December 2018 – Miracle in a cigar box – My favorite Christmas decoration is a homemade manger scene constructed by a loving grandmother with the help of her grandchildren. This crèche was made from my grandfather’s cigar box, gravel, plaster, leaves, pine needles, and a farm-scene photo from a Christmas card.
My grandmother Smith worked on a farm her whole life. But she made time with grandchildren a top priority.
I remember one visit at Gran and Pawpaw’s house when we had started out on a walk around the circular driveway. Suddenly she stopped, picked up a piece of gravel and remarked, “This rock looks like Jesus’s mother, Mary, at the manger scene! Can we find one that looks like Joseph or a donkey? What about the shepherds, wise men, and angels?”
Over the next few months, we collected small stones resembling Mary, Joseph, shepherds, animals, and wise men. Then, Gran had a simple but creative idea of how we might preserve and share our discoveries. We mounted them in the crèche she made in the old cigar box. My grandfather’s discard was transformed into a simple reminder of the greatest miracle in history: the birth of our Savior. I enjoy sharing that special memory with my own grandchildren every year.
Buddy Smith, AFA vice president
122 gift bags – Last Christmas was my first Christmas as a newlywed. My husband told me how his family’s tradition growing up had always been not to give gifts to each other, but to give gifts to others – to those who received gifts from no one else.
So, we called a nearby senior living facility and inquired about the 122 residents – their needs, their likes, their dietary restrictions, and the numbers of men and women living there. Then, we shopped for hand lotions, lip balms, winter scarves, warm socks, notepads and pens, low-sugar candies, and other small gifts. We assembled the 122 colorful gift bags in our living room. In each one, we included a small card with a handwritten Bible verse and a note wishing them a Merry Christmas.
On December 23, we went door-to-door in the nursing home and hand delivered the packages. Some received the gift in confusion, questioning who could be giving them a gift; others just silently smiled and hugged us. One lady asked us to let her know if she could ever do anything for us. That was a Christmas memory never to be forgotten.
Stacy Singh, AFAJ staff writer
A sensory feast – My childhood memories of Christmas are marked by three things: excitement over a sparse Mississippi snow (maybe), the taste of homemade buckeyes (balls of peanut butter covered in chocolate), and the candles of the Advent wreath. The season was always a sensory feast at the Chamblee home, with sights, smells, and sounds all merging when Dad lit the Advent candles after dinner. We gathered around the table, sang “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,” and listened as Dad read the day’s scripture passage.
Mesmerized by the flickering candles, we would journey from the Garden of Eden, pass through Abraham’s mysterious Mesopotamia, follow Moses as he led the Hebrews from Egypt, watch David slay a giant and claim the crown, and eventually find ourselves in a dirty stable in Bethlehem as the Prince of Heaven entered the world. Then we would turn, looking over the horizon of history, and see the same Prince on His way to bring us back to Eden again.
Now any time I see a candle lit, I’m reminded not only of the ancient story and the promise of peace on earth, but also of my own place in the journey from Eden to a glorious eternity in the presence of the King of kings.
Jordan Chamblee, AFAJ staff writer
Right, Anne Reed
The joy of giving – We grew up poor. My dad raised us, and there wasn’t a lot of hoopla when it came to Christmas. We had a small, white, artificial tree with big, red glittery balls we pulled out of the hall closet and placed on a side table each December. Our maternal grandparents always mailed one gift for each of us – sometimes it was our only gift.
And we hoped for a semi-traditional Christmas Eve visit to the local department store where we each picked out one gift. We never knew if it would happen until the day arrived.
One Christmas Eve, Dad told us we would indeed be going on that shopping trip. The air immediately grew thick with anticipation. He told us our cousins were struggling because their father had abandoned them. He then asked what we would think about buying gifts for our cousins instead of ourselves.
I remember the feeling of hope turning to dread at the thought of surrendering our gifts. But it was quickly replaced with fresh, new joy once we started choosing gifts for each cousin.
I’ll always treasure that Christmas morning when we arrived at that small, simple farmhouse and handed out gifts to a family who had less than we did.
Anne Reed, AFAJ staff writer
If I could go back – I always mourn for Scrooge in The Christmas Carol as he revisits Christmas Past. But I also cry for myself. Like Scrooge, I took for granted the wonderful, mundane parts of my childhood.
I never realized Christmas dinner in a room packed with grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins was such a blessing to be treasured. Chaotic and loud, Christmas dinner was filled with love and security – the place where I belonged.
If I could go back now, I would again sit in Aunt Gwen’s kitchen with all my cousins, waiting for the adults to fill their plates first. I would savor every bite and lovingly kiss the cook.
I would gaze into the mischievous eyes of my grandmother and really look at all my other loved ones. I would thank my aunts for their watchful eyes of constant care. I would thank my uncles for teaching me how to respectfully argue and disagree. I would laugh and joke with my cousins, cherishing every face, every voice, every touch.
Most of all, I would thank God for giving me the gift of family. My family. They taught me Who He is and who I am in Him.
Joy Lucius, AFAJ staff writer
A soldier’s homecoming – One of my favorite Christmas memories occurred when my youngest son came home early from his deployment to Iraq. We did not expect him home until after the Christmas holidays. However, things changed, and his unit was being replaced earlier than first anticipated. He called his brothers to let them know, and together they hatched a plan to make it a Christmas surprise for their mother.
I was let in on the surprise so that I could help with the preparations. Prior to our son’s second deployment to Iraq, our middle son died. Two Christmases later, we were still dealing with the aftermath of that tragedy in our lives. So, we all wanted to make this a very special Christmas for their mother.
We had friends and family over on Christmas Day to help us celebrate the birth of our Savior with food, fun, and fellowship. We had exchanged gifts as a family on Christmas Eve. Then, on Christmas Day, one more gift – a huge one – appeared in the middle of our living room. When my wife opened that huge box, out popped her soldier son. Needless to say, it was a very special Christmas.
Durick Hayden, AFA vice president
A faithful father – Christmas Sunday 1949. Two inches of snow lay on the ground – a rarity in our Alabama home. My sister and brothers and I could hardly wait to go play in the snow. We rushed through breakfast and opened our few small gifts, then prepared to head outdoors.
“Wait up, boys,” Dad called. “Time to get ready for church!”
We groaned and pointed out how dangerous it would be to drive. But we didn’t persuade our dad.
He cautiously navigated the rolling hills to our little country church. Dad built a fire in the old coal stove that heated the sanctuary, and we waited for others to arrive. But no one else showed up – not even the pastor.
As we kids clamored to go home, Dad first gathered us around the old upright piano, and our sister played as we Murphrees sang every Christmas carol in the book! Next, Dad had us sit on the front pew while he read the Christmas story.
I was not quite five years old, but that Christmas morning, I first grasped the concept of the phrase “loving father” and the significance of the Savior we celebrated and worshiped.
Randall Murphree AFAJ editor
Ed and Diane Vitaglliano, 1981
No going home – My wife, Dianne, and I have been married for 37 years, and one of my fondest Christmas memories is still from our first year.
Growing up, I had been used to moving. However, my wife was a Mississippi homebody. When I met her in Dallas, Texas, it was the furthest away from home she’d ever been. Right after we married, I dragged her to Costa Mesa, California, where I had enrolled in Bible college. She never complained, but instead relished building our new life together.
She worked full-time, and I worked part-time while having a full load of classes. Money was extremely tight. Our core foods included frozen chicken potpies and burritos for twenty-five cents each, as well as frozen pizzas for a buck apiece. A date consisted of going to McDonald’s. It’s a long way from California to Mississippi. No going home for Christmas!
Unbeknownst to us, the folks from her home church back in Morton, Mississippi, were holding bake sales and yard sales in order to raise the money for two airline tickets home for Christmas. I will never forget the day we got those in the mail. We both wept like babies. The joy of our first Christmas together would be hard to top.
Ed Vitagliano, AFA vice president
The coolest gift? – The coolest Christmas gift I ever received came from my uncle and aunt when I was about 10 years old. It was a tabletop hockey game in which the players were manipulated by pulling and twisting an undercarriage of metal rods and gears. I had not asked for it, and in fact, I had never seen one before. But it turned out to be my all-time favorite game.
My aunt and uncle knew me well enough to know that I would like that hockey game. They gave it to me because they loved me, not because I deserved or earned it. Salvation in Christ is like that – not earned, but given in love.
I still have that hockey game. A few years ago, I dug it out of the clutter in my mother’s attic when we were cleaning out her house after my father had died.
Every Christmas, I pull it out again for a little friendly family competition with my sons and grandsons.
It still reminds me that even when I had no desire for Him, Christ died for me, a sinner, and gave me the gift that I could never earn (Romans 5:8).
Rusty Benson, AFAJ associate editor