Friday, December 16, 2011

Away in a Manger

I was moved to tears as I watched the little angels, shepherds, sheep and wise men gather around Baby Jesus, bringing the age-old story to life for an audience of parents and grandparents.  Both Alivia and Luke attend the Bethlehem Community Church Preschool, and today was their last day of classes before Christmas.  The Nativity Play performed by the four-year-olds was an example of the hard work and love that permeates this preschool all year.  My grandchildren are so fortunate to attend this school -- they are gently nurtured in the ways of the world and the Lord, as they learn basic educational concepts. 

The Christmas season has always been my favorite time of year.  When my own children were young, I cherished the traditions we created.  The weeks before Christmas were filled with cookie baking, decorating, choosing and cutting down a fresh tree, Christmas Eve services in our candlelit church, 5:00 AM  awakenings on Christmas morning, and a large family dinner.  And now, in this latest stage of life, I am reliving the magic of Christmas through my grandchildren's eyes.

My grandchildren are very fortunate that they have large extended families who work very hard to celebrate both long-time and new traditions.  We all realize the tremendous gift of family, and work together to strengthen family bonds.  One afternoon this month, I cut strips of red, green and white construction paper so Luke and Alivia could make chains for their Christmas tree.  We made "family love" chains, writing the names of people they loved on each link of the chain.  They each had so many family members they wanted to include that we had to start doubling up names because we were running out of paper.  And, as a testament to the closeness of our combined families, they aren't really sure which cousins, aunts and uncles belong to whom.  How wonderful to love so many people!!

Lucas and Emma's "other grandmother", Nana, and I planned a cookie baking afternoon last week for Alivia, Luke, Emma, and their cousin Mia.  We had lunch together, and then sat the three older children at the kitchen counter to cut out cookies and decorate them, with little Emma sitting in her highchair to watch.  It was a little crazy for the grandmas, but will be a lovely memory for the little ones.  Next week we are planning another day together.

Alivia's "other grandmother", Nanny, has been a dear friend of mine for over thirty years, and two weeks ago we enjoyed a special Sunday together with Alivia.  First, Alivia helped me create a little tea party for the three of us, with Alivia using a teacup which belonged to her Great-Grandma, whom she never knew, but whose spirit was certainly with us that day.   Then we went on to a pottery painting shop where Alivia painted a ceramic bunny with the help of her artistic Nanny.

While much of Christmas for children is about toys, the long term memories they will carry in their hearts will be the memories of family -- the special, private traditions of their immediate family, and the larger, sometimes crazy memories of their extended family and friends.  They most likely will forget the toys they receive this year, but the love and warmth they feel will fill their souls forever.

This afternoon when I was talking to my daughter-in-law, Lisa, about the nativity play, she told me that when she attended the same preschool twenty-some years ago, she played Mary in the play, and she still remembers it.  I hope Alivia will remember today -- she played an angel, and she certainly looked like an angel to this grandma who sat in the audience with tears in her eyes and love in her heart.

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