“Joy to the world the Lord has come, let earth receive her king!
Let every heart prepare him room, and heaven and nature sing.” As
a young child, I remember singing this Christmas carol at church with fond memories of my family sitting in the pews as I
sang with the church choir during the Christmas Holidays. Christmas meant more
to us then, it was a day of celebration, a time of fellowship with family and friends.
We prepared ourselves for this special day, my mother expected her children to learn and memorize a
Christmas speech and stand straight and tall without fidgeting before the congregation at church and recite it without any
flaws or mistakes, it seemed that the older we got, the longer the recitations became.
My younger brother and I were also expected to do a musical duet together, at first it was singing a Christmas carol,
then as we inspired to play instruments we had to do an instrumental musical rendition, once again before a gathering of family,
friends and church members. There was no getting out of it either, failure to
please my mother’s wishes meant no gifts from anybody!
Gifts and presents were usually the last thing to be observed on the list, sometimes our parents allowed
us to open up gifts after we returned back from Sunrise Service at the church we attended.
I didn’t appreciate getting up at 5:00 a.m. to go out into the cold winter winds and snow of Chicago
known as “The Windy City.” Yet this was a part of our Christmas tradition,
God first, Family second. An early Christmas Fellowship Breakfast would be provided
by the church after the service and we exchanged any gifts for friends of our congregation during this time, or it was done
when we had our Christmas Program. Each child was given a bag filled with mixed
nuts, fruits and candy canes.
My blessed mother instilled a true sense of Christmas within her children, which began with teaching
us how to do things together. Although there were several years of difference
between our ages, we still were expected to work and play together and of course being the eldest meant that I was held accountable
to make sure that my mother’s instructions were obeyed, even if my sibling didn’t want to cooperate or participate.
I remember cutting snow flakes out of notebook paper and making streamers and ornaments out of colored
construction paper, sprinkled with glitter and cotton balls, old buttons and any other small items that we thought were decorative. As I sit writing this article, I now realize that we didn’t do these things
because my parents were poor and couldn’t afford to buy ornaments and decorations for the tree, we did it because my
mother believed in her children learning how to do simple things together as a family.
I can envision my father taking us to look for a pine tree (on the various lots set up by vendors) that would fit in
our living room by the window. The pine tree and the wonderful smell that it
brought to our home and the sharp pine needles that fell off the tree onto the floor which was a mess to clean up without
getting pricked, would eventually be replaced by a beautiful silver aluminum tree as my parents got older and wanted less
I looked forward to the delicious smell of fresh dough bread placed on the cabinet or table for the
yeast to rise during the night so it could be baked early Christmas morning. My
mother’s peach cobbler was my favorite pie, and she would bake sweet potato pie, custards pies for my father but his
favorite was Fruit Cake. I believe my love for baking stemmed from being in the
kitchen with my mother, grandmother and aunts during the holidays. Back then
the women would come together at one of the matron’s homes and would prepare the dinner for the entire extended family
of children, grandchildren, husbands, wives, aunts, uncles, grandparents, parents and cousins.
There was laughter in the kitchen as the women shared their marital bliss and drama with each other, although younger
children were not suppose to be in the kitchen during this time, I always managed to sneak in and tried not to draw attention
to myself so that I could smell the wonderful food and hear the latest family gossip.
It was here that I learned about womanhood and sisterhood.
The men usually congregated in the living room and knew the kitchen was off limits, and if they wanted
anything from within they would send one of the children to ask for it. There
was always some kind of sports game on the television or radio that they would be enjoying, talking loud and each bragging
on their favorite team or player. Children
were sent to the basement or some other room where we could be ourselves, we didn’t own a computer, Wii, Game boy, Play
Station, Ipod or MP3 player, nor was television allowed to keep us occupied. We
simply made up games to play with each other, and if we got too loud or rambunctious an adult would tell us to “quiet
down or else.”
I can still envision the candles being lit on the dining table and a beautiful center piece that was
displayed on a large dining table that would seat most of the older adults, others would sit wherever a chair would be available
and children sat at a designated table that had been set up for us. When it was
time to eat, the head of our family usually my grandfather or my dad would call for everyone to quiet themselves, join hands
and bow their heads for a prayer of thanksgiving. We never ate without first
giving thanks to God for His provisions, the food on the table and those who prepared it.
You could smell the delicious aroma of ham, turkey, pot roast, corn bread dressing, and macaroni loaded with cheese,
fresh picked collards, turnips and mustards greens, black eyed peas, corn on the cob and fresh baked bread and rolls. I can still remember wishing that my father would hurry up and finish praying so that
I could eat! After giving thanks, he would always say “rise Peter, slay
Acts 10:11 And saw heaven opened, and a certain vessel descending unto him, as it had been a
great sheet knit at the four corners, and let down to the earth:
12 Wherein were all manner of fourfooted beasts of the earth, and wild beasts, and creeping things, and fowls
of the air.
13 And there came a voice to him, Rise, Peter; kill, and eat.
There was laughter, joy and happiness as we shared our family meal together. The patriarch of the family (usually my grandfather or father) would sit at the head of the table, and
I can still remember my father telling my mother to “sit down and eat”, my mother was an excellent cook, but her
joy was in serving her family. This is how she expressed her love to us all. The one thing I dreaded was cleaning up the kitchen and washing dishes and pots! There was no automatic dishwasher, our hands did the work! And we had to be careful
not to break the china plates and fine glasses that were reserved for special occasions.
As I reminisce about my Christmas past, I realized that these were forgotten memories, stored in the
depth of my heart for the times ahead. The times when all you may have is those
precious memories and stories of a happier lifetime, when life was simple and we didn’t take people and the precious
possession we attained for granted. These are the cherished moments of the forgotten