by John Paul Jackson
I spent the first part of my life, through my early grade school years, growing up in Waxahachie, Texas. My mother’s parents lived all over Oklahoma, as my grandfather was a pastor and seemed to move every two years. My grandparents on my father’s side lived in Waxahachie, and they stayed behind on the old farm when my parents moved my siblings and me to Belle Plaine, Kansas, where my father had obtained a teacher’s position for the large sum of $1,700 a year. Yes, a year.
A family of six couldn’t live on such an amount, even back then, and needless to say, we had no extra funds lying around for Christmas or even for birthdays. But we had great — and I mean great — Christmases. Why? Because we didn’t notice what we didn’t get.
Christmas was about family, and we made the trek to Oklahoma and Texas every year to mingle and play, and we made amazing memories that are still with me. No one wanted to go home. Each Christmas, Grandpa would read the story of Christ’s birth and remind us all what it meant. Even though I would be anxious to go out and play with my cousins, the story stuck in my head. Baby Jesus. The angels. The shepherds. God with us in a new way.
The adults would talk, brag about life, tell stories and jokes, and the kids would eat tons of food and play as if it were our last day on Earth. We would use our imaginations and make entire new worlds from the mostly handmade toys and clothing we had been given. As if it were yesterday, I still remember my first pair of vinyl cowboy chaps, with fringes of imitation leather running down the outside of the legs. The chaps were made from an old car seat found at the junkyard, but I didn’t care. I had the only pair of cowboy chaps in the neighborhood. That was something to boast about. I had so much fun!
These days as I talk with people, I often go away thinking that their Christmases must not be very enjoyable. Pressures of gifts, parties, family splits, financial worries and outside influences from work seem to make Christmas more of an obligation than a joy.
Sometimes I wonder if we have actually improved our lives with time, or if we have substituted relationship with others for the expectations of others. Isn’t Christmas about what we can become because Jesus made Himself of no reputation? Don’t we celebrate it because He came as a man and in so doing, made a way to reconcile humanity to God and to each other? He came because of relationship.
Perhaps the lofty ideas of man should be exchanged for the simplicity of relationships. What if we took some of the time we normally spend shopping and worrying over gifts, and we used it to focus on what we could say or do to all the people we treasure with hope and love? Perhaps then the simple things would become more profound, and the extravagance we now see would no longer be our focal point.
If we could do this, I think Christmas would again hold the joy, warmth, and hope it once did, and handmade vinyl cowboy chaps would be the envy of all the kids.