My childhood memory includes our crazy uncle, Tom, who always brought extra excitement when he and his family showed up for Christmas. And the arrival of grandparents added to the chaos.
As a kid, the local store owners always greeted me and others with a “Merry Christmas,” as did the customers on my paper route. That greeting doesn’t seem to happen much anymore, as people seem to be reluctant to wish someone a Merry Christmas for fear of offending. I still like the lights, glitter and the festivities of the season while keeping in mind the real meaning of the occasion.
As I mentioned, I have many fond memories of Christmases past and most have to do with the gathering of family members to celebrate the season. I still have a picture that I took as a kid of my dad napping on the bed on Christmas afternoon, still wearing a Santa hat, after indulging in too much libation after the presents were opened and dinner was served and consumed. As the Christmas season approached, Dad would always tell us that we wouldn’t have much for Christmas because of our seemingly endless financial burdens, but it seemed like there was always plenty of gifts, food and festivities to make it a special occasion.
On the other hand, I still have a vivid memory of one tragic Christmas when I was a young adult. My father-in-law was a sergeant major in the U.S. Army and his assignment was that of an ROTC teacher at San Diego High School. As the ranking soldier in the area during the holiday, he received a call on an early Christmas morning to go to nearby Fallbrook, Calif., to deliver a death notice. A soldier had landed in Los Angeles from Vietnam to be with his family for Christmas, but before he could board a southbound bus from Los Angeles he was hit by a car while crossing a street and died from his injuries.
I hadn’t been out of the Army very long and I was still an Army reservist so he asked me to go with him, for moral support, I suppose. When we arrived at the home, two excited little kids ran out of the house thinking one of us was their father, since they were too young to remember what he looked like. When the sad news was delivered to their mother, we stayed with her for quite a while until her emotions stabilized and her far-off family members could be on their way to be with her during the crisis.
Our fondest Christmas memories in Castle Valley begin with our first Christmas here. It was bitterly cold, with mountains of snow that piled up on the ground until spring. The temperature dropped to 22 degrees below zero several nights that December, but our young family chained up the truck and headed to the mountains in search of the perfect Christmas tree. We would usually go to a tree farm when we lived in California and pick out and cut our own manicured tree, but that experience was not quite the same as going up to the forest in waist-deep snow and selecting one in the wild with its natural imperfections.
This year, as in years past, there were many annual events to enhance the Christmas experience. The Castle Valley Branch of the LDS Church hosted its annual Christmas dinner two weeks ago. The traditional event was well-attended by members of the community. The LDS Church members, the DayStar Academy students, as well as other families and groups usually organize troupes of carolers to spread the joy of the season to their friends and neighbors across the valley with song and goodies.
And speaking of the academy, their gifted choir and musicians have traditionally hosted a Christmas concert for the members of the community. Their popular bell choir has improved every year and added a new dimension to the program. The first program was probably around 1969, when the concert was staged in the basement of the chapel while it was still under construction. They spread straw on the dirt floor to help stem the bitter cold, but those humble beginnings provided a beautiful and sacred event much like the humble birth of the Savior in more ancient times. Another tradition that has been going on in the valley for a while is the National Audubon Society Christmas Bird Count. Alice Drogin again led the group of volunteer citizen scientists last week as they performed the important service.
More people used to send Christmas cards in past years than they do now. As a printer, I used to create custom cards or a Christmas newspaper to send out to friends and relatives at this time of year. Now I seem to have less time than before and usually end up sending greetings by email. Our part-time neighbor, Ric Fornelius, is an avid watercolor artist who sends out a custom Christmas card every year. Each year he says will be his last to create a card, but we still get them and they are anticipated and appreciated because they are so unique and beautiful.
We will probably not receive new snow since our abundant snowstorm last Dec. 7, but the cold weather has preserved that snow so we will still have a white Christmas after all. Christmas just doesn’t seem right without snow on the ground.
My hope and wish is that your Christmas will be filled with memories this week, and the sacred season will fill your heart with love and compassion.