That Moment of True Christmas


Books are always a go-to gift in this house .This year’s theme was on famous artists.

Christmas is a bit discombobulated this year, with two of our four kids celebrating the season in Georgia. I always figured on me being the one who would end up back in Georgia, instead it’s my son Stephan who is living and working there.

Life can be a journey full of switchbacks.

Here I raised one son and three daughters and now have three grandsons and the hope of a granddaughter one day. I’ve had her Easter outfit hanging in my closet now for a good five years.  So until I’ve lost all hope, the pink dress will continue to take up the space in my life I’ve created for it.

Like a lot of families who have to work around schedules, we’ve had our Christmas already. No fancy dinner table was set, but the food tasted every bit of good off the plates in our laps as it would have from a table full of fine linens and glittering candles.

One of the key lessons of life is being able to let go of expectations and just enjoy the presence of others. For the most part, we do that around here. I think it might drive my daughters a little bit crazy the way their mama who used to have such high expectations for them (still does have high expectations for them) is able to let go of those expectations for the grandsons.

“Oh, let him have the camel,” I said when the youngest picked up the ceramic piece from the nativity set.

“But he might drop it and break it!” his mama protests.

“So what?” I shrug.  (In a world of Donald Trump a broken camel seems like the least thing we should be making a fuss over).

The mama grabbed the camel and returned it to the nativity.

And all the grandsons know if granny (Mimi) won’t do it, go find Pa. He’ll say yes. (If you can get his attention. Good luck with that.)

Camping is something all the boys do with their parents so the camp chairs were a big hit.

Camping is something all the boys do with their parents so the camp chairs were a big hit.

We don’t have a lot of traditions when it come to Christmas, but there is one I make the kids and grandkids adhere to – we open presents one at a time, from youngest to oldest. Everyone has to take their turn. The sons-in-laws have had to make the biggest adjustment in this regard, especially if they come from a family where everyone just rips into everything all at once. I am not sure how this tradition got started exactly. It’s just the way we did it when I was growing up so I’ve continued it.

When Mama was alive and we’d get together with my siblings and their spouses and the 13 grandchildren, the present opening often took up to four hours. Then we added in the tradition of having to perform something to boot – recite a poem or sing a song, or play a violin or tell a story. Each of the grandchildren had to perform. My grandsons haven’t been taught to do this yet, but I’m going to start insisting on it within the next few years. Doesn’t look like I’m going to end up with the 13 grandchildren my mother had, though, so there’s that saving grace for the sons-in-laws, I guess.

Thankfully, the grandsons, despite being so young are pretty patient about taking turns opening gifts. The oldest of the bunch is just excited to see his brother or cousin open a gift as he is to receive one. And I think the youngest would be just as happy with a big empty box as he would be with the gift inside it.

Reminds me of when I went to Vietnam and ran into some kids playing with a box in the streets of Hue. In their mind they were driving a race car and the wonder is that it was every bit as good as a real race car. Maybe better even, since driving a box is far less complicated than a real car.

There was this one moment when the oldest grandson Sullivan opened up a box from Santa that had a Captain America (Mr. Awesome to Sawyer) figurine in it. Now I happened to have learned the day before that Sullivan actually already had a Captain America figurine because his mama told me. Aww, too bad, I informed her, because Santa got him another one.

But to see Sullivan open up that Captain America you would never have guessed he had one just like it at home. He made such a fuss over it. He was every bit as excited as if it was the only one in the entire world.

And from the response his cousin Sawyer gave, it very well could have been the only one in the world. Sawyer ran over to Sullivan and oohhed and awwed over the figurine. Sawyer has a book about Captain America that he loves so seeing Captain America in three-dimension was almost too much for his thrill-factor.

Then came that moment of true Christmas.

“Here, Sawyer, you can have it,” Sullivan said, hugging his cousin. “I have one at home already.”

And just like that, Sullivan, 4, preached a sermon to us all.

Out of his abundance he gave to the one who had less than.

And he did it with such grace and generosity of spirit and absolute pure love for his cousin.

Then the two boys, without any prompting from any adults, grabbed each other into the biggest hugs.

It was the best gift given and received in our household this year, this exchange between the cousins.

You don't have to be able to read to enjoy a good book.

You don’t have to be able to read to enjoy a good book.

It was like the antithesis of what we have seen reflected from our incoming administration, which is to say that however much monies Trump and his cronies have amassed it is nowhere near enough for them. He is willing to sell off our land, our waters, our natural resources in order to make even more money. His message to those with less than – be it in insurance or economic stability or a safe place to live – is tough luck. Especially if you are a refugee, too bad you weren’t born into a wealthy American family like me. (Spare me the details about how hard he’s worked. I know migrant workers who have worked harder in one day than Trump has in a lifetime).

I bet if Sawyer had to choose just one present to keep this year it would be that Captain America his cousin Sullivan gifted to him.

As young as these cousins are, they seem to already grasped that the real heroes in America are not the takers but the givers.

I pray that’s a lesson that they will continue to preach through the way they love each other and others. In a world where boys are getting such confusing and mixed messages from what is supposed to be our nation’s leaders, my prayer for my grandsons is that they will always be a welcoming people, always loving, always tender-hearted toward those who have less than.  I pray they give out of their abundance, always. And that they always choose kindness over greediness.

Merry Christmas, friends. Thank you for always being a welcoming people here in this place and for showering me with kindness over the years.

May God’s presence be your greatest gift this season and throughout the coming year.


Karen Spears Zacharias

Author/Journalist/Educator. Gold Star Daughter.



about 8 years ago

Blessings on your entire house (house I the Biblical sense). And peace be upon you.



about 8 years ago

Forgot to add something. I led a little Christmas Eve service this evening with a dozen or so folks at a small church obviously too small and poor to afford a pastor. Instead of a sermon per se, I highlighted a few points from the scripture readings and then shared a couple of stories of life in the Republic of Turkey where local folks cut Christmas trees from some of us GI families, talked about my friend Wesley who would have spent Christmas '67 in Vietnam--his last Christmas on earth. Wondered what it was like for him and what bits of Christmas joined him to home back then. Then other folks shared reflections of Christmas that were meaningful to them... The sight of manger scenes when one man was a young boy, scenes that imprinted "savior of the world" on his mind, words that would mean much decades later as he overcame alcoholism and homelessness. Christmas joy from one family helped by this little church, the family so thankful to actually be off the street and under a roof again this year. The stories shared, the prayers spoken in that circle were some of the best Christmas memories I'll ever have. There was true joy in the room. No fancy video screens and bands to lead the singing. Just an old piano and our voices. But there was more genuine joy to be alive, to be together, to know how important this birth of Jesus is. So we sang "Joy to The World" a second time. And felt it. This little bunch does a community meal every Wednesday. Not enough money for a pastor, but God has given them a leader and a mission. Might say these 'sheep' have become true 'shepherds'. God is good. Joy to the world!


Karen Spears Zacharias

about 8 years ago

A beautiful story, Roger. Thank you for sharing it with me and with those in that congregation. I saw a photo from a friend the other day of his Christmas in Vietnam. The GIs had fashioned a Christmas tree of sorts and stood around it with t-shirts dripping in sweat, some without t-shirts at all. Yes, lots of memories, good and bad, fulfilled and lonely for many. I have thought of you and your time in Turkey as we have seen that part of the world erupt as of late. And wonder what will become of the people there as Russia becomes even more aggressive. Seemingly with this new administration's support. Peace on Earth seems so very far off right now. Yet, I know, it resides in the hearts of many. Merry Christmas, Roger, thank you for the work you do.



about 8 years ago

I also brought along a little bronze coin with the icon of Christ on the front, a Byzantine cross and the Greek letters for the words "Jesus Christ, the Victor" on the back. Jean and I found it in the loose dirt inside the ruins of a little Byzantine church just above the beach on the edge of the town we lived in. Several years ago, I identified its approximate age: about 975 years old now. Had it been given as an offering at Christmas or Easter,following recovery from illness or the birth of a child? What hands did it pass through? I'm thankful that those hands knew Christ, and that someone told someone who told someone... the reason we know Christ today. I passed the coin around so every hand could hold it. It was a privilege and a blessing to have it back in church for worship after an absence of nearly a thousand years. It was also a reminder of "home", the town of Yalova, Turkey, our first home as a married couple from '71-'73. We celebrated our first Christmases together as a couple there. It will always be home to us and our life together. And Christmases I will not forget. Having known so many people from all over the country while in college and then during my USAF training before going overseas, our tiny apartment was decorated with cards from all over the world. Christmas brings family together. It was meant to bring the world together too.



about 8 years ago

Thank you Karen, merry Christmas to you and yours. And to AFRoger thank you for sharing your story.


Karen Spears Zacharias

about 8 years ago

Merry Christmas, Debbie.


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