Several years ago, when our oldest child was in high school and our youngest in elementary, Gene and I came home from our Small Community of Faith gathering to find Katie directing John as he posed as a shepherd for the Christmas card she was drawing. She had him wrapped in a pastel green tablecloth and was instructing him to "look afraid" at the sight of the Angelic Host. He complained, in that youngest child way, why every year his siblings tried to make a fool of him. They protested that accusation with a defense that they try to make of fool of him every day.
Mike was waving a shillelagh/shepherd’s staff and Daniel was sitting on the couch reading through a skateboard magazine awaiting the director’s instruction. When it was Daniel’s turn to sit on the stairs that were doubling as a Bethlehem hillside he brought over the magazine and announced that he was studying the “Noble Word”, a new title for sacred scripture, we supposed. He had an old blanket on his head and a belt from a Ninja turtle costume as the headband. A large blue sheet was his garment. Mike was sitting on a dining room chair, still waving that shillelagh and making up a dialect that was a cross between Mel Brooks and Darby O’Gill reacting to the imagined choir of angels, while he was draped in tablecloths. Katie’s attempt at directing her three brothers to look serious, contemplative and afraid of the celestial announcers of the birth of the savior was not very successful. No way were they sitting still and going to look anything but goofy arrayed in our best dining table attire.
It was rather refreshing to be greeted at the door by the sounds of our children laughing and joking with each other. You can believe it was a wonderful change from the almost usual litany of complaints and the call to separate boys mid-fight over some squabble that would erupt as soon as we stepped out for a little adult conversation. This was a benefit of their ever-growing maturity, along with the large sneakers that littered the house.
I knew this was a 'snapshot' moment. I almost took a picture of them in their silly outfits, but I didn’t, for two reasons. One was that there are some moments you cannot pose for. Another, very practical reason, is that we never develop our pictures (this was before we had digital cameras). We had rolls of undeveloped moments of our family history in drawers and cabinets and shelves all over the house. Why we bothered to say “Cheese!” is one of our family mysteries. This was something we would trust to memory and imagination: the four of them laughing and joking and trying to pose as historical figures from the greatest drama of all time in our suburban living room/ hillside of Judea.
I had been nostalgic for Christmas past when we had a house full of young children anxiously awaiting the arrival of Santa on Christmas Eve. There is no question that those early years of childhood are precious beyond measure with innocence and hope in the generosity of a jolly old saint adding a special wonder to their eyes. It was one of the few nights that we could actually get the kids to go to bed without too many complaints or stalling maneuvers. They all camped in the front bedroom with the blinds up so they could spy Santa and his reindeer-led sleigh passing overhead.
When morning came too quickly for parents who were up all night helping a red-suited elf display the fruits of the Magi’s legacy, it was impossible to resist the excitement of little round-bellied tots in footy pajamas as they ripped open the mysteries left overnight while visions of sugarplums, or whatever the current new toy was, danced through their heads. Yes, I do miss that. But, over the years, we have deposited quite a bit in the “remember when” reservoir that adds depth to our definition of what Christmas means to us.
After all that posing and pretend complaining, when Katie produced her initial sketches for what that year’s card would look like, her three shepherds on the hillside all have their backs to us. There is a flash of angel in the distant sky awakening the sleepy trio to announce the good news, but their faces are hidden. But I know what they look like.
We managed to get Katie's drawing turned into Christmas cards. If I had it handy I would post it along with these words. I'm sure it is somewhere safe in a folder in the back of my closet. Someday I'll find it and show it to the grand-kids. There's always room for new family traditions.