Christmas memories. Most of us have no problem bringing to the surface recollections of Yuletide events that impacted our life or in some unique instances even dramatically helped form our character. The memories almost always focus on family and often result in the proverbial lump in the throat or tear in the eye. Knowing full well that we can never experience those exact moments again, we nevertheless take time every Christmas season to re-live them by way of memory. Onto the motion-picture screen of remembrance we project the faces of loved ones, the images of our much younger selves, and moments in time that we will cherish till our dying breath.
I remember during the holiday season large wooden bowls filled with mixed nuts. My father carefully instructed me in the use of those very awkward, but oh so necessary tools used to crack the shell and remove the meaty nut inside. It was a matter of manly pride to remove the nut as a whole. When one of us removed a particularly large nut without breaking it; for some reason we always gave it to someone else. It was as if that's just what love does - gives and shares the very best.
I shall never forget going to the "five-and-dime" on the last Saturday before Christmas and shopping for my mother's gift. I was far too cowardly to consider an article of clothing. Girl's clothes were weird and I didn't care to figure them out. I always ended up with one of two gifts: either the most gaudy piece of cheap (and I do mean cheap) jewelry - or a large, uniquely shaped bottle of toilet water. Dad had told me that women liked to use it so they would smell good when they went out. I accepted the premise but failed to understand why it was named after a toilet!
Growing up as a military brat we rarely, if ever, shared Christmas with extended family. We were usually hundreds of miles from grandparents, aunts, uncles, or cousins. But my sister was more than enough for me. I'm sure we were very typical siblings but she never knew how much I looked up to her. She knew stuff - cool stuff. One year she was given a small record-player and she ran to her room to play her songs in private. When I was finally invited in to enjoy (and envy) her new gift, she showed me how to meticulously place the record on the turntable and then gingerly set the needle in the first groove. I anticipated some really hip song to come blaring forth; so you can imagine my surprise when I heard Perry Como singing - "Catch a falling star and put it in your pocket. Save it for a rainy day." We sang that song so much that December that to this day I think of it as a Christmas carol!
How could I ever forget the church plays and dressing up like a shepherd? I remember going caroling with the church choir then staying up late eating too many cookies and drinking hot chocolate with marshmallows on top. I remember people saying "Merry Christmas" and me thinking that everybody knew about Jesus and why we celebrated the way we did.
But no memory of the Christmas season is more fondly remembered than the event that took place every Christmas Eve evening in our home. My father would place in his lap the large white family Bible that he bought from a young door-to-door salesman. Before reading the story of the birth of Christ from the Gospels he would remind us that we were Christians first and foremost. He made sure that Jesus was the reason for our celebration in the Lilly household.
Then, with his finest, deep, rich voice he would read the Christmas story from the Bible and lead us in prayer. I realize that I could have made it without the gifts and my mother would have survived just fine without the truly horrible jewelry. But I am what I am today in large part because daddy read the Bible on Christmas Eve.
("From the Pulpit" is a weekly sermon provided by the clergy members of The Weirton Ministerial Association)