I write three or four Christmas columns each year. I need one very sentimental column each year about the Christmas of my youth as it really puts me in the proper frame of mind.
I spent most of my time under the Christmas tree. I loved viewing the tree from the bottom as because it gave a different perspective to the ornaments, branches and trunk. I also got to see the ornaments that didn’t have the status to be placed at eye level. One of my favorite set of ornaments was the manger scene. These ornaments came in a kit which my mom and I painted. They were flat characters and after each ornament was painted, it appeared to be almost stained glass. I have neither the skill nor the patience to paint or color well so mom did most of the work.
I love getting our animals Christmas gifts- Lisa and I still get presents for our cats. As a young guy living near Viking on the farm was no different for animal gift-giving. The dogs got little dog treats that came in a box about the same size and shape as a box of Cracker-Jacks. Steve and I both liked to bed the outside cattle with lots of straw the day of Christmas so they had a little something special too. The barn cats always got milk replacer and dog food but I would build them a straw dome on Christmas if they were piled together sleeping. A straw dome was chunks of straw laid around the cats and then a roof over them made of big slices of straw. I guess we wanted everyone to feel included on Christmas.
I still think about the music of Christmas. At home, back in the seventies and eighties, my mom played lots of Christmas music on the old record player. There was a Tennessee Ernie Williams LP that she especially liked and there must have been a Lundstroms Christmas album on heavy rotation somewhere in the mix. I never realized “Go Tell it on the Mountain” was a Christmas song until I really listened to the lyrics. I always thought it had come more from a perspective of personal redemption but Ford had it on his Christmas album. The Lundstroms are an evangelical group from South Dakota who give a more contemporary sound to their music. My dad liked Jimmy Jensen music a lot and so did I. Jensen’s Christmas records were especially great and very funny-not traditional content but they did paint a very imaginative view of Christmas.
I think my most powerful memory of Christmas was probably the midnight service AT Zion Lutheran Church in Viking. I was pretty young and midnight was late for me so I was half-asleep until Pastor Ralph Hofrenning shook the church rafters with his strong, robust voice as he told the story of Christmas. I think there was some special music and I kept an eye on the large Christmas tree just to the right of the pulpit. The best part was towards the end of the service when all the lights were shut off. We then began singing a familiar song so no one needed hymnals. Everyone had been given a little candle with a cardboard wax-catcher as we entered the sanctuary earlier that night. In the dark, an acolyte went to the back of each section in our little church and lit one person’s candle. That light would then be passed from person to person until it reached the front. It was beautiful. It was to demonstrate how we can pass God’s love from one person to the next and that without God’s love all you had was darkness. A few words were said by Pastor Ralph, then the Lord’s Prayer, the Benediction and a triumphant final hymn. Man, I felt like I could run through a brick wall after that although I know that wasn’t exactly the point of the service.
Anyway, those are some of my memories-Merry Christmas.