While clearing out and boxing up my parents’ home recently, I discovered a few items I didn’t know existed. In the bottom of a cedar chest, I found the infant blanket in which I was brought home from the hospital 68 years ago.
Amazingly, my mom had also saved my school-work from my elementary years. In a stack of yellowed papers, I found the very first poem I ever composed. It was a Christmas rhyme I’d penned in second grade. Since I’ve published four books of poetry as an adult, I was thrilled to find my first poetic work.
And then I saw it. I could hardly believe my eyes. Before me was a Christmas card that my mom had addressed back in December of 1957 to close family friends. The envelope was sealed and stamped. But for some reason it had never been mailed.
The wife of the couple, for whom the card was intended, died a few years ago. Her husband, a retired minister, remains a friend of mine on Facebook. Ironically, I’d forgotten to acknowledge Wayne’s 91st birthday that very week. So, in addition to sending him a belated birthday greeting, I texted him a photo of the unmailed Christmas card. I joked that one of these two belated greetings was a bit more belated than the other. His response was priceless.
I began to speculate why the Christmas card to Wayne and Pat Adams had been misplaced. My dad was the pastor of a growing church in suburban Seattle. Crafting countless sermons that made the ancient message of Christmas culturally relevant was time consuming. My mom was challenged by the demands of a 5-year-old (me) and my 3-year-old brother. In addition, as a traditional pastor’s wife, our mother was rehearsing for the Christmas Eve pageant at church, organizing the women’s program as well as being the church pianist.
Nonetheless, my folks’ busy schedule back then is not all that different from the typical family today. This time of the year is filled with all kinds of commitments at work and at home. Even COVID-19 cannot diminish the demands of the holiday season. To the routine task of trimming the tree and decorating the interior of our homes, add stringing lights on the outside.
Then there’s addressing cards, writing year-in-review family letters, shopping for gifts, attending virtual concerts, hosting family get-togethers for those in your bubble, not to mention organizing a household schedule of individuals each of whom has their own commitments. Christmas is a maze of expectations more often than it is an amazing season of celebration.
Year after year, we enter the month of December with the best of intentions. We promise ourselves we are going to cut back on spending, minimize gift giving, limit social engagements and maximize time at home with those we love. This year, COVID-19 restrictions have encouraged sheltering in place and in the process graced our intentions with a better chance of success. Still, the reason for the season can be masked by our many traditions.
Back to the misplaced Christmas greeting. I decided to open the envelope and see what my mom had written in the card. To my surprise it was a note of congratulations related to the safe arrival of the Adams’ newborn daughter. How ironic, I mused. The craziness surrounding a holiday that celebrates the birth of a baby had prevented my folks from sending a Christmas greeting and acknowledgement of their friends’ addition.
And unless I’m careful, the hectic trappings of this holy season can keep me from acknowledging what the Bethlehem baby continues to offer. Lest the meaning behind our traditions gets lost in our non-stop activity, we need to take time to ponder why Christmas continues to be the most popular holiday in Western Civilization.
Guest columnist Greg Asimakoupoulos is chaplain at Covenant Living at the Shores in Mercer Island.