I was born in the mid-1950s. It was a time when Christmas meant something special to almost everyone in the Christian world. A time before the gross commercialization of the holiday created what is has become today. It was a time before Political Correctness turned the world on its head. A simpler time. A time when people respected themselves as well as others. My memories of Christmas past are filled with warmth and happiness.
There was a life size manger made of straw bales and old barn wood in the cemetery where my grandmother was buried in 1962. My grandfather took us out there every year to visit the real humans playing the part of Mary and Joseph. There were live sheep and a live donkey in the scene. We kids always looked forward to that trip each year as much as we looked forward to sitting around the tree in the living room to receive our presents.
Christmas Eve meant church. I remember that it was always decorated with fresh pine boughs and scented candles. It smelled different than a normal Sunday service. There was a different atmosphere on Christmas Eve. There was an exciting anticipation in the air that was almost electric. There were the children's programs, of course, and they were fun, but the excitement that was almost unbearable was for what was to follow. The real excitement was in waiting for Pastor Bergman to tell "the story". Pastor was a remarkable man and told the story of Jesus' birth so well. You almost felt like you were there, in Bethlehem, with Mary and Joseph on that night. You could "feel" the Wisemen coming through the streets and into the manger.... You felt the miracle of the birth. It was a wonderful time.
I spent my first Christmas away from home in 1972 while stationed at Ray Barracks in Friedberg, Germany. I was 18 years old. I was lost. I was with the members of my section at my Platoon Sergeant's house, but I felt alone. Funny how that happens. Alone in a crowded room. It was one of life's experiences that I wouldn't trade for anything.
I was married a year later and my wife and I started our own family and our own Christmas traditions. They were just variations of the traditions that we grew up with, of course, but they were ours.
They no longer have the live manger scene out at the cemetery where my grandparents and my parents are buried. They no longer have the manger scene down in the park across from the courthouse. Real Christmas is only practiced in the home and at church during the Christmas season. It is gone from the public eye everywhere you go.
We wouldn't want to offend any non-believers or anyone who believes something different than we do. We Christians are tolerant of everyone who is intolerant of us.
The people who came around and wished me "Happy Holidays" at the end of the work day on Wednesday received a smile and a look straight in the eye along with a "Merry Christmas" in return. How strange to hear them have the courage to say "Merry Christmas" to others after I had said it to them. They were afraid of offending someone with a "Merry Christmas". What has happened to us?
I would like to wish each and every one of you a very Merry Christmas. Enjoy the day and the season.
Give its meaning some thought.