“Christmas won’t be Christmas without any presents,” grumbled Jo, lying on the rug.
So begins Little Women, a book I never actually finished. (I am more of a Transcendental Wild Oats fan, I must admit.) I did not enjoy Little Women, but that opening line stuck with me, and popped into my head when I heard Ray Conniff and the Ray Conniff singers on the radio the other day.
Suddenly, it felt like Christmas. There are just some things that make Christmas Christmas, and for me, Ray Conniff and his crew are one of them (or, technically, a bunch of them). Here are a few more:
Music on Records, Cassettes, and Other Outdated Media: Some of my first Christmas memories are musical ones. Pulling on my mother’s sleeve in the midst of a smoky, loud, extended family Christmas Eve celebration to ask her to put on Willie Nelson’s “Pretty Paper”. Dropping the needle on our Ray Conniff Christmas album to hear this medley. Rocking out to our sweet Beach Boys Christmas cassette as we rode in the car. Dancing like a goofball to Anne Murray’s rendition of “Christmas in Kilarney” (that one was a CD, which I guess still puts it in the “outdated media” category). (Pro Tip: I did not claim to be proud of these selections, but I do stand by them.)
Candles and a Hymn: There was a period between college and seminary internship when my parents, sister, and I were without a “church home.” As the churchiest one in the family, it fell to me to find one that met our most important criterion: at the end of the the service, everyone gets to light a little candle while singing “Silent Night.” Now that I’m a pastor, it is within my power to make this happen every year.
Our Best Tree Yet: I loved, loved, loved the ritual of choosing our tree. We would walk up and down the rows at the Christmas tree lot, until three of us had agreed on one tree and one of us (I’m not naming any names, but it was always my sister) had her heart set on another tree. The fighting. The struggle to get the tree tied on the car, into the house, and into the tree stand. The wrestling with the lights. The careful hanging of the ornaments. And the most important part: Dad gazing in appreciation at the tree and declaring, “I think this is our best tree yet.”
Something Goes Wrong: There’s no snow. There’s too much snow. A present doesn’t arrive in time. The oven won’t light and you have to make the artichoke dip and coffee cake in the toaster oven. At least one person has a raging sinus infection. You know what I’m talking about. No matter how carefully we plan and prepare, something big or small always goes wrong.
And that’s good! When something goes wrong, it reminds us that what really matters isn’t the tree or the music or the candles or the food. It’s the people we’re with and the memories we make. It’s the birth of a baby in a world where so much is wrong–a baby who comes to make things right.
And, by the by, that toaster oven artichoke dip turned out great.
Your turn! What makes Christmas really Christmas (or Hanukkah or Solstice or the winter holiday of your choice)?
Christmas Bonus: The Beach Boys rocking “Little Saint Nick.” Run run, reindeer . . .
What’s that? You want one more Beach Boys treasure? All right, all right: here’s “Santa’s Beard.” I used to love it because it’s a song with a story, like “It’s My Party” and its exciting sequel, “Judy’s Turn to Cry.” Take that, Judy, my best friend Sarah and I used to think. But I digress.
Merry Christmas, everyone!