The Day after Christmas

Dec 26

Each year I share an original poem entitled “The Day after Christmas.” It reminds us that Christmas is not only a day or a season but also a lifestyle. May we celebrate the good news of Christ coming into the world year-round. 

‘Twas the day after Christmas and all were asleep

The twenty-fifth had left them all tired and beat.

The stockings were slung carelessly on the floor

Stripped of their contents and of interest no more.

The children were exhausted, collapsed in their beds,

With visions of sleeping-in fixed in their heads.

And mama in her flannel and me with my mate,

Were in hopes that we too might get to sleep late.

When out in the front there arose such a racket

I sprang from my bed like a frightened jackrabbit.

I stubbed my big toe on the way to the door,

And set off the alarm system on the first floor.

The early sun’s light shone bright on the toys

Left in the front yard yesterday by my boys.

Then I saw a car splashing right through the muck,

A red, white and blue delivery truck.

My head was aching and my stomach felt ill,

As the postman delivered a hand full of bills!

The charges were listed in dollars and cents,

Payment would empty the United States’ mints.

Now, Visa! Now, Penney’s! Now, Macy’s and Rich’s!

On, Walmart! On, K-Mart! On Abercrombie and Fitch’s!

November and December we had a great ball,

Come January, we owe something to all.

I made my way through a maze of presents piled high,

Looked again at the bills and gave a great sigh.

Turkey bones roosted on the dining room table,

Yesterday we ate all we were able.

I tried to turn on the new espresso maker,

Complete with a digital, alarm clock waker.

My family stumbled slowly down the stairs

As cordial as a den of hibernating bears.

I bent down to pet our faithful dog, Carl,

But he snapped at my fingers and let out a snarl.

My wife dressed quite quickly and shouted to all,

“I’m going bargain hunting all day at the mall!”

The children slammed the door behind them as well,

Going to friends’ homes for Christmas show and tell.

And I collapsed in my brand new easy chair,

To see how my favorite football teams would fare.

I held a glass of Alka-Seltzer firmly in my fist

Regretting last night’s snack I should have missed.

During halftime I arose from the recliner,

My team was ahead and the world seemed much finer.

Wading through the wrapping paper piled knee high

Something on the mantle piece caught my eye.

Half hidden beneath discarded ribbons and bows:

The manger scene had been placed weeks ago.

Carefully clearing the bright paper away

I witnessed the reminder of that first Christmas day.

The Christ child rested in a bed simple and small

Sent by God into the world to save us all.

Nativity figures of that first silent night,

Made it quite clear what had been lost to sight.

“A Happy Christmas to all!” is because of God’s son,

On the day after, our Christmas has only begun.

  

Christmas Oxymorons

An oxymoron is a figure of speech that combines two contradictory words. The term comes from the Greek words oxy (sharp) and moros (dull.) So even the word oxymoron is an oxymoron!

Other examples of oxymorons include:

  • Pretty ugly
  • Jumbo shrimp
  • Long shorts
  • Plastic silverware
  • Boneless ribs
  • Dry ice
  • Freezer burn
  • Fresh frozen
  • First annual
  • United Methodist   🙂

The title of a popular Christmas carol could also qualify as an oxymoron: Silent Night. Has anyone experienced a holiday season that is quiet, holy, calm, and bright? In our frantic, frenetic, contemporary culture, such a concept sounds like a contradiction in terms.

First, there are the malls. Some people tell me that they actually LIKE waiting until the last minute to shop in crowded stores. These folk LOOK relatively sane, but I would not trust them to handle sharp instruments or operate heavy machinery.

The parking lots and stores are filled with the jolly sounds of cars honking, bells ringing, children crying, parents screaming, credit cards swiping, and cash registers beeping. The deafening din overpowers background Christmas music like Grandma Got Ran Over by a Reindeer and The Redneck Twelve Days of Christmas.

(And if I hear Elvis singing Blue Christmas one more time, then I will run screaming into the woods!)

Some people avoid the mall madness by shopping online. However, this doesn’t avoid the increased decibel levels in our homes. There is the cheerful sound of children fussing and parents grumbling. The chief chef bangs pots and pans together in the kitchen. The resident engineer mutters over easy-to-assemble toys. Meanwhile, the TV and radio provide background noise.

Some misguided people come to church seeking sanctuary from the holiday storm. HAH! Good luck with that—let me know if you find it. We seldom get more than vague hints of a Silent Night in our congregational life. In fact, December is one of the busiest times of the church year. In addition to the normal full routine, there are banquets, parties, rehearsals, cantatas, and Christmas Eve services.

Silent night, holy night . . . not so much.

Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised. Despite the carol’s words, I doubt the first Christmas was a SILENT night either. The declaration of No room in the inn rang in Holy Couple’s ears. The sounds of the barnyard animals greeted them in the stable. The cries of labor and childbirth soon followed.

Then the angelic chorus sang loud enough to awaken all of creation. The shepherds crowded into the stable with a late night visit. And despite a carol claiming The little Lord Jesus, no crying he makes, any first time parent knows better!

Christmas has NEVER been a Silent Night.

If you think about it for a moment, however, Christmas is filled with oxymorons such as:

  • A virgin birth
  • A human God
  • A baby Savior
  • Emmanuel: God with us

The Christmas story is the Gospel story—the story of the Lord God Almighty, the Creator of the heavens and the earth, who is head-over-heels in love with creation.

Matthew and Luke contain the traditional stories of Christ’s birth. However, the familiar words of John 3:16 proclaim the Lord’s purpose and plan: For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

I don’t wish you a silent night this year; however, I do pray that you experience a holy night—a sacred season in which you encounter God’s mercy, grace, forgiveness, joy, light, life, and love.

During December, we remember the reason for the season: Jesus the Christ who is the Savior of the World . . . and the Savior of our Souls.

Silent night, holy night, shepherds quake at the sight;                                             Glories stream from heaven afar, heavenly hosts sing Alleluia!                                Christ the Savior is born.

Amen.

A Heart Two Sizes Too Small

How the Grinch Stole Christmas ranks as one of the most popular children’s books of the holiday season. Theodore Geisel—better known as Dr. Seuss—first published the whimsical tale in 1957.

Chuck Jones later made the story into an animated TV special in 1966. Then in December 2000, Jim Carey starred as the title role in a feature film.

Most of us are familiar with the story . . .

Every Who down in Who-ville liked Christmas a lot . . .                                                  But the Grinch, who lived just North of Who-ville, did NOT!                                           The Grinch hated Christmas! The whole Christmas season!                                      Now, please don’t ask why. No one quite knows the reason.                                           It could be that his head wasn’t screwed on quite right.                                                    It could be, perhaps, that his shoes were too tight.                                                        But I think that the most likely reason of all                                                                    May have been that his heart was two sizes too small.

The story appeals to children of all ages because Christmas can bring out the Grinch in the best of us. Although these days are supposed to be merry and bright, December can feel dreary and dark.

The holiday blues occur for a variety of reasons:

  • Physical:                     passing colds, life-threatening illness, chronic pain
  • Psychological:            grief over loss
  • Financial:                    overextended budgets
  • Relational:                  broken or nonexistent relationships
  • Spiritual:                     consumerism, materialism, and other “isms”

We WANT a Norman Rockwell Christmas set in a Currier and Ives’ print suitable for a Hallmark Christmas special. We envision chestnuts roasting on an open fire, Jack Frost nipping at our nose, carolers on the stoop, cheerful children around the tree, stockings hung by the chimney with care, turkey and some mistletoe, and let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!

We GET a Homer Simpson holiday suitable for a National Lampoon movie. We wouldn’t recognize a chestnut if Jack Frost DID nip our nose. The carolers are off key while the children fuss and the turkey won’t thaw. And after last winter, most of us have experienced enough “let it snow, let it snow, let it snow” to last a lifetime.

All these things and more can drain the Merry out of Christmas and the Happy out of Holidays. We may find our Grinch-like hearts two sizes too small.

If we want to find joy in the Advent and Christmas seasons, then we need to hear the Christmas story for the first time all over again. We are invited to discover that the Christmas story is the gospel story; and the gospel story can be MY story.

We find true joy—or to be more theologically accurate, true joy finds us—when we accept the Babe of Bethlehem as the Savior of our lives. The first and last word of the Gospel is grace. Grace is God’s unearned and unmerited love and salvation in our lives.

In John 15:11, Jesus told his disciples: These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in your, and that your joy may be full. It is our Lord’s plan and desire that we be filled with joy. In one of the most familiar and favorite Christmas carols, we sing:

Joy to the world, the Lord is come! Let earth receive her King;                                          let every heart, prepare him room, and heaven and nature sing!

Here is the everlasting Joy of Christmas—Christ has come into the world. God became who we are so that we might become who God is. God’s joy becomes our joy when Christ comes into our hearts. We know who we are and whose we are.

It’s never too early or too late to rediscover the true meaning of Christmas. God’s children are invited to experience the peace, hope, joy, and love of the season. Joy to the world, the Lord is come—in our world and in our hearts—now and forevermore!

The Pink Pig Rides Again

People often debate the official start of the holiday season. Retailers begin soon after Labor Day, the black and orange of Halloween comingling with the red and green of Christmas. Traditionalists insist the holidays start at Thanksgiving. Religious precisionists maintain that the Twelve Days of Christmas commence on December 25th.

Growing up in Georgia, however, I knew they were all wrong. The holidays officially began on Thanksgiving night at 7:28 p.m. when Rich’s lighted the Great Tree in Atlanta.

Downtown Rich’s was a magical place for children during December. The multistory emporium could have doubled as Santa’s southern workshop. The storefront windows and department store counters displayed the dreams of childhood. The Great Tree strung with brightly colored lights and basketball-sized ornaments presided over the holiday scene.

Each December my family made a holiday pilgrimage to Rich’s. My sister and I craned our necks to be the first to spot the Great Tree. We stared in awe at the towering skyscrapers. After parking in a covered deck, we crossed the seven-story bridge that spanned Forsyth Street.

Rich’s bakery alone made the trip worthwhile. The confectioners produced delectable and delightful treats. The glass shelves groaned under the weight of glazed donuts, frosted cookies, pralines, fruitcakes, pecan pies, chocolate drops, candied apples, toffee, and caramel. My mother loved the fruit bars. My father and sister savored the chocolate éclairs. I preferred the rainbow selection of candy fruit slices.

Everyone in Atlanta knew that THE one and only Santa Claus resided on the top floor of Rich’s department store. Bolstered by a sugar high, we joined the long line meandering through the carpet department. After a two-hour wait, the final turn revealed the BIG MAN himself, clothed in red velvet and ivory fur. Both naughty and nice children had one minute to rapidly recite their Christmas wishes. Then a bright flash and exchange of cash preserved the memories forever on film.

Another long line snaked its way past Santa’s live reindeer. Nameplates identified all eight of the magical creatures that pulled the flying sleigh. Then the holiday adventure continued at the tiptop of Rich’s. Up on the rooftop, the Pink Pig ruled in all of its mechanical glory.

The Pink Pig consisted of two elevated trains named Priscilla and Percival. The hot pink cars boasted porcine faces and curly tails. They originally hung from the ceiling of the Toy Department. Later they rumbled and rattled around a track on Rich’s roof. Even small children felt cramped in the cage-like compartments. Riders enjoyed a grand vista of heat ducts and air conditioning towers while circling the Great Tree.

When I describe the Pink Pig to my children today, they share a look which suggests Father has lost his mind! In comparison with today’s amusement parks, I suppose the ride does seem a bit antiquated and quaint. Perhaps my description does not capture the true experience of the Pink Pig. For children of my era, however, the ride felt magical. A polar express to the North Pole could not have been any more enchanting. The next day I proudly wore my I Rode the Pink Pig! sticker at school as a pink badge of courage.

The years have passed with Christmases come and gone. Downtown Rich’s has long since been demolished. The Great Tree relocated to Lenox Square in 2000. The original Pink Pig first moved to the Festival of Trees at the Atlanta World Congress. Then it retired to a sty of honor at the Atlanta History Center.

In 2003, however, the Pink Pig enjoyed a rebirth. A freshly designed ride for a new generation of children now resides at Lenox Square in Buckhead. Both the young and young at heart can enjoy its piggish charms during the holidays. The nostalgic ride reminds native Georgians of Christmases past.

Today our family enjoys its own holiday traditions. We are “making memories” for our children that will always remain a part of their lives. My own childhood memories of Christmas are magical. If my daughter and son remember the past with the same sense of wonder and warmth that their father enjoys, then I’ll be tickled pink.

A View from the Children’s Table

The advent of the holiday season evokes warm memories of Christmases past. Each year our extended family got together for a Yuletide reunion. Relatives gathered at the designated home for the “Three Fs” of food, fellowship, and football. The women worked in the kitchen, the men watched T.V. in the den, and the children ran wild around the house.

My Aunts Lois, Bera, or Hazel normally hosted the event. Since both of my parents were only children, the ladies in question were not technically my aunts. I THINK they might have been my great-aunts . . . or first cousins on my mother’s side . . . once removed . . . maybe! I never have understood all of that genealogy stuff. In the South, however, it is perfectly permissible to call any older relative “uncle” or “aunt.”

When dinner time arrived, we held hands around the dining room for the blessing. Before his death, Uncle Charlie served as the spiritual patriarch of the family. He did not believe in perfunctory prayers. I have preached sermons far shorter than many of his blessings. When Uncle Charlie addressed the Lord God Almighty, even the children intuitively understood that we were eavesdropping on a lifelong conversation. I always echoed the final “Amen” with relief.

Then a feast fit for the far side of the Pearly Gates commenced. The dining room table groaned with a surplus of bounty. We circled the table, filling our plates with ham, turkey, roast, vegetables, casseroles, salads, and quivering gelatin concoctions topped with marshmallows or whipped cream.

My Aunt Lois always made her “special” oyster dressing. I am a lifelong connoisseur of cornbread dressing. However, I am convinced that this particular dish was listed as an abomination before the Lord somewhere in the Old Testament book of Leviticus. However, she atoned for her sins with sugary rich desserts and special-sized portions for little boys who begged. May her memory be forever blessed.

In Hollywood productions, entire clans gather around expansive tables in lavish banquet rooms. However, our modest homes required more ingenious solutions for crowd control. The men used trays in front of the T.V. set while the women clustered around the tables. The youngsters were banished to the dreaded children’s table.

At the time, the three youngest children in the family included my sister, Margaret, our cousin, Peggy, and me. We always found ourselves assigned to the Siberia of card tables on the outer ring of the family circle. The three of us grumbled amongst ourselves about our social alienation, swearing that our children would never be subjected to such humiliation.

In retrospect, I cannot say why our place at the card table irked us so. We ate the same food everyone else enjoyed. The adults’ conversation certainly did not interest us. We always reached the dessert table first. Yet something about sitting in folding chairs at a cardboard table insinuated a lesser status.

The years and decades have swiftly passed. Since my “aunts” and “uncles” passed away, the extended family only gathers for weddings and funerals. I still recall my companions at the children’s table as giggling girls whom I adored. However, Margaret died of cancer in 1992, and Peggy lives in England with her British husband.

Today our family holiday gatherings number less than a dozen guests. At dinnertime, the entire family gathers around the dining room table. There is plenty of room for everyone, and my children have never suffered the indignity of age discrimination. I would trade these days for nothing.

However, there are moments when I long to sit at that rickety card table once again. The holidays remind us of Christmases past. We cherish past recollections and occasionally yearn for “the good old days.” Yet we are also making memories in the present. Yesterday’s nostalgia should not blind us to today’s blessings.

We also look forward with hope to the future. The moments of laughter and love we spend with family and friends are but a foretaste of glory divine. A day will come when the circle will remain unbroken. The Bible promises that God’s people will gather at a great feast, reunited with those we love. Then we will ALL sit at the children’s table as sons and daughters of our heavenly Father.

And if the heavenly host seats me at a cardboard table with folding chairs, I won’t mind at all.