Column: Two kinds of celebrations mark the Christmas holidays

Published 12:00 am Thursday, December 23, 2004

I do start early, but a lot of good it does me. No one is easier to sidetrack than I am. I’ve always had a lot of sympathy for that woman who bought her cards at the last minute and by that time, there being little choice, grabbed a handful and sent off some 35 or 40 of them without paying much attention to what she was sending.

It wasn’t until they were well on their way that she picked up one of the two or three remaining ones and read the message, &uot;Gift follows.&uot;

I had a New England English teacher at the university who told us about two of her great aunts, who the day after Christmas gathered all their gifts together in baskets and walked through the village in which they lived returning the gifts.

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Their explanation, &uot;We don’t celebrate this Papist holiday.&uot;

Back when I worked full-time at the Tribune there was a time when we were understaffed and I was asked to edit the church page along with my regular beat. I tried to keep the various congregations happy by getting a photo from a different church each week.

The weeks before Christmas were the easiest. There were many Christmas programs with children acting out the nativity. There were children singing Christmas songs.

There were children collecting food and other gifts for the needy.

One minister, though, wanted me to get a picture of the youngsters of his flock surrounding Santa Claus. I told him I’d be glad to take the picture for my page, but not for the church page.

He was quite annoyed with me.

&uot;What are you trying to do?&uot; he asked. &uot;Turn them into little hypocrites? You know and I know that all they think of at this time of the year is the presents they want. It’s not honest to pretend otherwise.&uot;

I took the picture at another church. In my mind there were two kind of celebrations. The red and gold one, the house full of relatives and friends, gifts, music, unlimited joy. Then there was the blue and silver Christmas. The strongest example of that was one night before Christmas Eve.

My mother discovering that she was short of sage, asked if I wanted to go to the grocery store with her. It was less than three blocks away. We walked out into the night, a night that would have been dark except the ground was covered with the still falling snow.

I was seven or eight years old and delighted that my busy mother had found time to share with just me. We both were aware of the beauty of the night, moon and stars shining down on the star-reflecting snow underfoot.

My mother picked out a particularly bright star. &uot;It must have been one like that that guided the Magi,&uot; she said.

&uot;Is the star here every Christmas?&uot; I asked.

&uot;The stars are always here,&uot; she told me. &uot;You can’t see them in the daytime because the sun is so bright. But in the darkness you can always see them if you look for them.&uot;

It was something that stayed with me, long after I no longer remembered the gifts I was given. Just as a verse from a poem written by John Greenleaf Whittier did. I share it with you:

&uot;The outward symbols disappear

From him whose inward sight is clear,

And small must be the choice of days

To him who fills them all with praise.

Keep while ye need it, brothers mine,

With honest zeal your Christmas sign,

But judge not him who every morn

Feels in his heart the Lord Christ born.&uot;

(Love Cruikshank is an Albert Lea resident. Her column runs Thursday.)