I love a small-town Christmas! It seems every small Southern town has a Christmas parade, more concerts and suppers than you can count, and countless living nativities to be visited.
We participated in some local traditions for the first time this year. One of them was the Festival of Lights at the community college just down the road. Each year, the entire campus is covered in tiny white twinkling lights. Music plays, and student organizations sell hot food and drink to warm visitors who are enjoying the evening's offerings. Festivities open with the Childrens' Parade, led by the drum corps of the college marching band. Tricycles, bicycles, wagons, scooters and Big Wheels follow, pedaled and pushed by little ones or (in the case of wagons) pulled by parents. All the kids' vehicles are decorated to the hilt. An antique fire engine from the Perkinston Volunteer Fire Department brings up the rear, drive by Santa and Mrs. Claus, who set up residence and talk to local children after the parade. There is a living Nativity. There are horse and carriage rides, train rides, choral concerts in the chapel, and an orchestral concert under the four ancient live oak trees on the quad.
I didn't tell my daughter where we were going; I just told her I had a surprise for her and bundled her up warmly before heading out into the cold night. Her eyes lit up when she saw all the lights twinkling, and the next three hours were pure magic for her. She cheered every single trike and scooter along the parade route. When Santa got off the fire engine and asked her what she wanted for Christmas, she smiled and replied, "A hug." He promptly gave her one! We rode in an open horse-drawn carriage, and she felt like Cinderella going to the ball. She gave a gracious royal wave to everyone we passed, too!
She couldn't understand why the figures in the living Nativity wouldn't talk back to her. "I have a lot of questions for them, Mommy!", she said. "And besides, I wanted to give Baby Jesus a kiss. It's His birthday, you know." We walked back up the hill, making frosty clouds with our breath and giggling in delight. Our noses were cold, but our hearts were warmed by the magic of Christmas. She danced under the oak trees that were aglow with lights, her face turned upward in rapture. Finally she stopped twirling, looked at me and said "Carry me home please", so I lifted her up into my arms. Her weary head nestled into my shoulder and I walked slowly and carefully to the truck, carrying a most precious gift: the faith, trust, and love of a child.
The next three weeks were a whirlwind of clinical rounds and exams, culminating in finals and leaving me utterly exhausted. After the last exam, I got to pick up my husband's three children at the airport and bring them home to his waiting arms. The children "oohed" and "aahed" at the Christmas lights Daddy had put up twinkling on the house; my heart melted when I saw the tears glistening in his eyes as he embraced all three, saying, "This is the only gift I needed".
The next day we began our Christmas baking, and delicious smells from the kitchen wafted down the road outside! Cookies, cakes, candied pecans...plenty to share with friends and to enjoy with hot cocoa in the evenings. My husband's parents were able to join us for a weekend and enjoy the preparations and the little ones.
Our poor littlest one came down with tonsilitis and was sick through Christmas, but still able to enjoy it in the midst of the ups and downs.
Perhaps the greatest gift for me was five consecutive days off for my husband, who works so hard to provide for us all.
Now, he's back to work, and his children will be going back to their mother's in two more days. I'll be starting a new semester of nursing school, twice as busy as the last one. The years seem to be spinning by faster than we'd like them to.
Yet as we prepare to welcome a New Year, there is so much for which to be thankful!!
--Our healthy children who are all growing and thriving and learning
--A secure job in insecure times
--A warm home that is our own
--Plenty of food to eat, and enough to share with those in need
--Unconditional love which fills our four walls and binds us together
--My body healing from years of health problems, and enabling me to continue to pursue my degree
--A surprise late Christmas gift of a full scholarship for the remainder of my degree!!
...and so much more.
May you all be blessed with health, peace, and faith in 2009. May you all have the compassion to reach out and help your fellow man, even if all you have to give is a smile.