Birth of Wonder

This originally was posted in 2013, yet the words hold true today….

 

This year a little elf doll has made an appearance at our house.  This is the first time we have taken part in the whole Elf on the Shelf phenomena, and we only did because two boys asked. They asked with this sense of wonder in their eyes and this delight. And now, each morning they immediately make a search for where this little stuffed toy has settled.

 

elfonshelf

 

This will  be part of their memory of Christmas. This will be part of their tradition. Along with bundling up and loading in the truck with hot chocolates and popcorn to drive through the city and look at Christmas lights. Listening to Christmas music. Practicing for the Christmas program at church. Decorating the Christmas tree and the house. All of these combine to create an atmosphere that stands out as special; as infused with wonder and something different.

Christmascard08.6

 

I remember the Christmases of my childhood. I remember lighting the luminarias and setting the table for Christmas Eve. I remember the anticipation, looking over the presents under the tree a hundred times. I remember the delight in looking at all the ornaments and sitting and staring at the tree with all the other lights in the house off. I remember the special food, the aromas and the scurrying around the kitchen. I remember the little cinnamon rolls that came out only at Thanksgiving and Christmas. The special Christmas china and the red and green goblets. Velvet dresses and Christmas sweaters and shoes that pinched. Acting out the story of the coming of the Babe in the Manger.  Loading up in the car and heading to the Episcopal church downtown for midnight mass and remembering the hush that fell upon that place and the sense of awe. Christmas morning was fun, but all that led up to it is more imprinted on my memory than the gifts and opening presents.

luminarias_roccoceselin

Everything was set to perfection, and I know there was stress involved, but it was set to perfection with a sense of delight, to lavish and to create a sense of the special.

 

Now…the one who was at the helm of setting the tone and the table  is lost in a place where she does not even understand the meaning of the word Christmas. We have not had a meal like that in years, and Dad has not celebrated Christmas in quite the same way in some time. Of course, Grandparents pare things back, but we have set aside the wonder because she does not understand. Until this past Thanksgiving…my brother and his wife brought Thanksgiving to my folks’ place.

 

Dad set the table and each piece was still able to carry memories. It is amazing how these inanimate objects bear our thoughts and hold our emotions, releasing a flood of memories just by being brought out into view. Now Dad walks through setting the pieces out, and Mom shadows him. She takes some pleasure in seeing the pieces, but she no longer is the one setting the tone. She no longer is the one welcoming the guests with beaming smile. She is no longer orchestrating.

IMG_0003

I realized something. I have many friends for whom the holidays are truly difficult, and I imagine that infusing wonder into those moments can be daunting. Seasons which invoke feelings of dread and fear and depression, or where loneliness is the dominant emotion rather than wonder or joy…these are not seasons marked by memories of anticipation and hope.  Rather, they might be seasons where we want to simply close the door and ignore.

 

I would offer that all the more, though, we need in those moments to affirm the irrationality of Christmas, as Madeleine L’Engle says.

In the midst of the terrors and the depressions and the fears and the angers and the hopelessness….in the midst of those is where we need to hear the wonder.

We can manufacture some sense of wonder with Elves on Shelves and twinkling lights. Enough to capture the attention of the five year old, or even the ten year old. Enough to enliven their imagination so they have memories to look back upon as they age. Enough to spark their wonder. But, they are mere glimpses of wonder, and they do not sustain. Let the children play and enjoy…and spark their wonder.

Then, remind them of the One who tells of the truest wonder of all.

When the true terrors of reality come, we need the irrationality of Christmas. We need the imagination of the God who has the power to overcome, and to birth true wonder.

 

The Birth of Wonder

Madeleine L’Engle

When I am able to pray with the mind in the heart, I am joyfully able to affirm the irrationality of Christmas.

As I grow older

I get surer

Man’s heart is colder,

His life no purer.

As I grow steadily

More austere

I come less readily

To Christmas each year.

I can’t keep taking 

Without a thought 

Forced merrymaking

And presents bought

In crowds and jostling. 

Alas, there’s naught

In empty wassailing

Where oblivion’s sought.

Oh, I’d be waiting

With quiet fasting

Anticipating

A joy more lasting.

And so I rhyme

With no apology

During this time

Of eschatology:

Judgment and warning

Come like thunder. 

But now is the hour 

When I remember

An infant’s power

On a cold December.

Midnight is dawning

And the birth of wonder.

The power of the Sugar Cookie…again.

This will be the third time I have posted this article. The repeated ritual of making cookies each Christmas season brings all these thoughts back to mind. I love the ritual, and I love that my children enjoy the ritual. Funny how something as simple as a cookie can carry so many memories, for each of us.

My mother was able to make a home come alive in the holidays; the decorations were all well thought out and brought a sense of elegance and delight. Our meals were lavish at Thanksgiving and Christmas and we lingered over them. We learned conversation and story and the joy of being a large family. We learned that the seasons stood out and were different.

Sometimes, though, it was the more simple things that brought everything to life. Like sugar cookies.

Here are my thoughts last year, continuing to try to stir us to thinking about Advent as it will begin in just a week. Hoping these thoughts will help to inspire us to do something to make this Christmas, this Advent, stand out. Also aware that as we move through these seasons there is that ache for those who are not whole in our midst. For minds which no longer take in the wonder around us, or for those who have passed away. Balancing that ache with the wonder of the season can be difficult…sometimes, though, the simple things that we do to make the season stand out will provide comfort and delight when we need it most.

The Power of the Sugar Cookie.

The box arrived yesterday, stacked with a few boxes from Amazon. This box was different, though, and it stood out. The address was hand-written, and the contents were able to evoke memories and emotions, a power the other boxes could not muster.

Even Chip the dog noticed. He kept walking over and sniffing the box, waiting for me to take it upstairs and open to see what was inside.

Little tiny stars that brought back so many memories. This year my dad, with the help of a long-time family friend who stays with mom during the day sometimes, sent out mom’s famous Christmas cookies. The recipe actually goes back to her mom, and possibly beyond that, although I’m not sure. Grandma was a great cook, and Christmas was filled with cookies and candies and fudge and divinity and, yes fruit cake. No, you are not allowed to make fruit cake jokes around me. Her fruitcake was made painstakingly…cutting each candied fruit to the same size and spending a full day in the kitchen working away. The result was a cake that even as a kid I enjoyed, but especially with a special warm lemon sauce poured over.

This year, though, it’s the cookies that bring back the memories. These do not quite compare to the cookies of my childhood, but they still carry in their little flour and sugar forms all the memories of Christmas. Christmas was not Christmas without the sugar cookies. We made hundreds. Literally. I mean, hundreds….500, 600, 700 cookies. We would watch them be made, help decorate with icing and red hots and sprinkles, then load them all up on plates with Saran Wrap and walk the neighborhood, delivering these cookies to all the neighbors. And the teachers. And the Sunday School teachers. And friends. And then we would munch on them happily for days.

It has been a lifetime, it seems, since we made those cookies. Dad has pictures somewhere, lots of pictures, of the kitchen filled with cookies.

Now, a little box came and let me know that it’s Christmas time.

christmascookie1

The cookies are not quite the same. They still taste great, but the decorations are simple when they used to be detailed. The activity was more of a distraction to keep a mind occupied that tends to be overwhelmed by how much it cannot figure out…constantly questioning and being frustrated. Still, there was a hesitation when I opened the box, a moment of not wanting to eat these cookies, because, well…what if they are the last ones?

I’m wired that way. I have books from favorite authors where I refuse to read the last chapter because I always want there to be something I have not read from them. I admit, though, it would be pretty silly to leave a sugar cookie uneaten, and I’m not sure I have that much discipline anyway.

Mom’s mind is a little more gone than it was last year. It is a little more difficult to keep her on the phone when I call and I feel the distance acutely this time of year. Mom used to always tell me that the house seemed to love Christmas time, that it came alive as we decorated and brought that wonder in that only belongs to this time of year. She made Christmas a magical time, a time of excitement and wonder and delicious tastes as well sounds and sights. All of these efforts were not wasted, and now at 42 a little sugar cookie can evoke a whole avalanche of memories and feelings and emotions.

So, as I get flustered trying to get it “all” done this season, this little box of cookies stopped me. I’ve got laundry that needs to be folded and dishes that need to be done, and floors that need to be mopped. I have a lot of ‘duties’ to do….but there will be sugar cookies made this weekend. A lot of them. Steve does a great job of getting the house decorated and pulling out all the stockings and candles and garlands and lights. The house twinkles with a special kind of wonder, and in the midst of a world that is so full of sorrow and fear and tragedy…I hope memories are being made for my kids.

More than that, though, I hope that a foundation of wonder is being formed. That is part of the heritage of my mom. There is an importance to the wonder and to the beauty. It is not merely decoration. It is a statement that these things matter and that it is important to feed our souls with beauty…with music and with images…and even with sugar cookies sometimes.

Thanks, Mom and Dad….

Grandmadriveway

The power of the Sugar Cookie

The box arrived yesterday, stacked with a few boxes from Amazon. This box was different, though, and it stood out. The address was hand-written, and the contents were able to evoke memories and emotions, a power the other boxes could not muster.

Even Chip the dog noticed. He kept walking over and sniffing the box, waiting for me to take it upstairs and open to see what was inside.

Little tiny stars that brought back so many memories. This year my dad, with the help of a long-time family friend who stays with mom during the day sometimes, sent out mom’s famous Christmas cookies. The recipe actually goes back to her mom, and possibly beyond that, although I’m not sure. Grandma was a great cook, and Christmas was filled with cookies and candies and fudge and divinity and, yes fruit cake. No, you are not allowed to make fruit cake jokes around me. Her fruitcake was made painstakingly…cutting each candied fruit to the same size and spending a full day in the kitchen working away. The result was a cake that even as a kid I enjoyed, but especially with a special warm lemon sauce poured over.

This year, though, it’s the cookies that bring back the memories. These do not quite compare to the cookies of my childhood, but they still carry in their little flour and sugar forms all the memories of Christmas. Christmas was not Christmas without the sugar cookies. We made hundreds. Literally. I mean, hundreds….500, 600, 700 cookies. We would watch them be made, help decorate with icing and red hots and sprinkles, then load them all up on plates with Saran Wrap and walk the neighborhood, delivering these cookies to all the neighbors. And the teachers. And the Sunday School teachers. And friends. And then we would munch on them happily for days.

It has been a lifetime, it seems, since we made those cookies. Dad has pictures somewhere, lots of pictures, of the kitchen filled with cookies.

Now, a little box came and let me know that it’s Christmas time.

christmascookie1

The cookies are not quite the same. They still taste great, but the decorations are simple when they used to be detailed. The activity was more of a distraction to keep a mind occupied that tends to be overwhelmed by how much it cannot figure out…constantly questioning and being frustrated. Still, there was a hesitation when I opened the box, a moment of not wanting to eat these cookies, because, well…what if they are the last ones?

I’m wired that way. I have books from favorite authors where I refuse to read the last chapter because I always want there to be something I have not read from them. I admit, though, it would be pretty silly to leave a sugar cookie uneaten, and I’m not sure I have that much discipline anyway.

Mom’s mind is a little more gone than it was last year. It is a little more difficult to keep her on the phone when I call and I feel the distance acutely this time of year. Mom used to always tell me that the house seemed to love Christmas time, that it came alive as we decorated and brought that wonder in that only belongs to this time of year. She made Christmas a magical time, a time of excitement and wonder and delicious tastes as well sounds and sights. All of these efforts were not wasted, and now at 42 a little sugar cookie can evoke a whole avalanche of memories and feelings and emotions.

So, as I get flustered trying to get it “all” done this season, this little box of cookies stopped me. I’ve got laundry that needs to be folded and dishes that need to be done, and floors that need to be mopped. I have a lot of ‘duties’ to do….but there will be sugar cookies made this weekend. A lot of them. Steve does a great job of getting the house decorated and pulling out all the stockings and candles and garlands and lights. The house twinkles with a special kind of wonder, and in the midst of a world that is so full of sorrow and fear and tragedy…I hope memories are being made for my kids.

More than that, though, I hope that a foundation of wonder is being formed. That is part of the heritage of my mom. There is an importance to the wonder and to the beauty. It is not merely decoration. It is a statement that these things matter and that it is important to feed our souls with beauty…with music and with images…and even with sugar cookies sometimes.

Thanks, Mom and Dad….

Grandmadriveway