Christmastime – I can honestly say is my favourite time of the year (unless it’s -30C).
All kidding aside, I’m one of those people that just can’t resist digging out the Christmas music in, well, mid-October.
I can’t help it. I love the season with all of its charm. Music essentially mirrors what it’s all about, and it helps me settle into the Christmas spirit.
Ultimately, for me, the word that comes to mind when I think of Christmas is ‘warmth’.
And it’s a time for reflection as well. When I think back to when I was a kid, my parents made every holiday season as special, memorable and fun as possible – I have nothing but a collection of wonderful memories of childhood Christmases.
I don’t have so much a specific year in mind that stands out in terms of Christmas. It’s more like looking through a big book of memories packed with photos, mementos, cards and such – all kinds of moments come to mind.
The living room of our Red Deer home was always decorated in fine holiday tradition. As a child, I recall my favourite moments being in the evening when the lights on the tree would be glowing and making the room appear much more magical.
Another favourite memory is recalling how we would pile into the frozen car on Christmas Eve to attend the 11 p.m. service at Red Deer’s Gaetz United Church. I can still remember the effects of the flickering candles on the stained glass windows, the carols that were sung and the true meaning of Christmas being shared through a simple message and scripture readings.
I remember those services like they were just days ago – surrounded by all the grown-ups and taking in the wonder of it all.
Another local highlight for me as a boy was visiting City Hall Park, which at the time featured a nativity scene complete with Mary, Joseph, the wise men and of course the baby Jesus.
I was also drawn to the quiet, unassuming display. Nestled in the midst of the brightly-lit park with strings of lights decorating the nearby trees, it was a powerful sight to behold.
Ultimately, one of the best things to me about Christmas as a child was how little it changed year by year. I loved the comfortable predictability of it.
These days, being now 51 years old (can’t believe it), the season is just as special.
It’s different now in many ways, however. This year marks my first Christmas without my beloved mom, who passed away this past January. Over the past few weeks, I’ve really of course struggled with the harsh reality of her absence. But I’m grateful I can be with a couple members of my family cohort as we remember her, reflect and make our way through the season which will be so very different.
Attending the Salvation Army church has also been an inspiration over the years (of course this year is different with online services and such).
But it’s typically a wonderful season with staff, members of the congregation and volunteers from the community focusing on reaching out and making a real difference in the lives of others during a time of year that can be especially challenging and lonely for many.
And for the four Sundays prior to Christmas Day, we also observe Advent – a simple but profound tradition of settling down from the ‘busyness’ of the season to remember what its truly all about – the birth of Christ.
As author Philip Yancey points out in his book The Jesus I Never Knew, the humble event, “That divided history, and even our calendars, into two parts, had more animals than human witnesses. For an instant, the sky grew luminous with angels. Yet, who saw that spectacle? Illiterate hirelings who watched the flocks or other ‘nobodies’ who failed to leave their names.
“Fittingly, it was they who God selected to help celebrate the birth of one who would be known as the friend of sinners.”
Ultimately, Christmas is a time of celebration. It’s a time of reflection. It’s also a time to think about others more, give more and move forward into the New Year with a fresh perspective on what really matters.