Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Traditions

As a child, and then a teenager, Christmas Eve always included my dad reading "The Christmas Story" – not the one where Ralphie wants an official Red Ryder BB rifle – but the one from Luke in the Bible. You know, the one that begins: And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed.

I know the main character in this story is baby Jesus. But the one I think most about is Mary. She was the one who was great (fancy word for serverely pregnant) with child and not entirely sure just how that happened. She was the one who had to travel all the way from Galilee to Bethlehem on the back of a donkey and then give birth in a dirty, smelly stable and lay her newborn son in manger with scratchy straw, surrounded by lowing (fancy word for mooing) cows. She was the one who wrapped him in swaddling clothes (which I think is just a fancy word for rags).

When she probably didn't feel like having visitors, shepherds showed up with their flocks and then a bunch of strange-looking men barged in on camels. A multitude of angels decended with some advice about Peace on Earth that wasn't all that practical. But here's the thing that always strikes me: despite all these awkward conditions and weird visitors, Mary takes it all in. She treasures all these things, pondering them in her heart. I love that sentence. I love that she didn't turn these things over and over in her head, she simply reflected on them in her heart.

I think about Mary pondering all these things as I unpack our 1940s nativity scene, with its chipped chalkware figurines. I place the baby Jesus in the loft (so he stays hidden until Christmas) and arrange the single cow, the lone sheep, the two angels, one shepherd, three wise men, Joseph, and finally Mary into the wooden stable.


Ed and I found this manger scene about 20 years ago in a run-down antique store in Owensboro. I had been looking for one for years, but most were too expensive or too ornate for my taste. And then I saw these chipped and cracked figurines, cast from plaster of Paris, thought of as "poor man's porcelain," and I knew I had to have them. I think they cost $8 total. No camels included, no donkey, only one shepherd. The back of Mary's head is cracked, exposing her wire frame. In all its inperfection, it was perfect.

...

Fast forward through the years and our own family traditions took hold. Instead of the Bible, our family adopted Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas as its Christmas Eve go to. You know, the one that begins:

Every Who down in Whoville liked Christmas a lot
But the Grinch who lived just North of Whoville did not!

The Grinch hated Christmas! The whole Christmas season!
Now, please don't ask why. No one quite knows the reason.

It could be, perhaps, that his shoes were too tight.
It could be his head wasn't screwed on just right.

But I think that the most likely reason of all
May have been that his heart was two sizes too small.


This tradition began when the children were little and we gathered with The Wunderlin family. After dinner, the five children would pile on the couch surrounding Karen who would read the main rhyming narrative. Then one of the children (changed each year) taking on the part of Cindy-Lou Who, who was no more than two, would ask:

Santy Claus, why, 
why are you taking our Christmas tree? Why? 

Well, you know the rest of the story. Despite stealing their presents, their ribbons, their wrappings, the Grinch wasn't able to keep Christmas from coming.

It came without ribbons! It came without tags!
It came without packages, boxes, or bags!"

He puzzled and puzzed till his puzzler was sore.
Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn't before.

Maybe Christmas, he thought, doesn't come from a store.
Maybe Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more!

And what happened then? Well, in Whoville they say
That the Grinch's small heart grew three sizes that day!

His small heart grew three sizes that day. I love that sentence. 

Has it happened to you yet this season? Has your heart grown three sizes? You have to watch for it. It comes at unexpected times, often when you are feeling rather Grinch-like. It might be when you watch your favorite holiday movie, when you finally decide to put up a little tree, or shop for a family so that they might have a little cheer and a warm winter coat. 

It can happen whether you are celebrating Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, the Winter Soltice, or just some bit of good news. 

I'm pretty sure it is what happened to Mary in that cold stable two millennium ago. She might have been having a Grinch-like moment when her infant child was crying and hungry, when strangers kept showing up at inopportune times, when she was wondering if she would ever fit back into her favorite robe, when the cows wouldn't quit lowing and the sheep wouldn't keep bleeting. She took all these things in and pondered them in her heart – and by doing so, I'm pretty sure her heart grew three sizes that night. 

So this is my wish for you this holiday season: May you take it all in. May you treasure it. May you ponder it in your heart. And may your heart grow three sizes... 






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