My mother grew up below the poverty line on a cotton farm outside the town of Cartersville, Georgia. While Leave It to Beaver was on TV across the nation, Mom went outside to the outhouse when the need arose. My beloved Aunt Charlotte was 14 before they had indoor plumbing. My grandfather ran the pipes himself.
On Christmas, Mom remembers how much she loved getting nuts and an orange in her stocking–oranges in winter were a rare treat. She also got a box of chocolate covered cherries as her special gift from my grandfather. As far as presents went, my mother remembers her bike as a wonderful gift. My grandfather had repainted the tin roof of the house that year and my grandmother had recovered some vinyl chairs in the kitchen. Mom watched Granddaddy repaint an old bicycle with the tin paint and then saw Grandmother cover the worn seat with the leftover vinyl. On Christmas morning, out came her “new” bicycle and she loved it.
Tomorrow morning my children will receive brand new toys bought from Target and Toys R Us. They will open massive boxes containing 47 thousand twist ties so that the toys do not move into unattractive positions while in transit. They will get a ridiculous amount of candy because when confronted with the tons of candy in the holiday section, 3 bags of miniature candy bars didn’t seem like that much. They are also all getting their own tiny flashlights in the hopes that they will stop carrying my emergency/handy weapon Maglite around.
When I find myself getting caught up in the hassle-joy of 13 (actual number if counting class parties) different Christmas celebrations, I think about my mom growing up. I know it wasn’t perfect. My mom graduated from a segregated high school and apparently spent childhood afternoons helping my great-grandmother stock condoms in the bathroom of the rest-stop-style store my great-grandparents ran until Granddaddy Virgil was fired for being drunk on the job. So, you know, now seems better than that. And besides, A Charlie Brown Christmas hadn’t been written yet.
But the simplicity of their Christmas celebrations circa 1953 resonate with me. I think about making sure that my children understand what exactly we are celebrating. I want them to know that on Christmas Day, Grace entered the world, not just American Girl Dolls and Muppets. Although I do love the Muppets and bought 4 of them even though I only have 3 children. I think about trying to remind myself to swim upstream against the tide of our pop culture with Santa and Christmas trees and enough wrapping paper to coat the world. I think about trying to create memories that my children recount with as much love as my mother does when she shares her bicycle story.
I think about a baby and a manger and a scared teenage girl just hoping she wasn’t crazy to believe that God would do something amazing with her newborn child. I think about my favorite sentiments from the Bible: Joy to the World, Peace on Earth, Goodwill toward Men.