Recitations, Singing, and Indulgences—a Christmas Tradition Remembered
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Let there be Peace on Earth
Recitations, Singing, and Indulgences
Christmas Eve arrives, the stockings are hung with care and the children are eagerly anticipating Christmas morning—this is the Christmas tradition most people remember and pass on to their own children. That is not what I remember from my childhood. We often did not even celebrate on December 25th because of family members who needed to travel. On the selected day, somewhere between mid-December and mid-January, we would have our own day of Christmas celebrations.
Of course we had a large meal around the table with lots of delicious food. It was what came next that each person had prepared for a long time in advance (unless of course they had procrastinated till the last moment.) Each person had to prepare, practice or memorize something to present at what became known as, "the Program .” As young children we had to memorize poems, sing songs or participate in skits with the others. Once Christmas dinner was over we would gather in the living room and each one would take turns presenting to the rest of the family. I remember memorizing poems or practicing my chosen Christmas carol so I would have something to offer.
My Dad had a reel-to-reel tape recorder and would often have us come one at a time to record our piece for that year. My brother had the recordings on these reels transferred onto cassettes as a gift for each of us one Christmas and we all got a good laugh over what we had sounded like as children. I remember my middle sister memorizing a poem that was as long as a short story which brought tears to my eyes as she recited it (and years later as I listened to it again.) If I remember correctly, it was called something like, “What if Christmas Had not Come.”
When my siblings became adults and had children of their own, each family would prepare something to present. During a few of the gatherings, I helped the younger nieces and nephews create and rehearse a skit to present to Grandma and Grandpa. We would often talk about “the Program ” as something to be avoided and joke about it but, truthfully, it was a tradition that was our own and we will always have some good memories because of it.
Once the individual presentations were over, we would sing many Christmas carols. Each person, from the oldest down to the youngest, could choose their favorite for everyone to sing. Our family sang a lot in church where everyone had to learn how to sing in harmony so when we sang together at Christmas, we sounded like quite a chorus.
Then it was time for Dad to take out his Bible, turn to the Book of Luke in the New Testament and read for us the original Christmas story:
“In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree. . .And everyone went to their own town to register. So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea , to Bethlehem . . . He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.
And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger .”
Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.” So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger.
When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told. ” (NIV Bible)
When Dad finished reading the Christmas story and had said a prayer, we were finally able to open our presents. (They were laid in a pile in a corner of the room because we didn’t have a Christmas tree till many years later.) This was done in an orderly fashion, one gift at a time, so everyone could enjoy the moment of discovery. When we were young we usually made hand-crafted gifts for each person so it was kind of exciting to see how they liked our special treasure. As we got a little older and the family grew, we would draw names and get something special for just that one person. I anticipated the expression on the person’s face as they opened the gift I had spent such careful time in making “just right.”
After the gifts were opened, Mom would bring out the special chocolates, candies and mandarin oranges that we would get only at Christmas. What a special delight! We’d eat, visit and play with our gifts until we gradually gathered around the kitchen table to play board games. Oh, and eat cookies—lots and lots of them. We played games till the wee hours of the morning when we could no longer keep our eyes open from all the food and excitement.
So, while we never knew on which calendar date we would celebrate Christmas, the actual tradition of that day never changed until we all became adults and lived in different parts of the country (or the world.) I have fond memories of the experiences that happened from year to year and feel a sense of loss now that my parents are old and no longer able to provide the central gathering place. This family tradition is dying with them but the memories will continue to live on in my heart.