A Christmas “To Do” List

I’m a big believer in To Do lists. So during the Holy Days, I’m making my list and checking it twice. By Christmas Eve, I hope to check every To Do item Done. Here’s some things that will make my season merry and bright.

Eat and Drink

  • Egg nog (dusted with cinnamon and nutmeg)
  • Hot apple cider (stirred with a cinnamon stick)
  • Roasted pecans with butter and salt
  • Ritz crackers with peanut-butter dipped in chocolate

Don’t Eat and Drink

  • Fruit cake
  • Figgy pudding
  • Oyster dressing (my great-aunt considered this a holiday treat)
  • Haggis (non-holiday specific and rejected on general principle)

Watch

  • A Charlie Brown Christmas
  • A Christmas Story (“You’ll shoot your eye out!”)
  • Scrooged (Sue me—I like Bill Murray)
  • The Grinch Who Stole Christmas (Cartoon version—not the Jim Carrey abomination)

Turn It Up

  • Tender Tennessee Christmas by Amy Grant
  • I Need a Silent Night by Amy Grant (heck, listen to the entire holiday CD)
  • Carol of the Bells by Mannheim Steamroller
  • Christmas in Dixie by Alabama

Change the Station

  • Blue Christmas by Elvis
  • So This is Christmas by John Lennon
  • Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer by Elmo and Patsy
  • The Little Drummer Boy by Anyone

Listen to New Holiday Favorites

  • Wrapped in Red by Kelly Clarkston
  • The Christmas Can-Can by Straight No Chaser
  • Shake Up Christmas by Train

Deck the Halls

  • Christmas Tree adorned with ornaments from 32 years of marriage
  • Assorted wreathes on windows and doors
  • Garland on the mantles and banisters
  • Mangers scenes in my office displayed 24/7/365

Read

  • ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas by Clement Moore
  • The Gift of the Magi by O’Henry
  • Matthew 1:18-2:12
  • Luke 2:1-21

Sing

  • O, Come, All Ye Faithful
  • What Child is This
  • Holy Night
  • Joy to the World

Give

  • Presents to family, friends, and Sam the Yorkshire Terrier
  • The Murphy-Harpst Children’s Home
  • Salvation Army bell ringers
  • All of my heart, soul, mind, and strength

Christmas Carols

Christmas carolsDuring Advent, I am preaching a worship series entitled Christmas Carols. We are exploring the meaning of four hymns celebrating Christ’s birth.

Many songs associated with the holiday season actually have nothing to do with Christmas at all, including Jingle Bells, Deck the Halls, Sleigh Ride, Winter Wonderland, We Wish you a Merry Christmas, and Grandma Got Ran over by a Reindeer.

During sermon preparation, I actually found a web site entitled Top Ten Christmas Songs for Atheists.

Yeah, I’ll let you ponder the irony of the title for a moment.

CHRISTmas carols, on the other hand, focus on the birth of Jesus Christ.

So one day in the midst of sermon-writer’s-block, I asked myself the question, “Self, what is your favorite Christmas carol?” Then I flipped through a hymnal to make my selection.

After some internal debate, I finally chose What Child is This. William Dix published the lyrics in 1865. The verses express wonder and awe that the helpless babe of Bethlehem is also Christ the King. The hymn invites all of creation to worship the son of Mary.

Dix set the words to a 16th century English melody title Greensleeves.  The 87.87 meter tune with refrain musically reflects the call and response of the words. What child is this? This, this is Christ the King!

So . . .

What’s your favorite carol? And why?

An Early Christmas

Christmas is Dec 25A Hallmark display at a local store recently caught my eye. The sign above the holiday greeting cards declared: Christmas is Monday, December 25th.

Christmas is on December 25th this year. Good to know.

Many bemoan how the holidays seem to come earlier each year. Retailers anxious for Christmas sales begin Black Friday sales on July 4th. Costco erected a winter wonderland of snowmen and penguins in September. XM Radio premiered their holiday stations on November 1.

And Hobby Lobby . . . well, the home goods store celebrates three seasons: Last Christmas, This Christmas, and Next Christmas.

I’ve always resisted the Hallowthankmas madness, choosing to observe the day after Thanksgiving as the personal advent of my holiday season. However, this year I’ve experienced a Dicken’s-like change of heart.

The day after Christmas always dawns with an awareness that I never accomplished everything intended during the holiday rush. December days rush by so quickly with over-committed calendars and hectic schedules.

In addition, Christmas Eve falls on Sunday this year, and churches will spend December 24th in the Prenatal Waiting Room, anticipating Jesus’ arrival. Northside Church features SIX—count them, SIX—worship services, including 11:00, 2:00, 4:00, 6:00, 8:30, and 11:00.

So this year I’m celebrating an early Christmas.

I’m decking the halls, listening to Christmas music, and singing The Twelve . . . well, I DO draw the line at singing The Twelve Days of Christmas.

Five Nativity Scenes adorn my office. An old fashioned, candle ornament is plugged into an outlet, bubbling merrily away. I’ve been sipping eggnog since mid-November. And if I had some chestnuts, they would be roasting on an open fire.

Oh, I fight the occasional urge to say: Bah, humbug. I’m a recovering Scrooge with occasional lapses. However, life’s too short to miss the advent of the Holy Day Season.

Christmas is Monday, December 25th this year.

But why wait? Celebrate an early Christmas today.

 

Thanksgiving in the South

Our community’s continued growth reflects the changing face of Georgia. Transplants from faraway places now call our state home. These newcomers represent a rich diversity of heritages, traditions, and cultures. However, they sometimes find Southern holiday customs perplexing. For those not blessed to be born and bred below the Mason-Dixon Line, I would like to offer this primer on celebrating Thanksgiving in the Deep South.

Thanksgiving Normal RockwellFirst and foremost, turkey is ALWAYS the main course at a Southern Thanksgiving feast. We hold no bias against the beef, fish, and pork food groups, but poultry reigns supreme on November’s fourth Thursday. We learned from our mothers who baked turkeys a golden brown, waiting until the surgically inserted, plastic pop-up button indicated the proper degree of doneness.

Frying the bird in peanut oil provides an acceptable alternative, although many a good ole’ boy bears the proud grease scars of holidays past. In more recent days, slow smoking a turkey over a grill has also gained in popularity and acceptance.

Real Southerners serve DRESSING with their turkey entrees. Crumble together a few pones of cornbread with onions, shortening, spices, and salt. Then bake in the oven until the grease bubbles and the top turns a crusty brown.

Let me be clear on this point: stuffing is something put in a pillow! Why would anyone cook a side dish in the backside of a turkey? Think about it. If you must put something inside the bird’s body, place a few scoops of Crisco into the cavity.

Turkey and dressing require a heaping helping of artery-clogging giblet gravy. Giblets resemble sausage and pork rinds—you will enjoy them more if you remain uncertain of their origins. Find the plastic packet of unidentifiable bird parts and cook them until tender. Combine the innards with roasting pan broth and Martha White flour. Simmer until a spoon stands straight up in the mixture. Then pour the concoction liberally over everything on your plate.

A standard side dish at Southern Thanksgivings is sweet potato casserole. If you cannot find the orange vegetable in the grocery aisle, yams form a viable alternative. Cream the cans’ contents with brown sugar and butter. Then cover the soufflé with a marshmallow blanket. I personally prefer small marshmallows but their bigger brothers serve equally well.

No Thanksgiving repast is complete without cranberry sauce. It provides a festive color and piquant flavor. REAL cranberry sauce comes in a jellied cylindrical shape with the can ridges still imprinted upon its side. Simply slice the jiggling mass into quarter inch thick slabs. I knew a woman with no raising who once served real cranberries combined with some other fruits and nuts. I just shook my head and said, “You’re not from around here, are you?”

Southern hospitality dictates a hostess provide bread for the post-dinner rite of plate-sopping. Any bread will do, but the bake-and-serve rolls with the four ridges on top remain the norm. Classy homes also provide real butter. Serving the spread in its original foil wrapper on a dinner plate is acceptable table manners.

The feast concludes with a multiple choice selection of desserts. True Southerners consume at least one slice of pecan pie along with other cakes and sweets. We save pumpkin pie for Yankees and other foreigners. The entire dinner is washed down with sweet iced tea. (If you have to SAY “sweet” or “iced” tea, then you’re not in the South.)

After dinner, good manners dictate one loosens a belt two notches before sinking comatose into an easy chair. Most men “watch” the football game while taking a long nap.  Later in the day, leftovers can be consumed to fill up any empty corners.

And finally, before, during, and after the meal, do not forget the real reason for the day. On this uniquely American and Christian holiday, give thanks to God for the many blessings of life—including the grace to celebrate Thanksgiving in the South!

 

 

 

 

DDS: ATL

FILL IN THE BLANK with your favorite Department of Driver Services’ horror story.

ddsWe’ve all heard and told them. The plots feature faceless bureaucracies, prison-grey facilities, long lines, sullen clerks, indecipherable instructions, and gleeful denials. A trip to the DDS office competes with a tax audit, root canal, kidney stones, back spasms, and an in-law visit.

However, my wife and I recently moved to Atlanta; and our motor vehicles expired on our upcoming birthdays.

To add insult to injury, the state required us to physically visit a office to obtain a new Secure ID driver license. This involves presenting several forms of personal identification that include a birth certificate, Social Security Card, passport, utility bill, or bank statement. I halfway expected someone to demand a DNA sample, pint of blood, and retinal scan as well.

With fear and trembling, we planned a visit to DDS Land. We arrived at the downtown Atlanta location at 400 Whitehall Street SW a bit early. The new facility featured a gated, well lit parking lot. A typical assortment of humanity waited in line for the 7:30 a.m. opening.

At 7:30 on the dot, the doors opened and a security guard cheerfully welcomed each patron. Since we had completed our forms online, a young lady helpfully directed us to a kiosk where pushing a few screens generated a number in line.

My bottom barely touched the chair before an electronic voice called B-104 to Station 15. I walked warily up to the counter where a clerk named Pamela greeted me with a smile.

Following a review of my paperwork, she clicked a few buttons, checked my eyesight, and asked me to smile for the camera. After swiping my credit card, I received a temporary license and . . . I WAS DONE.

Total time in the DDS: 15 minutes start to finish!

To recap: secure parking, new facility, cheerful security guard, helpful attendant, professional clerk, efficient process, and happy clients.

Maybe others have DDS horror stories to tell. However, my fairy tale visit began: Once upon a time; and it ended: And they lived happily ever after.

The Five Senses of Fall

Sights of fall:  

Burning bushes ablaze with God’s glory. Pomegranate sunsets painting a western sky. Harvest moon slinging a scythe through sheaves of stars. Orange light dancing in hollow-eyed pumpkins. First leaves falling, fluttering, flipping, flopping. Smoky breath steaming in the morning chill. Frost glazed windows heralding winter’s advent. Thanksgiving tables boasting divine bounty.

Sounds of fall:

Crisp, crunching, cackling, crackling leaves underfoot. Raucous honks of southbound geese. Pitter-patter of oaks shedding their acorn burdens. Fussy, chattering squirrels scampering up trees, burying nuts, and insulating winter’s nests. Ding-dong of doorbells and Trick-or-Treats of costumed children. Swish-swish whispers of corduroy pants. Fingernail-on-the-chalkboard scratching of scrapers on ice-blinded windshields.

Smells of fall:

Wisps of smoldering leaves wafting along the biting breeze. Vegetable soup bubbling and boiling on the stove. The arid smell of burnt dust as heaters awake from hibernation. Chimney smoke’s hickory and oak scented breath. Hot apple cider stirred with cinnamon sticks held close to the face. Aching lungs drawing great draughts of chilled air.

Feelings of fall:

Sweater weather mornings and shirtsleeve afternoons. Crisp, cool sheets of bedtime. Snuggling deep under cozy quilts. Cold tile shocking bare feet. Squishy, squashy, stringy, slippery pumpkin guts sliding between children’s fingers. Slick feel of early Christmas catalogs filling the mailbox.

Tastes of fall:

The crisp crunch of Red Delicious apples. Carnival cotton candy and corn dogs. Buttered, salted, toasted pecans. Fried peach pies piping hot from the stove. First-cold-snap chili, spicy and steamy. Hot cocoa with a whipped cream cap. Turkey and dressing, cranberry sauce, sweet potato soufflé, and pecan pies. Muscadines fermented by sunshine and aged on the vine.

During this fall season, see, hear, smell, touch, and taste that the Lord is good!

A Walk around the Block

During my bulletproof youth, I enjoyed an occasional shot of adrenaline. I tried rappelling, spelunking, SCUBA diving, skydiving, water skiing, snow skiing, and more. However, none of these past pursuits prepared me for the death-defying-act of a casual stroll in Buckhead.

My back and knees convinced me years ago to abandon jogging; but I still enjoy a fast-paced walk around the block. However, unwary pedestrians in our neighborhood risk life and limb.

We live on West Wesley Street which serves as an East-West corridor between Peachtree and Northside. If the City of Atlanta ever needs additional funds, a steady source of revenue could be collected on our road by a traffic officer with a radar gun.

At the top of the hill, West Wesley intersects Northside Drive. NASCAR racers qualify for pole positions on Northside. Squeezing three lanes into a two lane road also insures cars swoosh by inches from pedestrians. Frogger

Kingswood turns in front of Northside Church and offers a welcome respite from the traffic. However, the sidewalk peters out past the parking deck, forcing walkers to play a game of “Frogger” with cars topping the hill.

Normandy makes up the fourth side of the block with no sidewalks on either side of the road. Motorists launch themselves from the speed-humps like the Duke Boys in Hazard County.

One memorable day a driver actually put her car in REVERSE and almost backed over me at the corner of Normandy and West Wesley. I’m glad to report that the preacher did NOT cuss. Oh, I WANTED to cuss! However, the near-death experience left me breathless.

Physicians say cardiovascular exercise is good for the heart, but they’ve never walked around my block. Watching TV while eating a bag of potato chips chased by a bowl of ice cream just might be better for my health!

Life goes by too fast as it is, so SLOW DOWN.

The life you save just might be your preacher’s.