Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Wait until after this date - Christmas

Tolkien's Northern Lights

One of our children has a birthday on Pearl Harbor Day, which is today. So as not to take away from the specialness of that child's celebrations, in the past we didn't get into the swing of Christmas until the 8th, and even St. Nicholas Day passed without any notice, because in that era even I wasn't cued in to feast days.

Now I'm thankful for that habit of delaying, which makes it easier to practice my present Orthodox unwillingness to jump ahead too much. And every day, every week in the church calendar holds a rich and festive remembrance of a person of faith or an event in our salvation history, so that the Waiting for Christmas period is full of bright days that make the time pass quickly. St. Nicholas, for example. But that holy man was at the center of much childlike fun yesterday, and we are moving on already!

Following our family traditions, then, Mr. Glad and I give ourselves permission to get and decorate a tree as early as tomorrow. Still I drag my feet, so as to nudge the bulk of merrymaking toward the Twelve Days of Christmas, the old-fashioned time to rejoice and feast. Our son-in-law fondly remembers Christmas in Ireland when for two weeks after Christmas many people were on vacation, and shops were closed. So much for the cash-register noise.

As we decorate the house, there are a dozen childlike joys to partake of, often involving memories of Christmases of 20 or even 50 years ago. And some of those are bittersweet, as memories can be. When Gus the Cat was still alive he made us laugh, the way he stalked the tree lights. This picture is a little bit sad for me, because we don't have him anymore.


I like the tradition of keeping back the Baby Jesus from the crèche until Christmas Day; the manger waits empty until then. But in my Nativity set, the baby is glued to the manger, so He is forced to "arrive" way early. At least, these Santas are alone and in this photo they are sort of in the dark so far. Their situation changes when the Light of the World comes to earth.

Some of the participants in Pom Pom's Childlike Christmas party have written about their own memories of Christmas when they were children. Though it didn't occur to my philosophical mind at first, it seems obvious now that what each of us retains with fondness of our own most distant Christmases Past will influence the definition of childlike for us.
Waiting for Christmas - GJ on the right.

The black-and-white photo below shows a glimpse of Christmas as it was for me before I can remember, and it was taken at my grandma's house in Berkeley, where we never gathered for Christmas the years that I can remember.

The important thing is that the picture is connected to my maternal grandma, and without fail we knew that Christmas had arrived when my grandma and grandpa's car announced their coming by the crunching of the driveway gravel, and the trunk was opened to reveal its overfull load of wrapped presents, pies and sweet rolls. My siblings and I helped carry all the gifts from that bottomless hole into the house, and we piled them under the tree, from which they spread outward like an extravagant wave across the living room rug. 

The pies and breakfast goodies were set out on the service porch where the temperature was cool enough to keep them for a day or two; after Christmas Eve dinner a slice of pie would always be set on the hearth so that Santa could have a snack that night when he stopped by.

My grandma and I are not in this photo.
The photo shows my mother at right, holding a doll that I imagine was given to me that year, when I was only two. I like seeing that my grandpa, my cousins and my spinster aunt were there with us. And my grandma's beautiful furniture that I loved!

Now about the colorful picture at the top of this page: I have an edition (Houghton Mifflin, 1999) of the collected illustrated letters that J.R.R. Tolkien wrote to his children from Father Christmas, and I'd like to tell about them even though I haven't even read them all myself yet, much less to any children or grandchildren.


For over 20 years the Tolkien children received letters from Father Nicholas Christmas, often near to Christmas Day, but sometimes as early as October 31st. For all the ice and snow pictured, the drawings give the impression of a very cozy group at the North Pole, including Polar Bear and other helpers.

illustration including Polar Bear

This year, several of my grandchildren will be around in advance of Christmas Day and for a full week ! so perhaps we can read a few together. Or perhaps not, as I already have a long mental list of all the lovely things I can do with the children whom I haven't had with me at Christmas for so many years.
Some of the pretty stamps



I'm looking forward to an abundance of time to "waste" just being together for the Blessed Feast of the Nativity of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. This year I don't have to have a long-distance Christmas relationship such as Father Nicholas Christmas had with the Tolkien children. But I bet I am just as busy as he before The Event as I scurry with my ribbons and lists around my cozy winter house.

8 comments:

Pom Pom said...

Oh, so many visual delights are in this post! I like that photo of little you. It reminds me of a photo my mom sent a few weeks ago. I am standing with a group of Sunday school children, tummy sticking out so that my plaid dress is shorter in front, leotard legs chubby and short!
That top photo is wonderful.
Thank you for a wonderful GJ post and thank you for joining my warm little group, such good-hearted friends.

Ls angels said...

Nice post! I like most of all old photos. It is so interesting for me to see how people celebrated Christmas many years ago, in 1960-1970s..

Gumbo Lily said...

Christmases Past and Future...I loved this post, so full of family history and fond memories. It's amazing, isn't it, how many things we can recall from such early days. Children remember things and we have no idea what little things they make keep in their souls forever.

Enjoy *wasting* time with your loved ones this holiday. Memories will be in the making.

Jody

DebD said...

I'm SUCH a terrible procrastinator that perhaps I should begin to think of my taking so long getting my decorations up as waiting in anticipation. :)

I've been thinking similar thoughts about the festive time pre-Christmas has become for most people. Just yesterday I received an invitation to a party. It seemed so out of place to celebrate Christ's birth (which the invite said) before HIS BIRTH. Much like going to a wedding reception before the wedding. Oh well... can't really say anything to them. Advent and fasting isn't part of their tradition and I shouldn't force my convictions on them. Besides, they'd think me a positive Scrooge anyway.

I do like the idea of shops closing after Christmas - wouldn't that be a gift!

Sarah said...

I love reading your writings! The Tolkien book is special...I hope you have a moment to share with the grandchildren :-). The family memories are dear to read. Thanks for sharing!

magsmcc said...

We have this book in our Christmas Books Collection! I love it too! I do have a folder of letters we have written/they have written on Christmas Eve to leave out with cookies and Guinness (your son-in-law might approve!) and on the back Father Christmas replies! I think your son-in-law would be disappointed with us now. I noticed in the supermarket today that they would be open from 10am to 4pm on Boxing Day...

Betty said...

Catching up on Childlike Christmas posts - your photos trigger all sorts of thoughts and memories. The black and white in particular. I think a big part of Christmas is making traditions for our children to continue and your pictures remind us of that. Thankyou for visiting me. Betty

llasblog said...

Hi, GretchenJoanna! The Tolkien illustration at the top of your post riveted me, because I know someone for whom that painting would be JUST the thing. So I looked it up on Amazon, and there seems to be a bit of a controversy about editions and whether to get the version with the envelopes or not. Do you know anything about the various editions?

I love your kitty photo, and I'm sorry Gus is no longer around. We once had a kitty who chased any sort of light, and he was greatly entertaining. Gus's pose is very familiar ;-).

And I'm looking right at a nesting Santa who is very similar to yours!