Christmas Eve, 2007
adapted from my journal
On Christmas Eve morning I was up at five. I wondered if any of my neighbors were astir at that hour, but all the other houses through the trees were dark. It was my own, private, precious hour with Jesus—on a day when His humanity is nearer to my heart than any other. I would not have traded it for silver and gold. It shines in my heart yet as an unspeakable gift from Him—I have no words.
When I first stepped into my dark kitchen that morning a silver tide of moonlight was pouring in from the windows above the sink. The moon itself, a tremendous and luminous sphere, was sailing calmly through an untroubled sky of velvety blue, with a single star—the star of the morning—waiting attendance upon the regal passage. It was so beautiful—the light all tangled up in the branches of the water oak outside and casting its pale glory over frost-encrusted yard and pasture and silent winter garden—that I literally caught my breath. It hurt me to look at it, and yet I could not get enough. I lit the gas jet under the tea kettle and just stared and stared. I hated to turn on the lights in the den to banish such a radiance.
After my devotions, I fell to setting the tables, moving about as quietly as I could, yet with a growing mirth at what day the coming dawn was hailing and what happiness would soon be filling these rooms and sitting at these tables. As I worked, I was blessedly conscious of what was happening outside—the moon dropped almost reluctantly into the west, behind the great oak at the corner of the pasture by the cemetery, and from behind the woods to the east the day began to spring. The sky paled to a breathless blue, the gate of the day grew rosy, and soon a glory of another kind was spilling over treetops and lawn and setting all the frost crystals to glittering like so many diamonds. It was utterly pure and beautiful, my own special possession. I always say that I love a cloudy Christmas Eve best, and a gloriously sunny Christmas Day—but I’d not send back the sweet splendours my Lord sent this year.
And so, just before ten, I got into my new red dress—finished at the characteristic eleventh hour—and dashed into the kitchen, just in time for Once in Royal David’s City, broadcast live right into my den all the way from King’s College in Cambridge. That sacred moment always makes the world seem smaller and our beloved England so much closer to us in time and space. We sat on the sofa hand in hand and listened, breathless, as the airy strains grew into a full choir and finally swelled with the organ and audience and what seemed like all the combined worshippers of ages past. I listened, as I always do, with a catch in my throat and tears in my eyes, to the Bidding Prayer, particularly at the thought of all those dear ones of my own “who rejoice with us, but upon another shore and in a greater light”. And then it was time to turn the sausage and flip on the coffee pot and check on the bacon sizzling away. And just as I was tucking the plum pudding back into its buttery mold for one last steam, the doorbell rang, and our merry old Christmas Eve party had begun…
It was my brother-in-law and his wife, but there was a whole parade of cars behind them: my family, Philip’s family and friends that are such family no ties of blood could make them nearer and dearer. And soon the rooms rang with “Hello! Hello!” “Merry Christmas!” “Oooh—don’t you look pretty!” “Christmas Gif’!” and “Where can I put this?” There seemed to be children everywhere—which is fitting as this day is for them above all others at our farm-in-the-city. One of them came up and asked me if there were to be peppermint sticks in oranges this year. I smiled knowingly and replied that they should go and take a look at the coffee table in the den where two crystal bowls boasted the coveted treats—“But you’ll have to wait till after breakfast!” In the twinkling of an eye, as it were, my home was full of laughter and the snap and crackle of open fires, fragrant with cider and the pudding that was steaming away and the traditional sausages…
Philip asked the patriarchs to say the blessing and I thought that was quite fitting and sensitive of him. As I looked around the dining room, filled to capacity with the progeny of these two men, I had to smile to myself at what they would have thought when they first met at college all those years ago if they could have looked into the future and seen such a gorgeous (and enormous—35 of us!) assemblage. And I smiled, at the same time, at the sweet sounds of Ding Dong Merrily in High pouring out of my radio in that quiet moment, all the way from England…
I spent most of the breakfast bustling about, making sure everyone had tea and coffee and juice, catching a five year-old cherub who threatened to topple out of her chair at the childrens’ table, lingering to laugh at an old and loved story at the adults’ table, and sitting down in my place at the ‘kids’ table’ just about the time I needed to pop back up again and take out the pudding. But I love it, of course. Every minute of it. And when brunch had been dispensed with and the pudding slipped miraculously from its antique mold, we warmed some brandy in a skillet and Philip called all the children into the kitchen to see the great event—after igniting it I poured the blue elven flame over the pudding on its silver holly trimmed tray amid gasps and exclamations—it was quite lovely!—and Philip bore it in triumph into the dining room to a chorus of delighted voices and a spontaneous burst of applause.
Then all of the children—from the smallest to the tallest—came asking for their oranges and peppermint sticks, and to look around at all those beautiful girls in their smocked dresses and handsome little men looking like pint-sized versions of their Daddys in sweater vests, intent upon a pleasure so simple as sucking the juice of an orange through a soft peppermint ‘straw’, one might think it was a vision straight from the pages of Washington Irving, or the great Dickens himself!
After all the excitement of the pudding and the crackers had died down and the jokes had been told and re-told and the charms passed off to admiring children who thought they were treasures indeed, I settled down in the hall with the ladies for a much-appreciated cup of coffee and a good chat while the men and children went out in the yard to play and to say ‘Hello,’ and ‘Merry Christmas!’ to the chickens. When I chanced to step out on the back porch it was a sight to warm the heart for days to come—a lovely day, as the dawn had promised, lightly overcast with clouds scudding across a wintry sky, chill enough for all the lovely velvet Christmas coats to bloom out in all the colors of jewels, and a pale December sunlight falling with a loving touch upon all the bright heads. They were running around, screaming and laughing, chasing and being chased by the adults, paper crowns askew and baby dolls dangling by the arms–such a beautiful tableau of innocent happiness. I loved it. I just stood there, leaning over the rail and taking it all in. And then Philip got the idea that each one of them should have a chance at ringing the old school bell at the back of the house in honor of Christmas and a great pealing ensued which drove me from my post and down into the yard with them all to take part in the fun.
I gave everyone their favors when it was time to go—paper cones filled with fudge and caramels—and the children were so excited. How refreshing it is in this age of materialism to see children thrilled over peppermint sticks in oranges and bits of paper and tinsel crammed with homemade candy!
As the dusk fell upon our darling day and a purple and golden twilight descended, the light of the fire and the Christmas tree and my little Advent wreath in the window shone out with an ever-increasing warmth and I longed, oh so fiercely!, to make time stop for even a moment or two. We had done our favorite day homage, old traditions had been honored and new ones introduced for consideration. Children had been exalted to the guests of honor in tribute to our blessed Child-Savior and adults had celebrated the ties that He had forged. The whole day had been a Christmas gift from the Host of the feast. An invitation to the children and the childlike to enter into His joy.
A gilt-edged shadow of the happiness that lies in store for us all when faith is made sight.
Thanks be to God.
15th Century German