What does Christmas mean to me, or you, or anyone?
My meaning of Christmas...
What does Christmas mean? That is like asking someone to tell you the meaning of life in five words or less. With so many beliefs and traditions in the world, how can the meaning of Christmas be narrowed down to 'this is what it means' because it might not mean that to other people. Christmas is a warm, happy, exciting, anticipating, hoping, gathering, helping, loving, giving kind of time. It is also a busy, frustrating, tiring, grating, depressing, worrying, trying kind of time.
I'll tell you how I usually feel around Christmas time and see if that answers the question. While I am rattling along, maybe you could take a trip down memory lane with me. Who knows, you might be able to answer the question for yourself.
I grew up in a poor family. We grew most of our own food and worked hard all summer and all winter to keep up the farm and care for the animals. School was just a quick break for us and then it was off to shovel snow, feed the chickens, collect the eggs, feed the pigs and check their bedding, and so on. Summers meant time in the garden, plowing, planting (in straight rows or father had a fit), weeding (don't pull up any vegetable sprouts or else), and then gathering. But it wasn't all work. We enjoyed corn on the cob in the fall and ate our own vegetables all winter long. We even had apple trees and mom would make and freeze apple pies, applesauce, apple jelly and anything else you could think of to do with apples.
When Thanksgiving came, the only thing we had to buy was the turkey, because everything else had come from our own garden (but turkeys were hard to raise with other animals). After Thanksgiving, we would begin preparing for Christmas.
Wreaths and trees
The first thing we did was to go into the woods and gather 'Princess Pine' (a vine that grows what looks like tiny Christmas trees) or evergreen boughs to make homemade wreaths. After shaping a clothes hanger into a relative circle, we would use black thread to tie the pine or boughs to the hanger. It was hard work and our fingers cramped a lot, but when we were done and had put on the bow and the small ornaments (whew) the feeling of pride was wonderful. We hung them on the doors, gave them away to family and friends, and dad would bring one to work every year for his boss.
Once the wreaths were done, we would go into our own woods, wrapped up like Eskimos because the woods were covered with snow and it was cold, and we would choose a tree. Dad would cut it down and then we would all drag it home. Dad would make a cross of wood for the bottom to keep the tree up-right and then it would go into a large bucket which we then filled with stones to hold the tree steady and straight, well as straight as could be. Dad would usually tie a string or two to the tree and then to each side of the wall, just to make sure. I will never forget filling up bottles and pitchers and crawling underneath the branches of that tree to pour water in the bucket so the tree wouldn't dry out. Whew, that was a chore. Remember, there were ornaments and such on the tree and we weren't supposed to knock any off (yeah right), we learned to grab what fell and put them up fast before Mom or Dad found out.
When the tree was up, we needed to decorate it...
All the decorations were in the attic--what a cold and hard to get to place that was, and the boxes were heavy. It usually took an entire day just for that. Then we would hang everything we could on the tree. It sparkled and glittered even without the lights. It was a sight to see. The outside decorations would go up next. We lived on a bit of a mountain so it was cold and generally getting dark by the time we got out there. We did something different every year, just so the neighbors wouldn't get bored, but that meant hours of stringing lights and laying extension cords. It was worth it, though when it was all done. The inside was always the last thing to be done because we would need the time to get warm from being outside all that time putting up the decorations. After the decorations went up, mom would play Christmas Carols all day every day until Christmas. We would sing with the records and learned most of the songs by heart.
"I helped!" How excited we were as kids to say we had helped with something, that is until we were older and expected to help.....just kidding.
Then it would be time for us to get the gifts we would give each other and our parents. Well, we didn't have any money. Mom and dad couldn't pay us for working on the farm. We weren't old enough to hold down a job. Gifts were tough. Once we got together and made a chimney out of cardboard. We then wrote poems and decorated cards to fill it. Sometimes we made pictures which we then wrapped up. Sometimes we would take something that meant a great deal to us and we would wrap it up and put it under the tree. When we got older, mom would help us make cookies and breads that we could give away as gifts. It was great to be able to say "I helped" when the gift was opened.
When Christmas Day finally rolled around, we were so proud to see all the gifts under the tree that we had made or wrapped. After everything was opened, we would clean up and then go to our Grandmother and Grandfather's for dinner. Of course, we would get a few things there to open as well, and we always gave them something we made.
We're back to the meaning...
Now that I have relived our family Christmases, I think I can tell you that Christmas is a warm, happy, exciting, anticipating, hoping, gathering, helping, loving, giving kind of time. Oh, wait, I said that earlier didn't I? I guess that what I'm trying to say is that Christmas doesn't mean presents. It means family, love, gathering, and happiness. Is it religious? Sometimes, but more importantly it is the celebration of family, and, the way I see it, how much more religious can you get? I'm not talking about just your family, mom, dad, brother, sister, aunt, uncle, etc. Yes, they are important, but I'm also talking about neighbors, co-workers, the cop on the beat, the mailman, the store clerk, the guy who loaned you his ladder last year, the woman who offered to let you cut in line at the movie, EVERYONE!
Christmas is a time when we open up and smile at people for no reason. Christmas is a time when we smile at the antics of the kids (rather than punishing them for being too loud or rowdy). Christmas is a time when we give the people behind the counter a little bit of lee-way because we know they are stressed out and VERY busy. Christmas is a time when we take the time to be....well.......people.
Relax, enjoy a cup of eggnog, smile at the kids, go to church and thank the Lord for your blessings, and remember that the blessings are all around you. Don't stress the holiday, enjoy them for what they are, family and friends and joy and happiness!
© 2011 Cheryl Simonds