December marks one year of articles I’ve written for the Murfreesboro Voice, and many have surrounded memories of my childhood on East Main Street. We moved into the house on the four hundred block in the late 1960s and for the next two decades, it was home to the Browns. Full of activity on pretty much any day of the year, it was never busier than during the Christmas season.
My mother was a great hostess, and she often had special parties for friends from Cookeville, the staff at Linebaugh Library, where she worked, or friends from First Baptist Church, where we were members. Out came the Samsonite card tables and red and green square tablecloths, the good china, silver, and glasses, along with her special serving dishes.
Our home was always shared with others.
We never had an artificial tree on East Main. On most years, my brother and I would go with my dad to the land owned by Mr. and Mrs. Comer, out on Barfield Road, and pick and cut a cedar tree—always a cedar tree, and sometimes they came complete with bagworms left from the summer. Dad would usually give me a say in picking a nice one, but I wasn’t very good at judging the size in comparison to our home. Even with our twelve-foot-high ceilings, we often had to chop off more to get them to fit in our living room.
We decorated our trees with countless ornaments, mostly homemade, though we had some precious ones as old as my grandmother. There is the giant red ball (that I still have) which was always attributed to Grandmother, along with some very old-looking Santas and small stockings. We never even dreamed of putting ornaments of all the same color or style on our tree—ours was an eclectic wonder. Each ornament had a special story of who it came from or who made it.
The lights on our tree were multicolored and large. We hung those along with tinsel (always tinsel) and stringed popcorn. A big tree requires a lot of decorations. By the time Christmas was past, the tree was usually past its due date for the trash bin. Taking down the tree and disposing of it was sometimes as big a job as cutting it down and decorating it. I remember one year, the tree was especially dry, and we had a couch that was textured and caught everything. For some reason, this tree ended up being dragged over that couch. Talk about a mess! I didn’t think we’d ever get the needles out.
Cedar trees don’t last forever.
Having a big family meant lots of presents. Mother and Daddy were rigid in their gift-giving because we lived on a tight budget. We usually got something to wear, a book, and some kind of toy, plus our stockings, which always carried a tangerine and nuts. I don’t really remember much else being in the stockings, but I remember the fruit and nuts!
As my brothers and sister got older and began moving out of the house (sometimes they moved out and then moved back in, but that’s another story), Mama decided that we should draw names for Christmas or some such madness. I was still living at home, though probably in college by this time, and I know that the idea of not having presents from everyone upset me very much. I don’t think it was really about the presents but about the realization that life was changing. There would be only a few more Christmases on Main Street and with everyone back home, and that was hard to accept. Little did I know that I would be the one who would travel across the world and miss many more Christmases with my family.
We can’t live Christmas on our memories.
Though it’s easy to be nostalgic during the holiday season, we can’t judge the present by the past, because the celebration is not about family and presents, though that is what we’ve made it to be. No, Christmas is and always will be about the arrival of a savior in the form of a little babe. He came that way to model for us how we should live in relationship with God and to provide access to a kingdom not of this world.
On Christmas Eve every year of my childhood, after we came home from church, Dad fixed us a nice breakfast of pancakes, eggs, and bacon. We then would gather in the living room by the fragrant cedar tree and someone would read Luke 2:1-20. This is the story of Christ’s birth. This is what the Brown family knew Christmas was really all about, and this is what I still believe today.
The angel said to them, “Don’t be afraid, for look, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people: Today in the city of David a Savior was born for you, who is the Messiah, the Lord.” (Luke 2:10-11)