Craving Christmas

Mom put down the spoon she was using to stir soup, and turned away from the stove. She instructed me and my sisters, “Tonight’s the eve of Saint Nicolas. After supper I want you to write your letters to Santa Claus.”

My sister Mary volunteered, “Kathy’s in first grade. She doesn’t know how to write yet, so I’ll write her letter for her.”

Although I was still too young to write my own letter to Santa Claus, I knew December 6th was the official start to the annual Christmas count-down. At bedtime we would put our letters to Santa in bowls at the place we always sat at the table. In the morning, the letters would be gone and we’d find the bowls filled with peanuts, angel food candy, bridge mix, candy canes and an orange.

For me, time dragged by too slowly between Saint Nicolas Eve and Christmas. I fretted and fussed. I wanted the tree up. I wanted to constantly hear Christmas songs. I wanted fun, Christmassy things to do. Most of all, I wanted to open a big pile of presents. The craving for all things Christmas was intense.

When I grew up in the 1950’s, Christmas was hardly mentioned before the first week of December. Luckily, my emotional agony didn’t start as early as Halloween as must be the case for children now, since stores promote Christmas sales two months in advance.

Traditional activities throughout the month helped me suffer less as they marked the time to the big day. Each year Mom made dozens of Christmas sugar cookies that needed frosting. Everyone in the family helped decorate them. For a day or two after, I had sugared Santa and reindeer cookies dancing in my head.   

WDLB, the local radio station, began to play Christmas songs a few weeks before the holiday. The station also had local children send in their letters to Santa. A very kind-voiced announcer read them to the audience each evening. I absolutely loved listening.

I also loved it when my sister Mary read holiday stories to me. One year the story she read was about a little orphan girl who found loving parents on Christmas Eve.

After all my fussing and stewing, the suffering came to an end. Relaxed and relieved, I could happily play with all my new toys next to the Christmas tree and eat goodies until my brain was 80% sugar.

Wistfully waiting for Christmas and all the trappings that go with it made it easy for me to forget the reason for the season is Jesus. As I grew older, I noticed that the church songs we sang before Christmas sounded so wistful.

O come, O come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel;
That mourns in lonely exile here,
Until the Son of God appear.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Rod of Jesse, free
Thine own from Satan’s tyranny;
From depths of hell Thy people save,
And give them victory o’er the grave.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.
.
 trans. H. S. Coffin (1916)
 

When I asked my teacher why the song sounded sad, she explained, “Long before Jesus was born, the Jewish nation hoped and longed for a savior to be born. They waited hundreds of years after the prophet, Isaiah had promised, “The virgin shall be with child, and bear a son, and shall name him Emmanuel.” Also, “For a child is born to us, a son is given us, upon his shoulder dominion rests. They name him Wonder-Counselor, God-Hero, Father-Forever, Prince of Peace.”

As an adult, I forgot how painful the wait for Christmas can be for a child. My daughter, Niki reminded me when she was six-years-old. I was ironing a shirt one December evening with Niki sitting nearby asking me questions about when things would happen and how long it would be yet. The pathos in her voice suddenly made me aware of the depth of her suffering. This painful craving wasn’t what I wanted for her. I felt sorry for my little daughter.

There was no way for me to make Niki’s angst go away. There were four more days for her to suffer through. Remembering what helped when I was her age, I turned off the iron and suggested, “Let’s sit in the living room and I’ll read to you.”

I settled down with a story book and began to read. Niki and her younger sister, Tammie, happily cuddled up close against me. They would soon grow to understand all the different levels of Christmas joy. The greatest being something they’d never outgrow, the birth of our loving Savior.

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