The time had finally arrived. After twelve long months of waiting, the time had come that we would get to spend the evening together dragging boxes out of the attic. It came without warning, just snuck up on us. On everyone except my wife, Katrina, who had probably been thinking about it all day, or longer. She asked me over dinner if it would be all right for us to put up the Christmas tree tonight, to which I replied yes. What was I supposed to say anyway?
I was so very relieved to know that our oldest son, Andrew, was home, and that if I played my cards right, his mother would ask him to drag all of the boxes out of the attic and down the stairs. I felt as though I had done my work a few years ago, when I designed our multi-level house to have a large storage room over the garage. This room has immediate access to it by opening a door and walking into it. The old method at our previous home involved climbing up a ladder and through a hole slightly larger than your head. There was always the constant worry that one misstep could cause you to come crashing through the ceiling, since there was no floor. So I wandered to other parts of the house keeping myself busy, and after achieving near stealth status, I soon heard the sound of boxes coming down the stairs, via Andrew. Mission accomplished!
Andrew brought the boxes down with much fanfare while his little brothers and sisters, Bradley, Hannah, Holly, and Joshua followed close by, yelling excitedly all the way. Katrina was the coordinator in the storage room, giving Andrew direction as to which boxes were to come out and down the stairs. I took my usual perch during all of this busy time, on the couch in the living room. I’m usually the music director as well, coming up with a CD player and Christmas CDs, but Katrina had already taken care of that, so the airwaves were filled with the crooning of Bing and friends already. I did make a point to have a roaring fire going in the fireplace, and stayed near it to make sure every flame was perfectly displayed for this memorable event.
At the beginning of the assembly of our seven foot artificial evergreen I was given the awesome task, by the coordinator, of making sure the “trunk” of the tree was straight. I quickly applied my engineering expertise, adjusted it to be perpendicular to the floor, stepped back to admire my work, and then resumed my perch on the couch to let the real work commence.
Katrina and Bradley, our six year old son, began assembling the branches. Andrew took the opportunity to retreat to his room and leave the task with them. Bradley seems to be getting to the age where he wants to jump in and take charge of such matters, and he is very much like me in wanting everything to be at the peak of perfection. He made sure that it was. That’s my boy!
After much arranging of branches and bending of wire by Katrina, the tree was ready to be dressed up, which began with the lights. She soon had these on the tree, and the moment the kids had all been waiting for was here—the adornment of the tree with the treasure trove of ornaments we had assembled over the course of our lifetime.
Katrina summoned Andrew back down the stairs for the big moment, and then began the unveiling of the loot. The kids all surrounded the ornament box, pulling ornaments out one at a time in awe, as if they had discovered the treasure room of King Solomon. As they held them in their hands, hanging them on the tree, Katrina would explain the history of each ornament. Many of these ornaments were from our own childhoods. “There’s one that was your daddy’s from the fourth grade” Katrina would say, or “here is the one that came from Arizona”. This went on for some time as the sound of Winter Wonderland played in the background.
Andrew and Bradley, over the course of the evening, had asked several times why we hadn’t waited for the rest of the kids to be here, as Coady, Zachary, and Reagan were not present. Katrina explained our regret for not having them here, and we talked of how busy the kids get doing other things when they get older. Coady was off playing in a basketball tournament, while Zachary and Reagan were with their mother.
The placement of the ornaments is always a critical issue every year. The kids want to display their works of art they have created over the years in the most prominent location, so we have to be sensitive to that. At the same time, Katrina always wants to apply her flare as an interior decorator, arranging the ornaments evenly over the tree by color, to create a masterpiece that could be displayed at the entrance of any major department store. Pictures of the kids in a wreath, or reindeer created from glued-together puzzle pieces make this a difficult task. Usually when the kids notice that their favorite ornament has been relocated, a complaint ensues, followed by an explanation from Mommy telling that she had found a better place for their ornament on another part of the tree. Before all of this was over, I managed to throw in my two cents worth, as usual, applying my black and white logic to the whole process. It’s very simple. Don’t hang glass ornaments on the side of the tree that overhangs the tile or they will fall off and shatter into a million pieces. Not long after the process was over, one did, proving my theory to be accurate.
As Let it Snow, Let it Snow, Let it Snow played in the background, the decorating spread to the rest of the living room and house. Katrina began unpacking the manger scenes so that they could be prominently displayed, and stories of Baby Jesus were told as He was placed in the manger. The stockings were hung by the chimney with care, in hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there. Wait a minute, that’s from another story.
Anyway, the kids began bringing out the stockings, looking for the one with their name on it. Katrina had started a tradition many years ago of making stockings for the kids that all matched. Each year as we brought another child to this blessed event, Katrina would sew another stocking and apply the iron-on letters to it. We laughed again this year when we discovered that the heat of the attic had again changed Andrew’s name to Andre, as his “W” had fallen off. Katrina searched for it, recovered it, and repaired his stocking. Katrina didn’t waste any time looking to see if she had enough material and letters left over for our soon-to-arrive daughter, Olivia. She did.
Bradley, being my clone in applying logic, began trying to rationalize as to how Santa Claus could not be real, since there was no way he could get down our chimney, nor could he travel all over the world in one night. He also pointed out that Mommy and Daddy were the ones playing Santa, since we did not actually have stockings, and that we were probably the ones who filled them. He’s a mere genius at six years of age, though we may have to muzzle him around the smaller children as to not spoil the Santa fantasy for them.
Over the years, the kids have been instinctively drawn to the manger scene, moving it around, and arranging the animals and people to suit their vision of how it should be. I can remember Bradley, even when he was very little, being annoyed if somehow the characters of the manger scene got knocked over, or rearranged wrong. He always made it a point to correct it immediately.
On this particular night, as all the commotion continued on during our decorating party, in one particular nativity set, Katrina arranged the people and animals the way we were normally accustomed to seeing them, nice and spread out, as if they were posing for a picture. Baby Jesus would be in the middle, Mary and Joseph would be standing near Him, slightly facing Him yet facing out at the same time. Then, all the animals would gather around, not too close, along with the wise men, spread out evenly, facing outward. Now, everyone say cheese! No, no, no, that’s all wrong. They didn’t have cameras in those days.
After getting the nativity set up, Katrina would move onto other things, only to come back to see that the characters had been rearranged differently by one of the kids. Katrina would make her corrections, move on, only to come back again to find the nativity rearranged again. After a couple of times of this, we noticed a pattern. Instead of the characters being arranged the way we normally see it, normal to our way of thinking anyway, the characters would all be crowded around, shoulder to shoulder, as if they were attending a birthday party, watching the guest of honor opening a great gift. The guest of honor was God. His great gift He opened for us was Jesus.
We later asked the kids who had arranged it this way, and discovered that it had been Bradley. We asked him why he had arranged it that way, and he gave us that instinctive look, as if we had lost our minds for not knowing, and said, “Everyone wants to be able to see Baby Jesus.”
We make it so complicated. Kids do not. They have a way of seeing things simply, from a perspective that is not tarnished by the preconceived ideas and traditions of the world.
“Therefore whoever humbles himself as this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 18:4
Written by David Steen, with God smiling, December 2007.