Christmas is many things to many people. Giving special gifts. Traveling to unusual places. Fun with special people. But most of all, Christmas is a season of traditions. Each year at this time, families all over the world re-create those traditions. Perhaps it’s inviting family and friends to Christmas Day lunch, the same invites as in times past. Crowning the Christmas tree with an angel, crumpled with age, might be another tradition. Is a favorite Christmas song played on the piano, with choral hijinks provided by those who have imbibed too much, spiked eggnog, de-rigueur at your house? Whatever the tradition, it always adds a special magic to the season.
As I decorated my house this year, I was mindful that this was my first Christmas alone, just me, an only child whose dear parents are now living in their Heavenly Home. Many of our decorations have been a part of my Christmas’ for a long as I can remember. It was somewhat bittersweet unwrapping the frosted green “Glitter Tree” from the Paragon Victrylite Candle Company in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. Its original, sixty-year-old box is showing its age. Unwrapping the ceramic Christmas tree that Mom painted and fired back in the 60’s brought a smile. After festooning the tree with lights and vintage, Shiny Brite ornaments, I unwrapped the first of the Kalberg’s Christmas traditions, an old family Bible. For years on Christmas Eve, either Mom, Dad, or Granny read the Christmas story from the King James version of the Bible, with its lush, evocative prose. As a child, wrapped up in my woolies, I would listen, staring out the window at the night sky ablaze with sparkling stars, wondering which star might be “the” star from long ago. Last Christmas Eve, it was just Mom and me. I read her the Christmas story from that same old Bible. I’m not sure she realized it was me, but she smiled just the same, her bright blue eyes as bright as any star in the night sky.
Once the Bible was in place, I took an old shoebox down from a closet shelve and opened it. Therein was the other Christmas tradition—a crèche. It’s nothing fancy, just inexpensive, painted-chalk figures, but it’s the only crèche I’ve ever known. Since the first Christmas I can remember, it’s been a part of the season. Over the years, the Holy Family has survived intact. Alas, the crèche’s other figures have not been so lucky.
As a child, I loved playing with a huge set of wooden blocks, to which I’d added bits and pieces of carved marble (amazing what a child can find at the local cemetery) and small sections of two-by-fours. Oh, the vast castles that were imagined by moi, and constructed, block by block. But castles need gilded furniture and towering statues. I would cut out pictures of furniture from magazines and paste them to little blocks of wood. Task one completed. Now, for the statues…hummmm…where to find statues? Ah! Ha! Why not use the creche’s three Wisemen, along with a shepherd or two? And thus, it was.
When the furniture and statues were in place, oh, what a happy child I was! But children are fascinated by things that fall down. A destructive earthquake (moi shaking the castle) brought the entire structure down with a crash. In the rubble, to my dismay, Melchior and one shepherd had been crushed. Balthazar was unscathed. Caspar lost the hand that held his gift, fortunately for him—and my derriere—his injury was healed via glue. To this good day, however, Caspar’s face still bears the scars of that eventful day, and the years have not dimmed my memory of the severe tongue lashing I received from both Mom and Dad.
Placing the remaining figures in the manger some sixty years later, battered Caspar brought a smile to my face, but a tear or two ran down it. I could not help but cry, thinking how God, in His love and kindness, had blessed me with parents and a grandmother who loved me, provided for me, and prepared me for life, with its valleys and mountaintops. Most significantly, though, they taught me how to build a strong foundation. David Brinkley, NBC’s famous news anchor from the 1960s, once said, “A successful man is one who can lay a firm foundation with the bricks others have thrown at him.” Mom, Dad, and Granny, now that you’re all gone, and it’s just me. I’m standing on that firm foundation though, laid with the bricks that life has thrown my way. The bricks you warned me about and the bricks that have strengthened me. For that, I’m eternally grateful!