Thursday, Third Week of Advent
December 20, 2007

The Gift of Christmas Past

There was always so much light: thick red and green candles in the windows, colorful snow-dusted bulbs on the towering spruce in our front yard, a bright, hot fire in the fireplace, the soft, white light of December eclipsing the steel gray skies of November outside our dining room window as advent began.  It's hard to believe now that those childhood years were just a brief window – a time that was once my entire reality, my whole unchanging world.
I grew up in a family of regular Lutheran church-goers and we celebrated the season with all of the usual markers: my mother's homemade wreath in the center of the dining room table, a reading from the Bible at Sunday afternoon dinners, and a sturdy cardboard advent calendar with passages from the Christmas story behind each flap.  But we were also an irreverent bunch, one given to doing comedy skits with the crèche figurines and inventing odd sorts of interpretive dances to Peggy Lee Christmas songs.  In truth, there was probably a lot more laughter than solemnity in our celebration of the season, not because we didn't believe in Christmas but because we did.
We believed that something good was coming.  Not gifts, but time:  hours lying in front of the fireplace together, two big spaniels spread out next to us like brown and white rugs; evenings listening to Fred Waring and the Pennsylvanians with a big tin of homemade shortbread in our laps; snowy walks around the neighborhood after dinner.  And finally Christmas day, opening our presents slowly (as was our custom), eating a big, hot breakfast together in the dining room, then the three kids playing whatever board game Santa had brought that year and the parents reading their new books in some quiet part of the house through the long, lazy afternoon.
I am so grateful we did this, performed these same rituals, year after year; so thankful that my parents created this window of time and such a beautiful space for us in the world.  Those seasons that we were all together - before anyone was in France or Germany for the holidays, or spending Christmas with in-laws or boyfriends or girlfriends - only constitute a small percentage of the life I've lived.  But those years are a gift to me from my parents that just keeps on giving. 
The meaning of Christmas was never lost on me, even if we weren't always somber and literal about it.  We believed in advent, the good to come, the joy and the laughter, and especially the light we can share with others, not just in December but all year long.
 --Amy James
Coordinator of Special Programs, Dean of Students Office