Copyright © 1998 Henrietta W. Hay
December 25, 1998
HAPPY HOLIDAYS -- MERRY CHRISTMAS
In the midst of celebrating Christmas Present, we all have memories of
My earliest Christmas memory is mostly fantasy, but that's as it should
be. I was very small and obviously not where I was supposed to be late
on a Christmas Eve. I was standing in a doorway in our house looking
into a room of incredible brilliance. There was a tree being decorated
by my parents. In my memory the tree glows and the whole room is like
There is no way that memory could be accurate. It was before 1920 and
in reality the room was not very bright. There could have been no
lighted candles; my father was much too cautious. But wrapped up in the
brilliant light of my memory, there was warmth and love and caring that
have stayed with me all through my life.
Whatever our spiritual beliefs, in the stable in Bethlehem, there was
warmth and light and love. That is the spirit of Christmas.
Christmas traditions bind us together and help keep those memories
fresh. Unlike the dinosaur, traditions last by adapting. Take the
annual gingerbread house tradition. My own version of the it began
some 50 years ago when my son John was a little boy and read the story
of Hansel and Gretl. He decided it would be fun to build a gingerbread
house for Christmas, and proceeded to design the house and cut a
cardboard pattern. He found a recipe and we baked and built the first
gingerbread house. For several years this was our favorite Christmas
tradition. His little brother carried it along for a few years and
then, alas, they both grew up and the gingerbread house became a memory.
Many years later when my children were grown and gone and hers were
little, my friend the philosopher and I revived the tradition. We used
the original cardboard pattern with batter stains on it and for several
years created architectural masterpieces. We experimented with
materials and colors and inspirations and made careful notes of the
successes and failures as we created these works of art. One year, when
he was still very small, we laid Chris on the floor, cut out a pattern
and constructed a gingerbread boy. I think it is possible that she
still has a few pieces of rock hard cookie stashed away to remind her
that her married six foot tall son was once a gingerbread boy.
Over the years, however, as we became busier and her kids got bigger,
the failures began to exceed the successes. One year the frosting would
not hold the slabs together and in desperation we sloshed on Elmer's
Glue. The color matched, but even Elmer couldn't keep that house from
collapsing. That did it. Tradition had to take a back seat to
expediency. We decided that henceforth Tradition would consist of
baking a few Christmas cookies and then sitting by the fire drinking hot
buttered rum and talking about Christmas Past.
Other traditions tend to change too. Until recently I had never had a
Christmas without a live tree, and assumed that I never would. A small
forest of evergreens have given up their lives for my annual
celebrations. But I finally weakened and bought a little artificial
tree. I do feel a little sad as my friends and I put the ornaments
collected over a lifetime on the little faux tree, but it looks fine and
is a lot less trouble. And my friend the philosopher and her family, who
have helped me trim it for years no longer expect a turkey dinner, but
settle for call-in pizza. The tree and the menu have changed, but the
warmth and the Tradition last.
As always, I wish for everyone in the world the true Christmas Future --
Peace on Earth and Good Will to People. And for us all as individuals,
a room with warmth and light and love.