December 24, 2015
An Irish Christmas Blessing
The light of the Christmas star to you
The warmth of home and hearth to you
The cheer and good will of friends to you
The hope of a childlike heart to you
The joy of a thousand angels to you
Love and God’s peace to you.
STUFF I KNOW BY ME © Kathleen McKern Verigin
A strange thing happened Christmas Eve 1955. Our little house in Ames, Iowa was buzzing with holiday festivities created by Mom and Dad, plus we four kids, all under the age of eight. (I had just turned five several days before.) Suddenly there was a loud knock on our front door. By the expression on Mom’s face, I could tell that we were not expecting company. Dad peeked through the crack in the door and then, without hesitation, swung it open. There stood my Aunt Liah, her husband and three disheveled little kids, just arrived from Illinois. “Merry Christmas and praise Jesus!” she shouted with glee. In they came, a line of mysterious people that we kids didn’t know very well, greeting us with smiles and hugs. There were no gifts in hand, no food to share, arriving only with the clothes on their backs. It was apparent to Mom and Dad that they were going to be with us for Christmas. We kids thought—the more the merrier. Our parents thought—how are we going to make this work? Aunt Liah likely thought—we’re home!
Many Christmases before, my dad and his sister, Liah, lost their mom when she died after giving birth to her 9th live child. My dad was 16 at the time, Aunt Liah around age 12. There had been miscarriages and still born babies. That poor woman, Zelma, the paternal grandmother I would never meet, must have been overwhelmed by family life. But somehow she taught her children the true meaning of family. That we stick together. That we help each other out. Especially at Christmas.
So here were with five unexpected house guests for Christmas. Aunt Liah was the kind of odd relative that traveled to the beat of a different drum. As a kid I remember her long, stringy hair. She would braid it while sitting in a rocking chair and singing, “Onward Christian Soldiers” over and over and over again. I remember wondering why Christians would want to go to war. No one ever explained that to me. Then she’d tell us about manna in heaven. That we naughty kids would be eating worms on earth while she’d be enjoying manna in heaven. No one told me about manna either. Or heaven, for that matter. It was all very mysterious to me. But it was truth to Aunt Liah, and that’s what I remember most. Her joy, her passion, her constant whispering of “Praise Jesus!” I laughed at her back then, but today I would love to have a long, sit-down dialogue about Jesus, God and Christmas.
That night Mom stretched out a dinner meant for six, now shared among eleven people. My dad was a firefighter, my mom a seamstress. Money was always tight, especially during the holidays when three out of us four kids had November and December birthdays. After dinner that night, we gathered near the Christmas tree for the singing of “Jingle Bells” and the reading of “Rudolph.” Then Aunt Liah wove a magical story about a star, a shepherd boy, the baby in a manger, three kings and an assortment of animals. It was my favorite story that Christmas Eve.
Make shift beds were made up around our small house. We all settled in for our winter’s nap. While everyone slept, Mom and Dad stayed up late dividing up our toys, now to be shared with our young cousins. Over the years I never once heard them say that this was a chore. Instead, it was a gift meant to be shared. It’s what families do.
I have vague memories of that Christmas sixty years ago, but what I do remember is a tiny living room alive with the miracle of Christmas. Wrapping paper was scattered throughout the house. We kids were actively engaged in activities related to our gifts from Santa Claus. There was enough of everything to go around, including a Christmas Day feast that Mom again had to make work for five additional mouths. I don’t remember how long Aunt Liah’s family stayed during that surprise visit, but the memory of their Christmas Eve visit it still with me today.
I wish you a Christmas that brings the kind of memories that stay with you for the next sixty years, and beyond.
We Are All One, and we’re all in this together.