Friends and Christmas Memories

This week a group of friends, all working and/or retired teachers, celebrated our Christmas pot luck dinner. I drove almost two hours one way to see them, as I do every month, but I love this group of friends and am willing to do it. We always go to Anne and Bobby’s log cabin home set back off a country road, surrounded by forest and fields. Years ago, they built this beautiful log home mostly by themselves; they dug their own well and set themselves up to be as self-sufficient as possible. They have a deep sense of stewardship for the earth and live as simply as possible. Their home is cozy and warm and I always feel welcome.

The group, as a whole, is creative and fun. We always go for a hike before dinner, enjoy our meal and then often play board games or share photos and conversations of recent trips or events. This month we had a celebrative Christmas party.

I arrived a little late and found Bobby putting the finishing touches on a Christmas tree set up in the corner. I complimented him on his choice, assuming that he had cut down one of the many trees on his property. He invited me to come take a closer look. I was amazed! He had found a dead maple tree trunk, put it in a pot and using fresh spruce boughs and a drill and ingenuity, inserted the live boughs to create a truly beautiful little Christmas tree.

“Would you call this a fake live tree or a live fake tree?” he laughed.

We always pick a theme for our dinner. This month, because it was Christmas, we all made ‘ginger’ dishes. There was carrot ginger soup, cheese and ginger mini sandwiches, ginger flavoured cheese, a stirfry with ginger sauce and rice, ginger and cabbage salad, ginger molasses cookies, chocolate covered candied ginger, and a lemon grass/ginger bubbling beverage.

After dinner we constructed a gingerbread house that turned into a gingerbread stable when one of the walls collapsed. We had lots of laughter and fun as each of us contributed to the Christmas creche we spontaneously created with two gingerbread figures for Mary and Joseph. A bright candy wrapper became a swaddling blanket for the baby Jesus, a tiny toy figurine Anne found that looked more like a tiny alien than a baby, and we stuck him into a gingerbread molasses cookie cradle. A plastic toy giraffe became the ‘donkey’ that carried Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem. Lyn, with a huge amount of patience, finished off the final touches to the gingerbread stable with candies and chocolate.

We exchanged gifts and cards: Moraine had a friendship bracelet for each of us, brought back from her recent trip to Guatemala; Lyn had hand-made soaps and toothpaste she had made at a local workshop; I handed out my own photo Christmas cards and Anne and Bobby gave us each a copy of their annual “Egbert Courier” newsletter.

Kathy brought a Christmas trivia game and we had fun asking each other questions and trying to come up with the correct answers as a group. Many of the questions had to do with Christmas carols and each time one came up, we would stop the game and sing a Christmas song together with Anne playing piano and Bobby his violin.

At the end of the night, we dimmed the lights, and with musical accompaniment and two part harmony, we sang “Silent Night” in unison. With lots of hugs and kisses, we said our goodbyes and wished each other a Merry Christmas.

For me, this was a memorable evening that I will treasure for years to come. It was the simple things that counted the most: good friendships, a tasty meal, music, hand-made gifts, and lots of laughter and spontaneity.

Merry Christmas to all. I pray that you too will have a memory-filled, happy holiday season.

 

 

 

Christmases Past

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There are those who are facing difficult circumstances this holiday season. It’s not easy being surrounded by cheery music, glittering decorations, party-makers and celebration planners when you feel your world is falling apart. It all looks so joyful and we can’t help but feel isolated by the merriment that we’re not feeling ourselves. The whole world seems to be a part of some great coming event that we just don’t look forward to.

Six years ago today, just before Christmas, my husband Tom passed away and he was gone forever. That first Christmas I was numb. I hadn’t truly accepted the fact that Tom was no longer with me. I had bought gifts and stocking stuffers for him and he had bought gifts for others that were still arriving by parcel post and courier. I chose gifts for his family, wrapped them, and wrote personal notes on Tom’s behalf as if he had given them himself. The Christmas card I had bought for him said it all: “Life gives beautiful gifts. It gave me you. Merry Christmas (our last one).” In truth, the Christmas the year before had been our last one, but I wasn’t ready to accept that reality. Family helped me wade through the grief of that first Christmas with love and understanding as we celebrated together.

The next Christmas was actually harder to go through without him for he was no part of the preparations. For the first time since I had been with him, I wasn’t choosing a gift for him, I had no need to fill his stocking or buy a special Christmas card. Any gifts I bought for others were from me, not us. What I did do is light a memorial candle in his memory. It sat beside his framed photo on the mantel of the fireplace. With the help of family, I made it through that holiday season.

I continued to light a memorial candle each Christmas. He was still with us. Family celebrations continued to be a part of all my Christmases and stories and memories of Tom were always encouraged from family and friends. His memory lived on. Christmases got better.

This Christmas will be the seventh one without Tom as a living presence. But he continues to be with us in our hearts and minds. Special decorations, food, drink, so many things still bring back memories of our lives together. We still share the stories and our fond memories of him. For us, he lives on, just in a new way.

The black grief of that first Christmas is gone but I continue to feel melancholy at times. How could I not? We had a great love. I will always love him. But life moves forward. There have been weddings and new births and grandchildren growing. Reaching out to others has helped. I have cried with those who miss their loved ones as they pass on and I have laughed with delight holding a newborn baby in my arms. We share our lives; the joy, the grief, the celebrations and the losses. I continue to live in hope and faith for all that life offers me.

I made it through that dark valley. I wasn’t afraid to feel the shock and the grief. I accepted all the dark feelings and let them run their course as the tears flowed and turmoil reigned. I reached out to family and friends for support, encouragement and even distraction. They helped me laugh again. I stayed an active participant in life by continuing to work, joining clubs and making new friends. I am stronger for having gone through it all, and can now reach out to others to help them through their difficult times. Together we can make it.

Stay hopeful. Stay strong. Better times are ahead. Believe that Christmas will once again be joyful for you. I wish you a Merry Christmas. Even if it doesn’t feel like it. It will.

Christmas in the Classroom

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One year in my classroom, as we approached the winter holiday season, I asked my gr. 1’s what ‘Christmas’ was all about. I got a variety of answers. I said to them, “It’s somebody’s birthday.

Do you know who?”

No one knew. So I told them the original Christian story of Mary and Joseph and the baby Jesus visited by the wise men and shepherds and angels.

Later I was reading them a story about the nativity scene and Cameron asked, “Who is Jesus Christ?”

“Well, Christians say he’s the son of God,” I answered.

“Does that make Joseph the step-dad?”

“Well, in a way.”

“Well, if God’s his real father, what does he look like?”

“God is a spirit. God doesn’t look like people.”

Lily piped up. “God isn’t a he or she. God’s a spirit.”

“What’s a spirit?” asked Ashley.

“Well, a spirit is kind of like a ghost…”

“Like Casper?” asked Cameron.

“…or maybe like the tooth fairy,” I fumbled, trying to think of images that they could relate to. “Or, perhaps more like Mother Nature. In some magical way, the sun comes up, the sun goes down, the seasons change and seeds grow and animals are born. God’s the energy that makes all that happen.”

“God created us,” Lily said.

“Yes, Christians say that. And they say God created Jesus Christ magically inside Mary’s belly or womb.”

Nathan, still puzzled, said, “Well I know who Jesus is but who is Christ?”

“Jesus Christ is one and the same person. Just like you are Nathan Wood, Jesus has two names, too.”

“Oh,” he smiled, happy to understand. “Mr. Christ!”