This article by Ray Spitzenberger first appeared in IMAGES for December 22, 2016, East Bernard Express, East Bernard, Texas.
It’s good that our nation sets aside a day of Thanksgiving, and that we do indeed observe that day by giving thanks to our generous and merciful God. Then the Christmas season rolls in just a month later as a time of opulent celebrations and gluttonous feasting. We drown ourselves in such seasonal libations as eggnog and wine coolers and torture our stomachs with nonstop gorging on fruitcake, cheese balls, fudge, divinity, éclairs, petit fours, tea rings, Yule logs, etc. Yes, I’m guilty, too. I was going to make a pitch for thanksgiving at Christmastime, but, in light of the way we often celebrate Christmas, we should give thanks to God when there is no gluttony or opulence!
The fact that we celebrate Christmas is a good thing, but the “way” we celebrate it often is not a good thing. Christmas often becomes a time to spend so much on gifts it takes us the rest of the year to pay off the credit cards, and it’s like a competition as to who can give the most expensive gifts. Also, who can get invited to the most Christmas parties. Or who can put up the most stunning Christmas decorations or buy the most expensive tree, and other competitions of opulence. The sad thing about all that folderol is we forget about the Holy Child, Jesus, whose birth is our reason to celebrate.
It’s very easy to get caught up in the gluttony and opulence, because it’s so much fun when we do it (not necessarily when we get on the scales afterwards or look at our depleted bank account). And it’s especially fun if you can afford to do it. What is called for is some moderation. Money can’t buy joy; it comes from faith and an attitude of the heart.
Some of the Christmas things we have been doing this past week remind me of my childhood growing up in Dime Box, and that’s a good thing, because it leads me to be thankful for what God has so generously given me in the adult years of my life. I remember my childhood in Dime Box with much joy, but it definitely was not a time of gluttony and opulence. I thank God for that childhood joy as simple and unostentatious as it was.
Between the Great Depression and the War, times were tough. I remember how my parents struggled to save hard earned, and hard to come by, money, to buy a home for us. It was a wooden home, high up on blocks with the cold wind blowing underneath in winter. We had linoleum on the rough wood floors, but about 12 or 14 inches from the baseboard, there was no linoleum, and the cold north wind could be felt coming in the cracks between the boards. There was one wood heater in the dining room to heat the entire house. By then, unfortunately, rather than a wood-burning range, we had a kerosene cook stove, and the unpleasant kerosene smell countered the delicious smell of my mother’s cooking.
We had running water, but only to the back porch, and, of course, there was no hot water. You had to bring the water into the house in buckets, and you had to heat those buckets of water to take a bath in a large wash tub placed near the heater. There was often ice on the window sills when you got up in the morning. What was worse, when nature called, you had to go out beyond the chicken yard to the family privy or outhouse (I shudder now remembering how cold that little building was). Well, we did also have chamber pots in the house, but I never felt comfortable using a chamber pot.
The living room was the most northern part of the house, and in really cold weather, we didn’t venture in there. I still have one of the living room chairs from that house; they were inexpensive, small, and rather uncomfortable. Two chairs and a rocking chair, but no couch. The only luxury item in the house was a piano, and we had it because my mother was an extremely talented musician, and because she was able to buy it cheap. One of my fondest Christmas memories was my mother playing Christmas carols on that old piano and family members singing them with her. Money can’t buy that!
I also have the old wooden table with four chairs that we used most of the years of our life together in the kitchen. The table is much smaller than I remembered it as a child, and I no longer have the bench that went with it on which my brother and I sat to eat our meals. When we moved to Giddings, we got a new kitchen table and chairs, but we kept this set because it held so many memories for us. I thank God for the joy memories bring.
In those days, I never dreamed that someday I would live in a beautiful brick house filled with beautiful things. I never dreamed that I would be able to give gifts that only rich people could afford back in those days. We couldn’t afford expensive gifts, but I always got a water coloring set which I loved. Also it was the one time of the year that my parents bought apples, some of which were hung on the bottom limbs of the Christmas tree (the rest were placed in a fruit bowl that we used on special occasions). The aroma of apples still smells like Christmas to me, and I thank God for every apple I am able to buy and eat.
These memories lead me to a Christmas filled with thanksgiving, not only thanking God for the delicious Christmas foods and treats, but also for sending us the Christ Child, our Savior, the Love that came among us. A blessed Christmas filled with thanksgiving to all of you.
Ray Spitzenberger serves as pastor of St. Paul Lutheran Church in Wallis, after retiring from Wharton County Junior College, where he taught English and speech and served as chairman of Communications and Fine Arts for many years.