Why Bother Preserving Christmas?



Why Bother Preserving Christmas?

The aroma of freshly cut fir trees signaled the start to the jolly holiday season in our home. Every year, in mid-December, a few siblings and I accompanied Dad on a hunt for the perfect Christmas tree. 

The Perfect Tree

First, he drove to the different tree lots and read the hand painted plywood signs advertising their prices and then returned to the lot with the best deal. Climbing out of the warm car and into the Midwest winter air, I’d follow my family along the snowy path and into the stand of freshly cut saplings. Their branches brushed up against my coat and filled my nose with the distinct scent of the woods. Dad always calculated the height and noted the fullness of branches of each of the trees someone suggested to be the “perfect” one until we all agreed on the best one. Then Dad tied our treasure to the top of our car and drove the jolly lot of us back home. Later, after the whole family adorned it with brightly colored lights, mismatched ornaments and tinsel, the season of Christmas, like the smell of pine, settled down around us. 

But the first Christmas after my father’s death, all of that changed. Instead of a freshly cut tree, my mother purchased an artificial one. I stood by and watched when one afternoon in mid-December, she enlisted the help of my brothers. They hoisted a large package from the back of her car and carried it into the dining room. They tore open the box and dumped its contents onto the floor. Green branches of wood, wire and plastic spilled out into a pile. Ignoring the directions, my brothers assembled it, secured it in the tree stand and scooted it into a corner. 

Mom strung the lights, hung the mismatched ornaments and showered it lightly with tinsel. All the while, I stood with disdain at the artificiality of not only the tree, but of a mother who insisted on keeping Christmas alive in our home. 

 Packages in red and green paper and tied with matching bows appeared under that ugly tree. Festive plates of cookies delivered by neighbors lined our kitchen counters. Christmas carols played on the stereo and the Midwest winter winds blew the snow sideways through the air.

On Christmas Eve, I trudged to church with my family and afterwards, as was custom, we opened our gifts. Those presents, new pajamas and slippers, could not fill the emptiness of my dad’s absence. When I went to bed that night, I soaked my pillow with angry tears.

Looking back on that Christmas now, I see my mother differently. The artificial Christmas tree was her way of maintaining a sense of semblance in a world that had turned up-side-down with the death of her husband and our dad. She understood the importance of preserving Christmas, even if it meant buying an artificial Christmas tree.  

Why bother preserving Christmas? It is worth it to cherish Christmas since there is nothing artificial about the birth of a Saviour. 




Why Bother Remembering the Worst Christmas Ever?

Why Bother Remembering the Worst Christmas Ever?

I’ve never tried to sugar coat Christmas though I have tried to make Christmas merry and bright for my family. Yet, reading the original story in the gospel of Matthew, there were not a whole lot of bright and merry moments when Christ, the person whom Christmas centers around, was born. 

First of all, when Joseph found out that Mary was already pregnant before they were officially married, he nearly changed his mind concerning the commitment he’d made to her; to take her as his wife. Thankfully, Joseph, a good man, took his dreams seriously so that when an angel told him that Mary carried the Savior of the world inside of her, he set aside his fears. According to the angel, the baby was conceived by the Holy Spirit and was not illegitimate. Whew!

Then, nearing the end of Mary’s pregnancy, she and Joseph took a ninety mile trip from Galilee to Bethlehem because the government called for every man to return to his hometown and be counted in a census. Joseph, again, being the good man that he was, followed the government imposed decree and set off with Mary to Bethlehem, Joseph’s hometown. I don’t know if they walked or those ninety miles or if they had a donkey. Either way, a very pregnant woman taking a trip near the end of her pregnancy was not a joy ride I am sure.

Since no reservations for accommodations could be made ahead of time, they had to make do with what was available; a barn or a cave shared with some animals.  

I can only say that Mary was a brave young woman giving birth for the very first time surrounded by the smells of animal breath, their dung and lowing noises. With no crib, or bassinet, Joseph and Mary made do with a feed trough for their baby’s bed. 

Brightest Part of the Story

Now comes the brightest part of the story. Shepherds, the lowliest of the lowliest on anybody’s career ladder, witnessed a crazy sight, so unusual that they were scared, afraid and taken aback. Not a normal reaction to a group of men used to sleeping out in the wilds to keep their sheep safe. But that particular night, out there in the black of night, the sky shone with light and an angel spoke. 

First, the angel calmed their fears, telling them they had nothing to be afraid of. Then the angel proclaimed that the long awaited Savior was born and they’d find him lying in a feeding trough. Thankfully, these shepherds must have been cut from the same cloth as Joseph because they believed the message the angel spoke and left their job to seek out the sight of a baby in a feeding trough. Once the shepherds found that baby, they let loose their own praise. Then leaving Bethlehem, they became the Savior’s birth announcers. 

But danger followed on the heels of this wondrous birth. Herod, a dirty, rotten, low down scum of a politician threatened by any possible usurp of his authority, wanted to know about the King of the Jews recently born. So Herod called his staff together and gleaned from them all the information he needed about the star, and the birth of this particular baby. 

Now the next part of this story makes me sob and when I related it to my ten-year-old grandson he wanted to know how anybody like Herod could live with themselves. But Herod sent his men to Bethlehem and killed all the babies two years old and under in hopes that among those children was the King of the Jews. 

But, once again, Joseph had listened to the angel who’d told him in a dream to get out of dodge otherwise known as Bethlehem and run away to Egypt. He did and Jesus lived a healthy life until he fulfilled the will of God by giving up his life for all of us. But that is another story. 

After recalling Jesus, Mary and Joseph’s story, mine pales in comparison. But why bother recalling the worst Christmas ever? It is worth it because maybe when you do you will happen to see the best.

Why Bother Watching a Good Old Christmas Movie?

Why Bother Watching a Good Old Christmas Movie?

Given a list of Christmas movies along with their main characters, It’s a Wonderful Life and George Bailey surpass A Christmas Carol and Ebenezer Scrooge, A Christmas Story with Ralphie Parker and Elf with Will Ferrell. For me, George Bailey’s story sends a timeless message worth remembering.

In light of the movie, George Bailey doesn’t fully realize the life he’s lived has actually been a good life until Clarence Oddbody, an angel, shows him something different, a life where he’d never been born. Going back in time, Clarence demonstrates to George that his family and friends would have lived more tragic and unhappy lives without him.

When George realizes that his small, uninteresting and pointless time on earth really did matter, he wants his life back. So instead of jumping off a bridge and bringing an end to his story, he races back home. His wife and four noisy kids greet him with a surprise; a basket full of money to help him recover from the monetary loss that could have put him in jail, and a room full of friends.  

Compare Not

But the reason George thought of his life as something small, uninteresting, and pointless was because he compared himself to others. 

Unlike Harry, his brother, who enlisted in the army and became a pilot shooting down enemy planes, George, could not enlist. His ear had been damaged when he’d rescued Harry from drowning while sledding on a pond. But, they were both heroes, just at different times and for different reasons. 

Then there was George’s best friend Sam Wainwright who invested in plastics and made himself a millionaire. George, on the other hand, had instead invested in the lives of the lower class loaning them money so they could build their own homes. Both Sam and George were investors, but earned different returns. 

Then of course there is the villain, Mr. Potter, a vain and heartless business man who George does not want to emulate and Uncle Billy whose scattered brain causes the financial loss that threatens to destroy George’s saving and loans business. 

But George does not condemn either of the men, he’s bigger than that. Instead, he extends empathy toward them.

A Timeless Message Worth Remembering

It might be helpful if Clarence Oddbody showed up to help us understand the mystery of how our past lives mattered. Would our friends and family have lived more tragic and unhappy lives without us? And if I don’t compare my life with anyone else’s is it as small, uninteresting and pointless as I think? 

Why bother to watch a good old Christmas movie? It might remind us that like George, if we can be content with our life, we’ll see the success of our life. And that is really wonderful.

Why Bother With A Classroom Christmas Party?

Why Bother With A Classroom Christmas Party?


Every elementary public school teacher I know feels the same way as I do. Our time with our students, one hundred thirty-three days, is short, but our task is great; to bring all of them up to grade level in reading, writing, and arithmetic. 

When a new student registers for the fourth grade in our school, the secretary tells the parents, “You’ll like Mrs. Luikens. She runs a tight ship.” And I do. 

But, one year, a few weeks before Christmas, I heard these words from a parent of one of my students,

“My daughter said to me that she never does anything fun in your class.”

“I guess I’m doing my job.”

“That’s what I told her. I said you were preparing them for the fifth and sixth grade.”

Thankfully, this parent, also an elementary school teacher, understands the profession and the commitment of hard work that goes with it.  But, her daughter’s words made me think that maybe I should deviate, just for a few hours, from the normal schedule of regular learning. Maybe instead of giving them an extra long recess on the last day of school before Christmas break, we could have a Christmas party.

Zero to Hero

I never do anything out of the ordinary without first running it by at least one or two other coworkers. “You will go from zero to hero with your class,” said one. I guess that meant it was a good idea.

 Then, two weeks before the Christmas break, I told my room full of students, “I thought we should plan a Christmas party.” After a moment of silent disbelief, they let out a shout of joy.

Then I listened while they told of some of their family traditions.

“We usually sing Christmas carols.”

“We decorate a tree.”

“We exchange gifts.” 

“My Mom always reads the Christmas story from the Bible.” 

Together we made our plan for our party and it took on the shape similar to that of some of their family’s. One student brought in a little artificial tree and other students brought in ornaments. Small imperfectly wrapped gifts collected near the tree. One student brought in more than one gift and told me, “These are for anybody who doesn’t have one to exchange.”

They helped each other memorize a poem, and cut out snowflakes. We practiced singing carols and read The Best Christmas Pageant Ever. 

The Best Teacher Ever

Then the day of the party arrived. Knowing that I required some work from them before our party could begin, they complied with their normal reluctance. 

But then it came time to put all their work away and we sang carols with glee, recited our poem with pride, and laughed our way through the gift exchange. We ate popcorn, drank hot chocolate and played some games. And then it was over. 

Wishing them a Merry Christmas as they went out the classroom door, I heard, “Mrs. Luikens, that was the best thing you’ve ever done for us.” “Thank you Mrs. Luikens, you are the best teacher.” 

Why bother with a classroom Christmas party? For me it was worth it to go from zero to hero in just a few short hours.