When we came out of the church that night it was cold and clear, with crunchy snow underfoot and bright, bright stars overhead. And I thought about the Angel of the Lord– Gladys, with her skinny legs and her dirty sneakers sticking out from under her robe, yelling at all of us, everywhere: “Hey! Unto you a child is born!” -The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson
Everyone has their family Christmas traditions. In my family, Christmas Eve was the day everyone would go over to my grandma and grandpa’s house. We would try to fit twenty-some people in the living room, most of whom where sitting on top of each other, for a few hours and it always became very loud. My cousins and I would stuff our bellies full of candy and snacks until we would either become very hyper or felt sick to our stomachs. Then it was time for gifts. My grandparents always made sure to get everyone something, even if it wasn’t certain if they were coming. Maybe in that way they were like Santa.
Afterward we would go home to set up for the big night. In our basement we had an electric fireplace where I would set a plate of Christmas cookies that I took home from the party for Santa, and of course I left a glass of milk and some carrot sticks for the reindeer. I would be sent to bed shortly after, but I was always too excited to sleep so I usually stared that the glow-in-the-dark stars that I had on my ceiling for a good hour before I fell asleep. Then on Christmas morning I would wake up early and creep down the hall to the living room to see if the presents under the tree magically multiplied during the night. And they always did.
But what I remember most about Christmas are the concerts I performed in every year. I was always in choir in school and also in church or a program through the local university. The elementary school performances were fun because we got to have our artwork hung up in the gym and we had dances that went with our songs. One year I was in the “angel band” and got to play the triangle as I donned a set of wings and a halo.
In high school, the Christmas concerts were popular and people from the community would come back each year to see the performance. We started the concert off by proceeding into the darkened auditorium carrying battery operated candles humming, then singing, Adeste Fideles. Each year the music line up had varied songs but it started and ended the same. One year I remember we had to sing a song that was in Haitian Creole and it was very difficult for us to memorize. Our teacher became very frustrated with us and started to make us compete against each other to see who could memorize more. (Another girl and I won, but don’t ask me any of the lyrics now.) At the end of the concert we would go out the same way we came in but with Silent Night, which I realize now I have sung so many times and in Spanish, German and signed in Sign Language. We would round the audience holding our candles and the lights of the auditorium would be dimmed until our faces could only be seen with the candle’s faint light. At the end we would pause for a moment in silence before the house lights would return. My mom always cries at Silent Night.
And what reminded me of my childhood memories this Christmas was reading the book “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever” by Barbara Robinson. If you haven’t read the book it is about a family of naughty kids that get mixed up in the church’s Christmas pageant that year and they change it for the better. This reminded me of what Christmas means to me. It’s not about the presents, or running over to one family’s house to another. It’s not about the snacks at the parties or setting out cookies for Santa. Christmas to me is about the music. The songs that we hear on the radio or in stores, starting as early as Halloween, bring back a sense of nostalgia for everyone. Everyone has a favorite song this time of year and many people attend performance of either the Nutcracker or a church’s rendition of the Nativity story. Like in the book, there are different variations of the same story but the meaning at the end is the same. Christmas is a story about enduring uncertainties and having hope for a brighter future. So with that said, Merry Christmas to you and yours!