Susan tagged me for a "meme," which I understand to mean that I am to follow her and others in listing three Christmas memories. I've been giving this some thought, off and on, for the past day or so, and I guess it doesn't have to be anything that profound; so, here's my contribution:
I remember one Christmas in particular during the years that my family lived in Australia. My Dad was the headmaster of a rural Lutheran school in Tabor, Victoria, and we lived in the "teacherage" right on the grounds of the church and school. It was a very neat place to live as a young boy, and I treasure my memories from those four years very fondly. Anyway, the headmaster (my Dad) and the pastor were each welcome to select and cut down an evergreen tree for Christmas from a row of such trees on the church's property. On Christmas Eve Day one year, my Dad went out to pick a nice tree. The teacherage happened to have rather high ceilings (in my mind's eye, I remember them to be a good ten feet tall), so my Dad selected and chopped down a suitably tall tree to fill the living room impressively. Well, I cannot tell a lie. Turns out that particular tree was actually tall enough to have been the very one intended for the sanctuary that year. Oops! As it was, we certainly enjoyed it. I well remember coming home from the Christmas Eve Service and finding the tree set up and decorated with presents under it, including some nice gifts from our Grandmas and Grandpas back in the United States. It might have been our first Christmas in Australia, but I'm foggy on which year it was exactly. There was a game from Mom and Dad under that great big tree, called "Discover Australia," and for a long time that was a real favorite of mine. Things have blurred together in my mind since then; I was maybe only eight or nine years old at that point; but it was definitely a "best Christmas ever" kind of occasion.
Another Christmas I remember well is the one that came immediately after our return from Australia, when I was twelve (so that was thirty years ago this month!). We had left my Dad at the seminary in Fort Wayne after flying into Chicago in November, and then the rest of us had continued on to Seymour, Indiana, where we would live with Grandma and Grandpa Stuckwisch for the next couple of years. Those were difficult times in lots of ways, as it was hard to be away from Dad so much of the time. He came to be with us on weekends whenever he could, but that wasn't always possible. He had his studies and a campus job, and there was the weather to contend with, and the cost of the trip back and forth (both time and money). He was "home" with us that first Christmas, though, and it was wonderful to be there with all of us together, not only our immediate family but Grandma and Grandpa and aunts and uncles and cousins galore. I was old enough to remember Christmases at their house from before we lived in Australia, so even at the age of twelve I was feeling pretty nostalgic and sentimental about the whole thing. I don't have a clue what I might have gotten as gifts that year, but that hasn't dulled the sense of joy and happiness that I still recall from that occasion. I can still picture the tree in front of the window, full of ornaments and colored lights, and sitting there on the davenport just soaking it up and feeling as though I were living a wonderful dream. That was great.
My third Christmas memory is from the holidays that LaRena and I have celebrated and shared with our own children. Sad to say, I'm a little hazy on which year it would have been, but I think it must have been 2001 or thereabouts, maybe 2000. My wife and older children will probably remember the year, and I trust them to set me straight on the specifics. In any case, it was the first year that we observed each of the Twelve Days of Christmas together as a family. There have been some years, and that was one of them, when we've received enough gifts (counting both the "big" and the "little" packages) to allow each of the children to open up one thing on Christmas Eve, and then one thing on each of the next Twelve Days, and still have a bit of a pile left over to open up on the Feast of the Epiphany. Of course there are years when we have to stretch out the presents a little thinner, but we still make a point of celebrating each of the Twelve Days, and then we pull out whatever stops may be left for Epiphany. There were various reasons for adopting this approach. For one thing, we wanted to be able to focus on the Services of Christmas instead of the rip-roaring hoopla of tearing open a mountain of presents in one fell swoop. By the same token, we also wanted the children to appreciate and really enjoy each of their gifts, and to have a clear sense of the people who had given them each gift. Not only did all of this work very well for us; it also established a family tradition of our own, which we have cherished and enjoyed each year since. It fits nicely with our observance of the Twelve Days of Christmas at Emmaus, too, and it helps us to celebrate the beauty of the entire Season.