By Joanna Grey Talbot
As a Christian American the holiday of Christmas is very important to me for many reasons. It celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ, the Son of God and Prince of Peace, who came to Earth to save us solely because he loves us. His unselfish and pure act is what inspires the Christmas Spirit for me today. His unconditional love inspires me to try extra hard to love those around me.
Secondly, Christmas is about family and traditions. For my father his childhood Christmas was marked by a sweet smelling box arriving from his grandmother in Wisconsin filled with sugar cookies and springerles (a traditional German cookie). For my mother one of her favorite Christmas traditions was getting a small can of sweetened condensed milk in her stocking and eating it with a spoon!
For both of them it was also tradition to go to church with their families on Christmas Eve for the candlelight service, a tradition they continued with my family. If you have never attended one, I encourage you to go because it is one of the most beautiful church services. Ending the evening singing “Silent Night” while everyone holds a lit candle and the lights are dimmed always gives me happy goosebumps.
My family, from the very beginning, always appreciated and protected our traditions. It was important to us to participate in the yearly family reunion on my mom’s side and within our immediate family, no matter what happened that year, we would always make time for our Christmas traditions. I don’t remember the first trip but every year since I can remember my family has driven to the nearest mountains to cut down a live Christmas tree. Nothing compares to the smell of a fresh Fraser Fir. We would all pile into the van and my older brothers and I would do our best to get along because we all loved this yearly outing.
Our first trips took place in the mountains of north Georgia when we lived outside of Atlanta. We traveled to the same small town, ate at the same family restaurant, and shopped for a new Christmas ornament for each of us in one of the local stores. If any of our grandparents were visiting they would join in the adventure but it was almost always just our family and I loved it that way. My brothers are three and eight years older than me so as a child I was always craving to spend time with them so outings like this meant that no matter how much they found me annoying I had them all to myself.
After we moved to North Carolina we continued the tradition and made the big steps of welcoming two new people into the family and into our favorite yearly outing. I can still remember the times that my now sisters-in-law came with us for the first time to pick out our Christmas tree. It is a big deal to be welcomed into the inner sanctum of the hunt for the Grey Family Christmas tree. By that point we were pretty sure my brothers were going to seal the deal (or at least hoped they were) so I was very excited to have them join us.
Only a handful of times have we not cut down our Christmas tree in the mountains. The most memorable was the holiday season of 2010 when just as we pulled off the interstate and started heading up the mountain it started to snow….and snow….and snow. By the time we city slickers realized how heavy it was falling it was too late to head back and decided to push on. Yet, as we reached the top of the mountain traffic had come to a complete stop and the roads were covered with snow and ice. We were in two cars because my brother, Jonathan, and his wife, Melinda, had had their first child and he was only a few months old. Thankfully he slept most of the time but we were stuck literally on the Continental Divide for a couple hours until Sheriff Deputies and a snow plow arrived. We made it into town and had lunch but decided to head home to be on the safe side. That year we picked out our tree….from Lowe’s.
As I grew up and discovered that I loved to bake I started my own yearly Christmas tradition (after a couple years of Mom’s help) of baking a huge batch of ginger cookies and sharing them with my family and friends. The smell of freshly baked ginger cookies is as much Christmas to me as the smell of a Fraser Fir tree. For that reason I rarely make the cookies outside of the holiday season. The few years I have lived away from my family or when my oldest brother and his family are living overseas with the military I always try to mail everyone a cookie tin full of them. So far they have traveled well!
Lastly, after the Christmas Eve service or whenever we are all together over the holidays we always sit down to watch our favorite Christmas movie – “A Child’s Christmas in Wales.” Based on the Dylan Thomas poem of the same name (click here to read it or click here to hear Dylan Thomas read it) it is about a granddad sharing stories with his grandson about his favorite Christmas memories growing up in Wales. It is both funny and sentimental, heart-warming and entertaining and some of the best lines. You will no longer say that someone is drunk when you hear Auntie Hannah described as being “tiddly as a newt.”
As my immediate family has grown to include two sisters-in-law, seven nephews, and my husband, we have had to adjust some of our traditions and even create new ones but no matter what the sentiment is always the same. More than anything we just want to be together. No matter if we are driving up to the mountains or just taking a walk through the neighborhood what matters the most is that we have each other. It is a time to come together and remind ourselves that our family is strong and that we are each loved.