Mysterious guests arrive at Mamaw’s house every year on Christmas Eve. The men and women usually stay on the outskirts of the family conversation. They are quiet observers of all the excitement the season stirs up. People call it hospitality in the South. And it is fast becoming a lost tradition. But every child born in our family learns to welcome, talk, and accept Christmas strangers.
It’s important to arrive before dark. Minutes stretch endlessly as our Ford Taurus gobbles the miles. The vibrating wheels lull me to close my weary eyes. Glancing in the rear view mirror, I smile. Both my sons snuggle their special blanket against their chubby cheeks. Cars seats and toys sprawl the entire back seat. Not daring to wake the slumbering bears, I quickly turn the volume dial as “The Little Drummer Boy” reaches my ears.
My sons’ eyes pop open as my nose detects a smoked turkey scent on the breeze. Our silver station wagon pulls into the sandy driveway at Mamaw’s house. Before the car engine quiets my sons’ car seats open, and they awkwardly tumble out.
Twinkling colors sparkle red, blue, and green. A single strand of Christmas lights haphazardly wraps around the front porch posts. Papaw’s welder hat rests crooked on his head as he stoops down to pick up both boys. One secured in each arm, their legs dangle as they giggle. After a quick hug, their red cowboy boots bounce down the hall.
“Santa is bringing presents tonight!” They exclaim. The buzzer on the stove chimes in agreement. My lips form a tight line while I watch my boys eye the multitude of presents like predators.
Before I have the opportunity to inquire about the identities of my Mother-in-law’s guests, she parades around the living room placing one present into their outstretched hands. Although unannounced guests are part of our family tradition, I’m nervous; have I packed enough presents this year?
She disappears from the room, and then returns carrying a mountain of presents. An uneasiness washes over my facial features as I ask in disbelief, “Are those ALL for the boys?”
Shaking her head she sheepishly laughs. “I’d forgotten just how much I picked up here and there until I started wrapping them.”
My cheeks redden at the sight of the extravagant towers of shiny packages higher than my five year old son. I sigh. How do I teach my young sons Christmas means more than receiving new toys?
Aunts, uncles, and friends crowd together on the leather couches in the tiny living room. Papaw nods his head. My boys scramble to their knees violently shaking each package before ripping the crinkly paper to shreds. Shirts, socks, and trousers fly over their small shoulders as they race on to the next colorful gift. My mouth opens aghast, but no words form. Papaw sticks metallic bows on top of Matthew’s brown hair as he uncovers new discoveries.
On my hands and knees, I scoop up discarded paper. Overwhelmed by the speed of two young boys, I scramble to keep up. Bows, boxes, and red candy cane paper completely covers both little bodies. Lifting the debris, I hear Matt whoop and holler. Brad squeals in delight as he scoots along the tile floor after a whirring police car. Sirens wail as red lights flash an ominous warning. Victoriously holding up a giant candy cane filled with M&M’s, Brad flashes a million dollar smile at his brother.
With worried eyes I ponder how to teach my little ones the true meaning of Christmas.
Later that night I sit on the front porch with my sons peering up at the black night sky. As we search for the brightest star one of the guests say, “Wise men long ago actually followed the Star of Bethlehem until it led them to the best Christmas present ever! The same God who created all those stars sent His own son to Earth as a baby because he loves us so much.” My son’s eyes open wide as he runs to the life size nativity scene in the front yard.
Staring down at the baby Jesus figure in the manager he questions, “Why does Santa come the same night baby Jesus was born?” Surprise flits across the stranger’s face. A picture of Santa kneeling to Baby Jesus beside a manger flashes into my mind. Without hesitation the elderly lady answers, “Santa is a man who wants to honor Jesus by giving gifts to others. It is fun to receive toys as gifts, but there is one precious gift that God wants to give you.” Tears well in my eyes as I hope my sons aren’t too young to understand how the most important gift they will ever receive is our Lord Jesus Christ.
The lady continues, “God’s special gift isn’t wrapped in shiny paper. In fact you can’t even see or touch it. But when you believe in His Son, Jesus, God’s gift of grace saves you.” The silence is deafening as his mind processes her words. Picking up the baby Jesus figure from the manager, he cradles the tiny doll in his arms.
“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith-and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God- Ephesians 2:8