Stephanie loved Christmas. Christmas music would start playing in our house as we were picking the meat off of the Thanksgiving turkey. She would want to get the decorations out and up as soon as possible, and our decorations stayed up well into the new year.
Advent was a big deal at our house. We had a log with enough holes in it to hold a candle for every day of Advent. After dinner we would light a candle, read a passage from the Bible, sing a carol and pray together. When our girls were younger, Steph had a cloth calendar for the month of December, which she had made hanging on the wall of our kitchen with a ribbon on each day. With those ribbons she would tie a piece of candy to the calendar, and as the days went by the candies would be removed, alternating between our daughters. The children in Kids' Klub may remember Miss Stephanie's Advent chain, a paper chain made out of multi-colored construction paper links which were torn off as each day of Advent passed by.
Decorating the house was important to Stephanie. I can still remember disagreements over how many ornaments should be put on our Christmas tree. She liked to put on so many ornaments that you couldn't see the tree for the ornaments. I am more of a minimalist and would be happy to just have lights on a tree, so we compromised and put every ornament we owned on the tree. I should have just built a green cone out of plywood and we could have decorated that. The end result would have looked the same, and you don't have to water plywood. She used the tree to entertain her piano students. She gave clues and the students would try to find a particular ornament on the tree based on the clues. Can anybody say "needle in a haystack"?
Steph loved the Christmas story told in all of its forms. Whether the Biblical account or her favorite children's account of the nativity where the angels show up in work boots and many other versions in between. During December our TV only got one channel, The Hallmark Channel. (I am being hyperbolic, or course. Any football fan knows that there are a couple other necessary TV channels during December.)
She loved entertaining as well. In her hay day, we would invite everyone from our church over for an open house, usually the Sunday before Christmas. We did this for many years until the church grew larger and our house seemed to grow smaller. She would bake and bake until we had plastic containers all over the house containing the treats.
One of her favorite stories of our Christmas occurred when I was in Seminary. We would try to get home to see my family, but one year Steph's father was very ill, so we didn't feel the freedom to leave. I told my family that we wouldn't be traveling to Ohio that year. At the last minute, Steph's father rallied, so Steph felt the freedom to go. She knew that a trip home would be good for me. We left on Christmas Eve and drove all night, arriving at my parents' home sometime around 6:00 Christmas morning. Our dog was dispatched upstairs to wake up my Mom. When Mom felt that cold nose on her face, she got up quickly and headed downstairs. What a great surprise. Steph loved that story. It was a happy ending worthy of a Hallmark movie. We made it home for Christmas.
Every year during the Christmas season I make an appointment with a Christmas song by Stephen Curtis Chapman. It's a ballad about his grandmother and her love for Christmas. He tells how she prepared decorations, food and gifts for that one day when all of her family would be with her. One year she became ill and ended up in a nursing care facility, but she vowed that she would be home for Christmas, and she continued to make plans from her room at the facility. Sadly, she didn't make it home for Christmas but went to her ultimate home with Jesus.
After losing my mother in 1994 and my father in 2005, this song always touched my heart and led me to tears. This year it was even more meaningful and significant for me because my Stephanie is now home for Christmas. Here is a link to the song. Home for Christmas Before you listen be sure to have some tissues ready. Here are the lyrics of the final chorus.
"And now she's home for Christmas, and now she's home to stay.
She's home for Christmas, and nothing could have kept her away.
She'll be face to face with Jesus, as we celebrate His birth.
This gift will be worth more to her than anything on earth.
She's home, she's home for Christmas"
I know how much you love Christmas. This year I was tempted to hunker down and not decorate, but Abby and Emma wouldn't hear of it. We got our tree up and decorated the day after Thanksgiving. They also got out your collection of international Nativities that you love so much. They carefully placed them around our house in spots that worked for their artistic eyes. You would be so proud of how they carried on your traditions. The Advent log is in place and loaded with candles that I light during my morning devotions. I even hooked up the electric candles in windows. The house looks so much warmer with those lit at night. I also got a wreath for the front door and am blaring Christmas music in my car although there is no one at home to acknowledge the blaring music as I pull into the driveway.
I can't help but wonder how is your first Christmas in heaven? I imagine the music is spectacular and live. The decorations must make Rockefeller Center look like Kmart. The treats, I'll bet, are delicious, truly heavenly and good for you as well. (I'm guessing the recipes for "manna" have been perfected over the years.) Do they celebrate Advent like we did at home? Do they have a living nativity with the original characters? For your sake I'm glad that you're truly home for Christmas, but I miss you terribly. Merry Christmas, my love.