9
Dec

The True Meaning of Christmas

The days grew shorter, the air crisper, the nights longer, and leaves whispering on the roof awakens each Christmas tree bird wrapped snug in their tissue paper in the attic. Something sang to them, called to them, until they wiggled with joy, crinkling their crepe paper walls. Soon, each Christmas bird ornament would be lifted from his crinkly paper bed where he slept since last Christmas.

As the year neared its end, the Christmas birds felt a thrill from their springy wire clips and gold porcelain bodies to their bright feather tails. The littlest Christmas bird lay warm and snug beneath Gold Bird. How he anticipated the coming holiday season. Soon he would be on the Christmas tree with his fragile glass friends and the others…the round ones with bright colored paint. They were not nearly as beautiful as his Christmas bird friends with their springy wires, delicate glass and pinchey clips that clasped them firmly to each tree branch. And though all his friends were lovely, he felt he was the most beautiful Christmas tree bird of all.

He closed his little red eyes and dreamed of Christmas Eve. From the top of the tree, he would look down on the family gathered by the fireplace. Being part of the celebration made him feel truly alive. “I’ve been thinking,” he whispered in a trembling voice. “You are lovely, Gold Bird, but, you know, I’m the most beautiful Christmas bird.”

Gold Bird’s tail feathers quivered. “Really? Blue glass bird was made in Germany with hand-blown glass and a blue feather tail. Antique bird is missing tail feathers, but so fragile, you can see right through him. We are all unique, and as beautiful as you.” His tail feathers shook as he scolded the young bird.

“It’s true,” said the saucy little bird. “But, the tree won’t be complete if I’m not right near the top.”

Gold Bird, being older and wiser, turned his head. “You obviously don’t understand the true meaning of Christmas. It would serve you right if you got left behind this year.”

The Christmas bird trembled. “That couldn’t happen, could it? It’s not that you aren’t handsome, but my tail feathers are fluffier than yours, and…my…paint is─”

Tut tut. Not…another…word.”

For several days, the little bird lay in his crinkly paper as the thought haunted him. “It would serve you right …” Not to be there on Christmas Eve? He could not bear the thought.

The days grew shorter and a soft sprinkle of snow blanketed the roof. The wind whistled past the attic and the dark days edged toward December. Early one morning, the Christmas birds heard footsteps on the attic steps. They held their breath, as their box was lifted from the shelf and carried down the stairs. “Soon we’ll be on the Christmas tree,” the little Christmas bird whispered to Gold Bird.

One by one, the Christmas birds were lifted from the box. The young bird heard his friends squeal as they were hung on the tree. He heard music and children laughing. He even smelled cookies!

“It’s almost time,” he whispered to Gold Bird. “It’s nearly my turn.”…but Gold Bird’s fluffy tail no longer tickled his nose. The ornament box was tossed into the corner; empty, except for the little Christmas bird. “What happened? I’m still here.” Overlooked, his comfortable bed was now a prison, his beautiful body still swaddled in crinkly tissue paper. He heard muffled Christmas sounds. A tiny plastic tear formed in his little red eye. “I was conceited and proud, and now I’ve been left behind.”

Christmas Day approached and he lay alone in the box. On Christmas Eve, the family gathered to celebrate the birth of Jesus. The Christmas tree bird imagined his friends hanging on the tree branches. “The round ones may not be as beautiful as me,” he lamented,” but they are on the tree, and I’ve been left behind.”

After supper, the family gathered by the Christmas tree. The little girl read from the Bible. “They wrapped Him in swaddling clothes and lay Him in a manger.”

“I’m wrapped in swaddling clothes, like the baby Jesus.” The little bird imagined the tiny baby sung and warm, lying in a manger, warmed by the breath of the surrounding animals. He heard the daddy tell how Jesus came as a tiny baby, and if we loved and trusted Him, He would take us to heaven and we would never be left behind.  The Christmas bird sniffed, “I know what it’s like to be left behind. How much worse it would be, to be left behind from Heaven.”

Then, the crinkling tissue paper in his box lifted and he felt the warmth from the fireplace. “Look, Mommy! It’s another Christmas birdie. He has a red tear in his eye. Can we hang him on the Christmas tree?”

Daddy raised her up and she hung the little bird near Gold Bird. The joyous Christmas bird felt the love as the family opened gifts. The spicy aroma of gingerbread drifted in the air. Christmas bird wiggled with joy as the family sang carols. At last, he was exactly where he wanted to be. Gold Bird swung around from a nearby branch. “Welcome to Christmas, little bird. Did you learn anything?”

The tear in his eye shimmered in the light from the fireplace. “I understand,” he whispered. “Christmas is not about who is most beautiful, who has the brightest springy tail. It’s not about carols or turkey dinner, or even about presents under the tree. The true meaning of Christmas is celebrating the birth of Jesus, God’s gift for us. When we accept His love and believe in Him, we will never be left behind.”

 

22
Jun

A Fourth of July Short Story

Agnes pulled in her driveway and stepped out of her Prius. Her neighbor, Millie, hailed from across the street. “Yoo-hoo! Agnes! Wait up. Happy Fourth of July!” She scurried across the street.

Millie was the last person Agnes wanted to talk to. They had nothing in common. Millie’s husband, George, was a Revolutionary War collector. Their house looked like a museum full of Revolutionary War relics. Why did Millie put up with such nonsense?

Millie ran up, breathlessly, “Are you coming to the Independence Day celebration at the Vet’s Memorial Building tonight? They’re having a military band, Viet Nam veteran speakers, and fireworks after the meeting. You’re welcome to ride over with us.”

Agnes lifted her grocery bags from the back seat. “Sorry, can’t make it. Gotta’ get these things inside. Frozen stuff. Talk to you later.” She hurried into the house. A twinge of guilt gripped her chest. Snubbing Millie wasn’t very nice, but Millie was so gol-darned boring. Every conversation somehow turned to her latest E-Bay purchase. A Minute Man rifle. A battered sword. A faded British shirt. Agnes sighed. Who cared about all that stuff anymore? What difference did it make, anyway, two hundred years later?

The Fourth of July was such a nuisance. The fireworks always got all the neighborhood dogs barking and the streets were a cluttered mess the next morning.

Agnes preferred closing the blinds and going to bed early. Kids down the street were already shooting off fireworks. She closed her eyes…

Agnes jerked and twisted, thrashing her pillow. What? Why was she in the middle of a battlefield? The boom-boom of fireworks became the sound of a beating drum. The sun blazed down on men dressed in brilliant red jackets. Sweat poured from their faces. They marched in a straight row toward an outline of shadowy figures in buckskin, hiding behind rocks and trees.

Agnes stared at the soldiers moving forward with guns drawn. Redcoats? From England? What?How did she get here? She didn’t belong here! She couldn’t be here. The field would soon be littered with dead and dying men. She turned and tried to run. She must be dreaming. Wake up! Wake up!

Someone grabbed her arm, dragged her from the line of fire and pulled her down behind a rock. Her heart pounded. Perspiration trickled down her forehead. She crouched beside the men, so close she could smell their sweat. Older soldiers grimaced, their lined faces knowing what was soon to come. “Hold the line, men. Steady now.” Younger soldiers, terrified of the unknown, sniffled as the enemy advanced, step by step to the beat of their drum. Though the ragtag soldiers were outnumbered by the advancing troops, they had the advantage of the cover of trees and rocks. The men primed their guns with powder and ball and squatted in the dirt, waiting, waiting as the formidable enemy advanced.

She had to get away. This couldn’t be real! She knew she was dreaming! Why couldn’t she wake up?

The drumbeat stopped. Silence! What happened? She peeked around the rock. There was the enemy, frozen in time, guns at the ready, feet in mid-step. The flag drooped, unmoving. The drummer’s drumstick hung suspended in mid-air, above his drum.

Agnes lifted her head toward the brilliant sky where scattered patches of clouds gathered as though suspended from wires on a stage. Overhead, a bird hung motionless.

She opened her eyes, and blinked against the darkness in her own bedroom. “I was dreaming!” Dreams were, after all, just snatches of thoughts and memories, sounds and sights stored willy-nilly in one’s mind and pulled into a fractured scenario to haunt our restless minds. She shuddered. There was a day when her dream had been the reality for many others.

She turned toward the window. It had begun to rain and rivulets streaked the glass, curving and twisting as they traversed the pane. Outside, the tree in the backyard wavered in the wind of an unseasonable summer shower. The Fourth of July celebrations and fireworks must have ended by now. Agnes put her hand to her pounding heart. It was just a dream. Everything was fine. Just a dream.

Agnes rose from her bed and found a book about the Revolutionary War in her library. She sat in a rocker and began to read:

For the sake of independence, farmers, storekeepers, bankers, men from all walks of life, rebelled at the tyranny England imposed on their fledgling nation. Ill equipped, with antiquated guns and untrained, the Continental soldiers chose to fight a highly-trained army made up of Englishmen, German mercenaries, and Hessians.

The Revolutionary war lasted over eight years.
The estimated population in America in 1776 was three million.
80,000 militia and Continental Army soldiers served at the height of the war
25,000 American Revolutionary soldiers died during the war
8,000 more Revolutionary soldiers died from wounds inflicted during battle
17,000 Revolutionary soldiers died from disease
25,000 Revolutionary soldiers were estimated to have been wounded or maimed
1 in 20 able-bodied men living in America died during the war.

All for the sake of following generations, so we could have the freedom to make laws and live by our own rules as established by the Declaration of Independence.

Agnes called Millie’s answering machine and left a message. “This is Agnes. Sorry I couldn’t make it tonight. I hope you had fun. I promise I’ll come with you next year. Our freedom is important, isn’t it? We need to remember what the holiday cost our forefathers. It really matters.”

Agnes returned to her bedroom with her cat. Boom! Another firecracker cracked in the night. Agnes turned to her cat. “Does that child have any idea what he’s celebrating?”

Agnes’s cat blinked as though he had no answer to the provocative question.

 

27
Nov

Mom's Silverware - A Thanksgiving Story

 

Corrine sighed as the comforting scent of turkey wafted through the dining room. She glanced at the clock, mentally judging her dinner’s progress with the anticipated arrival of the children. Her mother’s china, crystal wine goblets and silverware were lovingly arranged on the dining room table. She continued polishing a silver fork from her mother’s rosewood silverware box and placed it next to a wine goblet.

She remembered the holidays at Mom’s house when all the grandchildren came to dinner. The lights from her chandelier had shimmered and bounced off each shining goblet and piece of silverware. Mom would move a spoon a fraction of an inch until it was just right and then, placed a chocolate kiss on each plate.

“There,” she would say, “that’s so they know they are loved.”

Corrine’s husband mumbled something unintelligible from the family room. “What are you doing in there?” Corrine called.

“I’m converting your Dad’s old 8- mm movie films to VHS. We can show the grandkids pictures from your childhood.”

Corrine returned to the kitchen and poured herself a glass of wine. She pulled her mother’s casserole dish from the cupboard. Her thoughts turned again to memories of past holidays.

She recalled the Christmas’s and Thanksgivings when mom and “the girls” all bought party dresses specifically for the event. The tradition ended when her mother passed away.

Through the years, Corrine moved up a generation in the family chain. She had become the gray haired “Grandma,” and her daughter took her place. Different little children bustled through the house.

“Where have the years gone?” she thought.

Corrine returned to the dining room and placed the polished fork on the table. Mom’s silverware was a tradition that had been present for 60 years, throughout years of young motherhood and still remained a part of every holiday dinner. It was a constant, defying the loss of loved ones, gray hair, or climbing through the links of the family chain. The silverware would grace her daughter’s table some day; a reminder of her childhood holiday memories. It would become part of her tradition as she created new memories with her children.

Corrine admired her table setting. It looked nice. “Oh! I almost forget the kiss!” she said, adding Mom’s droplets of chocolate love on each plate. Mom would be pleased. Corrine wondered, Where did Mom get the silverware? It was not likely to have been a wedding present. Mom and Dad were married during the Great Depression.

Her husband interrupted her memories. “Honey, come take a look at this. It’s one of your Dad’s old Christmas movies when you were a baby.”

They sat together on the couch, sipping wine, watching the jumpy speckley black and white film flicker across the bed sheet pinned to the wall.

The speckles became Corrine’s mother and dad. It was Christmas Day, 1946. Cousins Dolly and Beverly hugged giant dolls and little Allan sat on the floor in front of the Christmas tree. Corrine saw herself, a three-year-old, holding an enormous doll. Her unbelievably young mother smiled from the bed sheet. Corrine’s nine-year-old brother,, Vernon, chased little cousin Allan around the room with his new BB gun, making faces at the camera. Big sister Lois and Cousin Wilbur ripped open puzzles and books. Only one last gift remained.

Dad handed a large package to Mom. She smiled, looking uncomfortable in the spotlight. The Christmas wrap fell away. She opened the beautiful rosewood box filled with shiny new silverware. Her face beamed and she mouthed a silent “thank you.”

How Dad must have sacrificed to buy such an expensive gift in 1946 when jobs were scarce and times were hard.

Here was the birth of Corrine’s most precious family tradition; the beautiful rosewood box filled with silverware. A connection she still shared with her mother, one that she would continue to share with her daughter and her granddaughter for years to come.

The oven buzzer sounded. The turkey was done. Corrine wiped the tears from her eyes, picked up her wine goblet and hurried to the kitchen. Time was getting away and the children would soon be here!

*****

Reader: If you enjoyed this story, please check out my seven novels on Amazon in paperback and e-book.

 

23
Dec

Revisiting: Was There Ever a Real Santa Claus?

Saint Nicholas: During the 4th century, in Asia Minor, lived a Bishop of Myra named Nicholas who secretly gave his possessions to the poor. According to legend, St. Nicholas wished to provide dowry money for three daughters of a poor merchant. To keep his identity secret, he tossed bags of gold down the merchant’s chimney. Accidently, it fell into the girls stockings hanging by the hearth to dry. Thus, began the custom of hanging stockings by the fire filled with gifts, fruit and candy. Three gold balls used to decorate pawn shops, as a sign of merchants honoring their patron saint, Saint Nicholas.

St. Nicholas and his Reindeer: Originally, St. Nicholas rode a white horse in his native country of Turkey. As his popularity spread rapidly across Central Europe to the Scandinavian countries, having no horses, they gave St. Nicholas a reindeer-drawn sleigh instead.

Reindeer are relatives of the wild caribou, but are different from any other type of deer in that both male and female reindeer have branched antlers. Their habitat is now concentrated in Canada, Alaska and in the Arctic.

The Night Before Christmas: Both St. Nicholas and his reindeer became famous when Dr. Clement Moore published his famous poem in 1823, “A Visit from St. Nicholas, or The Night Before Christmas.”

When, what to my wondering eyes should appear
But a miniature sleigh and eight tiny reindeer
Now Dasher! Now Dancer! Now Prancer and Vixen!
On Comet. On Cupid! On Donner and Blitzen!
To the top of the porch! To the top of the wall!
Now, dash away, dash away, dash away all!

St. Nicholas was also given some of the characteristics of the Norse god, Thor, who rode through the sky in a chariot wearing a red coat.

He was dressed all in fur from his head to his foot
And his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot

In 1866, the political cartoonist, Thomas Nast, (who drew the characters of the Republican elephant and the Democratic donkey for Harper’s Weekly magazine), drew a picture of St. Nick with his pipe, twinkly face and fur trimmed coat that has served as the model for the jolly old elf ever since. Thomsas NastHarpers Weekly

He was chubby and plump, a jolly old elf
And I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself
A stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth
And the smoke encircled his head like a wreath
He had a broad face and a little round belly
That shook when he laughed like a bowl full of jelly.…

FatherChristmas: In the 17th century, a very old grey-bearded gentleman called Father Christmas also gave gifts to the poor. In the USA, the character of Father Christmas merged with the Dutch settler’s patron, St. Nicholas. He was called Santa Niklaus, then Sinter Klass and finally Santa Claus.

So, whether you call him Santa Claus, Father Christmas or Saint Nicholas, the exchanging of gifts at Christmas dates back to these legendary characters. The Wise Men gave gifts to Baby Jesus. We all give gifts to our loved ones. This Christmas season we must not neglect sharing our good fortune with those who are in need, as was the original intent of St. Nicholas and Father Christmas.

As we look around the world and around our own country, there is no shortage of people in need. My family gives to Samaritan’s Purse, an organization that responds world-wide, bringing relief and the story of God’s love wherever disaster strikes. At Christmas, we donate money to Samaritan's Purse to send a goat and chickens to families in third world countries.

How does your family celebrate the season? What ways do you acknowledge those less fortunate?

17
Nov

Was There Ever a Real Live Santa Claus?

Saint Nicholas: During the 4th century, in Asia Minor, lived a Bishop of Myra named Nicholas who secretly gave his possessions to the poor. According to legend, St. Nicholas wished to provide dowry money for three daughters of a poor merchant. To keep his identity secret, he tossed bags of gold down the merchant’s chimney. Accidently, it fell into the girls stockings hanging by the hearth to dry. Thus, began the custom of hanging stockings by the fire filled with gifts, fruit and candy. Three gold balls used to decorate pawn shops, as a sign of merchants honoring their patron saint, Saint Nicholas.

St. Nicholas and his Reindeer: Originally, St. Nicholas rode a white horse in his native country of Turkey. As his popularity spread rapidly across Central Europe to the Scandinavian countries, having no horses, they gave St. Nicholas a reindeer-drawn sleigh instead.
Reindeer are relatives of the wild caribou, but are different from any other type of deer in that both male and female reindeer have branched antlers. Their habitat is now concentrated in Canada, Alaska and in the Arctic.

The Night Before Christmas: Both St. Nicholas and his reindeer became famous when Dr. Clement Moore published his famous poem in 1823, “A Visit from St. Nicholas, or The Night Before Christmas.”

When, what to my wondering eyes should appear
But a miniature sleigh and eight tiny reindeer
Now Dasher! Now Dancer! Now Prancer and Vixen!
On Comet. On Cupid! On Donner and Blitzen!
To the top of the porch! To the top of the wall!
Now, dash away, dash away, dash away all!

St. Nicholas was also given some of the characteristics of the Norse god, Thor, who rode through the sky in a chariot wearing a red coat.

He was dressed all in fur from his head to his foot
And his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot

In 1866, the political cartoonist, Thomas Nast, (who drew the characters of the Republican elephant and the Democratic donkey for Harper’s Weekly magazine), drew a picture of St. Nick with his pipe, twinkly face and fur trimmed coat that has served as the model for the jolly old elf ever since.

He was chubby and plump, a jolly old elf
And I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself
A stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth
And the smoke encircled his head like a wreath
He had a broad face and a little round belly
That shook when he laughed like a bowl full of jelly.…

FatherChristmas: In the 17th century, a very old grey-bearded gentleman called Father Christmas also gave gifts to the poor. In the USA, the character of Father Christmas merged with the Dutch settler’s patron, St. Nicholas. He was called Santa Niklaus, then Sinter Klass and finally Santa Claus.

Thomsas NastHarpers Weekly

So, whether you call him Santa Claus, Father Christmas or Saint Nicholas, the exchanging of gifts at Christmas dates back to these legendary characters. The Wise Men gave gifts to Baby Jesus. We all give gifts to our loved ones. This Christmas season we must not neglect sharing our good fortune with those who are in need, as was the original intent of St. Nicholas and Father Christmas. As we look around the world and around our own country, there is no shortage of people in need. My family gives to Samaritan’s Purse, an organization that responds world-wide, bringing relief and the story of God’s love wherever disaster strikes. At Christmas, I like to buy a goat and chickens for families in third world countries. How does your family celebrate the season? What ways do you acknowledge those less fortunate?

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