image, God is a “host” who deliberately creates His own parasites; causes us to be that we may exploit and “take advantage of” Him. Herein is love. This is the diagram of Love Himself, the inventor of all loves.”
The inventor of all loves. So when you feel your heart growing while watching It’s A Wonderful Life or you look around at the miraculous gathering of loved ones, know that He invented what you’re feeling and is the epicenter of the merriment. You cannot get away from Love if you try, Ebenezer! Merry Christmas to all!