“When is Christmas?” “How long until Christmas?” These are the questions all children want to know. But to me Christmas is not just a day on the calendar; it is a season of the heart. I am so thankful for a mother who made Christmas a season of the heart and taught me to observe Christmas that way. Preparations for Christmas at my house start the day after Thanksgiving.
Decorating for Christmas
In years gone by, I always got all my decorations out the day after Thanksgiving, and then I like to clear all the Christmas decorations away the day after Christmas. However, since Christmas is on Saturday this year I will be longer getting my decorations down and put away.
Early in November I bought the cherries, pineapple, and golden raisins for at least four batches of my fruit cake cookies. I chopped 24 cups of pecans since each batch requires six cups of chopped pecans. If I make many more things requiring pecans I will have to buy more pecans and get them picked out. I tried to make a little something each day and put the “goodies” away in the freezer in Tupperware containers to keep them from drying out.
In Years Past
My mother always made her fruit cakes the week following Thanksgiving, stored them away with apple slices and allowed them to mellow. She used things she had canned such as watermelon rind preserves, fig preserves, and pear preserves and lots of spices. Long before then, she had picked out the hickory nuts she would use in the cakes.
My family is not too fond of regular fruit cake, but they love the little fruit cake cookies (Lizzies) I make from a recipe given to me more than 30 years ago by Bessie Lee Lazarus. My husband thought my mother’s fruit cake was the best he had ever eaten.
There are so many little decorations that are old but they are precious to me and I always in prior years put them out at Christmas. The little Santas that tumble, stand on their head, and in various grotesque positions are among my favorites. And of course, I collect angels, and I always bring out my angel figurines, and the little lace angels that I make. Some of my angels were gifts that someone made in a Bible School project, others cost $65 to $75 that my children have given me. All are so precious to me. However, I cannot decorate this year as I get too tired. Nor can I make that Christmas dinner for the family that I have done for so many years. We will go to my daughter’s home for dinner.
The Reason for Christmas
But Christmas, the Christmas that is in my heart, is more than the wonderful smells of spices and fruits at Christmas. It is more than the swags of green with the bows of red, and more than the golden magnolia leaves across my mantel. It is truly a season of my heart. It is a time of sharing, a time of love, and especially a time of love for the little babe that was laid in the manger in Bethlehem so many centuries ago. That little babe is our Saviour, and His birth is just part of the plan of salvation. It is continued on the cross that we think about at Easter, and then it goes on to the empty tomb for us all to know that He has ascended back to heaven, and the promise that He will come again for us.
Even in the most austere of times, there was a spirit of sharing in my home as we always had “company” at Christmas. If it were not relatives, it would be a widow that was among my mother’s friends. Mother could take a little something and make a wonderful dinner out of it. She could prepare sweet potatoes so many different ways, all delicious. Her chicken and dressing cannot be beaten and I don’t think can be even equaled.
There was no money for gifts in my childhood, but my mother always managed to have something special for me. I have written about the compact she found for a nickel and carefully hid it until Christmas. I did not have the heart to tell her the MHS colors were now red and white, and not the green and white of the compact. Long before I entered high school, the colors had been changed, and that was why the compact was just a nickel. It was special to me because it was a sacrificial gift bought out of love for me.
The last doll that I received at Christmas was a baby doll and I was about 10 when I received it. I planned to always keep that little doll. However, when I was about 17 my mother heard of a neighbor child of about six who longed for a baby doll for Christmas, and her family could not afford to buy a doll since they had a hard time feeding the family. That little girl got the prettiest baby doll that Christmas – she got my doll. I was hurt that my mother did not even discuss it with me, but as time went by I was pleased that she had such a caring heart. That was my mother. She always found a way to share with others even though we had such a hard time making it ourselves. But the way she lived her life was such an example to me, far better than just telling me to do things. She taught by example. She believed the scripture in Matthew that reads: “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these, ye have done it unto me.” And so she gave whatever she had.
Christmas is a time for memories, some sad and most all happy ones. We worked until midnight getting the toys put together for our children. We would be so exhausted that we would just lie down on the living room carpet and rest. But the home movies of the delight on the children’s faces on Christmas morning made it all worth while.
I remember the first Christmas after I quit my job in November and went home to await the birth of our first child. Money was short because our income was cut in half. I could sew, so I made the Christmas presents for my husband and my mother. I made Mother a pretty gingham housedress and cross-stitched down the front of the shirtwaist dress. For J. C., I made a pair of pajamas. Boy, were they wild!! I used material that I already had. It took several yards to make his pajamas. They were red with various colored balloons all over the fabric. A friend passed early one morning after Christmas and saw him pick up the paper in those pajamas. She said she thought it was a clown out there before day. I finally forgave her for that thought.
Giving to the Needy
The last Christmas that my husband lived is one that will always live in my memories. We were given the names of about nine families, both black and white families, that were in need. My husband, my son and I bought groceries, including cake mixes, eggs, sugar, boxes of macaroni and cheese, and other mixes, flour and meal, candy, and either a ham or a hen in each of the boxes we filled. If they were a large family, much more was put into the boxes, and of course, if there were only two or three, the boxes were smaller. In each box, we made Christmas cards on the computer and the card read, “God loves you and we love you, too.” We spent more than $900 on those boxes. They never knew our names. The happiness that it brought those families made our Christmas. We did not have gifts under our Christmas tree for us, but we felt like we had received a gift when we remembered the grateful families.
We had our old home movies converted to show through the VCR on our television screen. I relive those precious years as I see the children, their happiness, and I look at their handsome curly haired daddy, and sometimes the worn out frowsy mama is included (me). The love we shared comes through in the pictures and I thank God for memories. My body may be old and worn, but the memories are still fresh and vivid. With the glow of the happy memories of Christmas and the love we shared, even though I can no longer do the things for others that I like to do, I still have Christmas in my heart and I can say “Merry Christmas” and “God Bless You All.”
Juanita Agan submitted a weekly column to the Press-Herald for more than 15 years until her death in 2008. She was a resident of Minden since 1935. The Press-Herald is republishing select articles from Mrs. Agan’s Cameos column every Wednesday.