It’s Christmas Eve and the world once again is almost giddy with anticipation over what is to come next.
Children the world over will go to bed tonight positively a twitter as they dream of finding an empty milk glass next to a plate of cookie crumbs in the morning. Oh, what wonders the Christmas tree holds for those who believe!
In the Arnold family, Christmas Eve was greeted with wide-eyed excitement as three big brothers kept their little sister busy while our mother and grandmother baked delicacies that would be devoured in about one-tenth the time it took to create them. The memory of my mother’s Japanese Fruit Cake or my grandmother’s pound cake live on in the Winder Woman’s Club cookbooks my mother has on her shelf. She has offered those well-worn treasures to my daughter who says four years of culinary school still did not teach her how to bake love into her creations.
The family traditions are the stuff of holidays and are what help to make certain days special. The aroma of fresh-baked bread, your grandmother’s iced Christmas cookies or your mother’s Red Velvet Cake flood your senses with thoughts of Christmases past and the fun you had with your relatives now gone. What is it about those scents that unlock a cache of memories of family, home and the traditions of the Christmas holidays igniting both celebration and melancholy within a millisecond?
The Christian faith as practiced in the Methodist tradition has been a part of my family for as far back as anyone knows. After moving to Winder from the family homestead in Statham, my grandparents joined the Winder First Methodist Church with their two young sons in 1922 – my father was two years old – and Daddy has been a member there ever since. The church has been the foundation of our family and remains so today. So it is only fitting that the Advent services at Winder First United Methodist Church are such an integral component of the season for us.
When I was growing up, Daddy owned City Pharmacy in downtown Winder. Christmas Eve at the drug store was a flurry of activity and I remember him bringing home a big box of film, flashbulbs, and other strategic supplies that a customer may have forgotten to get in time for recording their family’s Christmas festivities. In fact, while not uncommon for Daddy to receive a phone call on Christmas Day to return to the drug store to fill a prescription for a sick patron, it was more often a distress call for film or flashbulbs that caused our phone to ring on this day of tradition.
Our church has had Christmas Eve Candlelight services for more years than I can remember and though we were busy little elves as we helped last-minute shoppers, the drug store always closed in time for us to get to the church. Our Christmas was incomplete without attending this service. Back in the days of my childhood and young adult years, we closed the store at 5 o’clock just giving me time to robe up and process with the Chancel Choir down the center aisle as the community came together to celebrate Christmas in one of the more memorable services of the church year.
While I do not recall a time in my life when I did not know that celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ is the reason we have Christmas, much less Christmas Eve, it was not until this past weekend as I sang in our Christmas cantata that the lyrics of Michael W. Smith’s Agnus Dei truly touched my soul. There are some certainties that cannot be denied. As our choir sang “Alleluia! Alleluia! For the Lord God Almighty reigns”, I felt myself at the foot of the throne giving thanks that He loved us so much that He gave of Himself to save me from myself. And the tears flowed.
This is powerful stuff. The stuff of wars. The stuff that fills newspaper editor’s boxes with mail questioning the wisdom of printing the work of a columnist who unashamedly uses newsprint and ink to speak of things spiritual. The stuff that has spurred conversation and controversies for centuries. And this is the stuff on which the foundations of many families — not just the Arnolds — have been built for generations.
Wishing you and yours the blessings of Christmas and the knowledge that the birth of the Christ Child is alive in the traditions you love and celebrate today, tomorrow and for the rest of your life. Merry Christmas!
Helen Person is a product of Winder having been born and raised here. She did a 21-year exile in Gwinnett County from which she and her family returned in 2006. She loves being back home and can be reached at HelenPerson@windstream.net.
This "stuff" of which you speak has filled thousands of households in Winder and Barrow County for ages.
Your apt descriptions of Christmases past is a reminder, not only of Christmas, but of the spirit of Christmas that filled (and fills still) the hearts and souls of our residents, who think nothing of helping one another. The Arnolds just happen to be a fine example of that spirit.