The Christmas Past


JAcobsantaclausWell, the Christmas season is in full swing. And even if the use of the word Christmas is politically incorrect, I am still enjoying a lot of it. It is less than  a week until Christmas. As I have said in the past I would be lying if I was to tell you I am not excited. The idea of having all my children and grandchildren and maybe a friend or two over is so cool to me. This year we have “let up” on the presents except for the grandchildren to help out some other folks and that is just fine with me. I also broke the “Ann Lander’s rule on Christmas letters” to my clients and readers. So, far ALL the letters were thanking me for being a voice, not listening to Ann Landers and thinking about them. Besides no one would ever take me to be PC (politically correct) anyway.
As I write this I am listening to Christmas carols. The fire is going in “my mind” and the Christmas lights are going. The only thing missing tonight is the voices of the grandchildren. And maybe a hot chocolate with my wife.

Last night I visited some awesome lights!

I am thankful for those who have written me and said “I was going to skip the… tree, Christmas, etc., but you have inspired me.” YAY!

2013-12-20 18.53.50I know my grandchildren are super excited about seeing all the aunts and uncles and just hanging out. There are things I like about Christmas which are simply tradition. There are those that are directly tied to the birth of Jesus. And the rest? Well, I just like it. I enjoy Christmas, and though I am not always spiritually tied to remembering something about Jesus, there is still something I love about Jesus’ birthday that makes me meditate on my own need for a savior. It causes me to dwell on God’s plan for me. In particular, the part in which this child born to us; who later died on the cross in place of a wretch like me. That gives me significance.

“I love Christmas time. Unfortunately, I am usually too busy to enjoy the season. I seem to parachute in a day or two before, and poof, it’s gone like a rabbit in a Doug Henning magic act. There’s just not enough time from Halloween to Christmas. And besides, our house still smells like pumpkin pie from Thanksgiving for cryin’ out loud.”

He wrote: In spite of all that I need to do, I have been trying to be more purposeful in getting in the Christmas spirit. I started playing holiday music on Black Friday, but I have to admit, I switch it over to news radio every time I hear Madonna. It’s like oil and water, Madonna and Christmas. I like traditional hymns like We Three Kings, even though they were not there when the real Jesus was born. It took me 30 years to discover the real words did not include “smoking on a rubber cigar.” Next time I see my brother Lee, I’m going to punch him in the nose for teaching me that. You have no idea how mad the blue-rinse widow was at midnight mass.

2013-12-20 17.14.38I am not PC – and I say “Merry Christmas” unless you have a “Bah Humbug” button – actually that doesn’t stop me either. I guess if I was certain that someone was an atheist, I might say “Happy April Fools Day” – nah, I am more polite than that. If I know that someone is Jewish, then I say “enjoy your holidays” because I still don’t know if it’s Chan-UH-kah or Hah-NI-KAH. I wish that Adam Sandler’s number wasn’t unlisted – I am sure he knows. And what the heck – 8 days, that is very cool. It’s easier to hit the target! I wonder why Christians didn’t choose Chanukah – Hanukkah – whatever it is – for their own? We could have had a over week off!” (You can tell my brother and I are cut from the same mold.)Me… I work on making Christmas special! I look for the cool events. I take my family to look at awesome Christmas lights, well done store fronts and for a few little treats. I know it sounds materialistic, but I enjoy giving gifts. The sound of wrapping paper being torn amidst the fragrance of pine, and hot chocolate is joyful. The smiles of others who are receiving is another reason that I enjoy giving. It is a blessing. I love it.

When I was a child, we had no close family outside of the immediate. My mom had no siblings and my dad’s siblings were never much for staying in touch. My parents early Christmas’ were sparse. My dad was a disabled veteran who was trying to work it out and my mom had just received her masters. They both worked hard and long.

In later years our preparations for Christmas often looked like this…

We would get a tree and decorate it. The whole house would slowly transform into Christmas. The fireplace mantle would fill with lots of little ornaments, advent cards would come out and the stockings were hung. My mom would begin to schedule making coffee cakes and homemade breads for neighbors and friends. Meals would be planned. Christmas cards were written and mailed and neighbors planned parties. Children looked forward to CHRISTMAS PARTIES and cards and goodies. My siblings and I would go to Christmas parties, pageants and events at church. True to my nature I would eat too much sugar, sings songs that were not on the list, make up words (See my brother’s comment above!) and drive my choir director crazy. (We were once caught playing “Light My Fire” by the Doors on the church organ…) We would travel to sing in nursing homes and carol. We would carry those little caroling books and ride from place to place on a bus. And have FUN!

2013-12-20 20.24.23Holiday food was always good: eggnog (my parents were always funnier after theirs… hmm.), shrimp, cider, hot chocolate and ribbon candy – they were some of my favorites.

One year my mom decided we would have fondues. Cheese with bread and wine, as well as chocolate with apple slices and mandarin orange slices. Dieting is gone! We could always count on a friend of my mom’s to send gifts from Hawaii – usually food and always awesome. My grandfather would send up oranges nectarines and kumquats from Florida. Food would be everywhere. (Thank you Fanny Farmer!) We would have cookies galore. And peppermint sticks, cinnamon sticks and …hockey sticks! The best silver and plates would come out.

Shopping and gifts: My dad would take us shopping at Dee’s Department store (North Branford Connecticut) where Arnold would load us up with clothing. Another stop for toys, another for appliances and mom would take us for all the other stuff. And then home to get them wrapped. Each year the children received one large gift. Sometimes a toboggan (Good thing, as we had to transport my dad home from a next door New Years’ party on it), air hockey game or a movie camera (watch Christmas Vacation for the scene of the 8 MM reels!) were the “norm.”

2013-12-07 07.11.30Not every gift was “good.” My BB gun could shoot my drum sticks if you removed the mechanism. Darts… we will just leave it at that. My brother loved Matchbox toys, but my dad and his friends could not tell the difference between those and my Aurora racing cars after a few. Our cat did not like the electric hair dryer. And hockey should not be played in the house.

By the time Christmas Eve rolled around, we could not sleep. As children we would come out (we were always up about 4 AM!) and the stockings would be filled with gold coin candy, nuts and fruit and small gifts. The tree would be circled with gifts. They would be under chairs and tables and what at one point seemed everywhere. Santa had always eaten his cookies and drank his milk. We were allowed to open our stocking gifts and when that part was done, we would go the kitchen for coffee cake and hot chocolate.

Then one person would play “Santa” distributing the gifts to each person. Christmas morning went a while and then we would feast on eggs, more coffee cake and goodies from neighbors. We would then get dressed and head out to use the new BB guns, football, skating or skiing equipment. Dressed in our new clothes (we did not think these were gifts! Why did parents?) we would run all day. If there was snow, like wow! Snowmen, sliding and shoveling.

And no school! How could I forget that?!?!?! Two weeks off!

I look for the cool events. I take my family looking at awesome Christmas lights, well done store fronts and a little treats.

As I got into my later years, having found out Santa was not real and Jesus was not a baby, I drifted away from church and traditions. I ended up ensconced in alcohol and drugs. Christmas was not a fun time for me. I remember rejecting people, presents and peace. I was Scrooge. One day something changed for me. I found peace. I found hope. I left the drugs, the bottle and the craziness. Some time later Jesus came into my life.

My folks are long gone, yet the memories of Christmas ring in my head. I am always grateful to be with my family and enjoy the time, the laughs, the exchange of a few gifts, and a meal together. Gone are the days when we would deliver home made bread to the neighbors, bake cookies. But traditions can last.

cardinalNow I make traditions of my own and carry forth some of the ones of my family. Even now, friends of my age are chatting about the coin candies and the peppermint drinks of our childhood, on Facebook.

My family knows I love Christmas, I love the lights and I love them. Some of us will watch Chevy Chase in Christmas Vacation (and some won’t!) and laugh because my love for lights is much like Chevy’s. We will watch Christmas Story and my brother will revisit PTSD. Others will talk and bond. We will all eat tons of food and remember God’s love for us. During this time some of us will help at food shelves and churches. In the end we will remember it is not about us, but about each other.

There is and always will be in my life something magical about Christmas. I wish I could bottle it, not to make money, but to share with others. I wish I could fill my home with all the answers and all the gifts that so many crave and need. I wish life was as simple as it once was. My response to all the craziness is to keep on giving. To give away as much of me as possible while still carrying what is needed for my family and circle of friends.<

I am super fortunate as I watch my children give time and thought process to others. Fortunate they can all be in the same room and be OK. Some of my friends are not so “lucky.”

Over the last few weeks, due to my fall, I am learning to cope with the missing words in my speech and the glitches that occur as I search for thought process, and life is interesting. But each night I look out the window into the skies and view the stars and think “Wow! How fortunate am I?” I turn on the Christmas lights and light the stove. The room shimmers with the reflections of light and flame. Even now as I listen to this song… O Holy Night!

O! Holy night! The stars, their gleams prolonging,
Watch o’er the eve of our dear Saviour’s birth.
Long lay the world in sin and error, longing
For His appearance, then the Spirit felt its worth.
A thrill of hope; the weary world rejoices,
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.
Fall on your knees! O hear the angel voices!
O night divine, the night when Christ was Born;
O night, O holy night, O night divine!
I just know it is well with my soul.

It seems like it was but a few years ago, that tragedy came into our life on December 2nd, 2001. At 2 AM I received a call that said, “There’s been an accident, your son is dead.” My response was a simple, “that is not happening.” My wife and I got up and headed to the hospital, where it was determined that while he was not dead, he would not recover. Well, there is something magical about Christmas and something supernatural about God. A year later our son was out of the hospital and working his way back. Three years ago he married.

thankful-scriptSomeone needs to hear that. In a time of hopelessness, of darkness and despair, there are folks who care. It has been a rough year for many. But in the midst of it I simply say to you, never ever give up.

Christmas so often seems so much more powerful to me than any other time of the year. It just might be for you…

Bless you!

(Personally I would love to see pictures of your favorite lights, hear about your family’s fun traditions and what is your favorite Christmas song. Indulge me a little!)

Written by Lee Johndrow

Lee Johndrow

Lee is on staff as the Prophetic Ministry Leader at the Village Church where he functions as one of the prophetic grace. (You can visit their site at

He is the father of five wonderful children. Married for over 22 years to his wife Tina. 7 grandchildren as of September 22, 2014, with another one on the way! Loving life with family, friends, faith, fun and food!

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