Christmastime was a grand event at our little country church. Not grand in the way that our present culture counts grandness, but in a true and uncomplicated way. We looked forward to the Sunday School program each year. Practices were held every Saturday morning in December and all children faithfully attended. Life was slower then. Church was important and the celebration of the birth of the Christ child took precedence over all else.
Our father drove us faithfully to practice each Saturday and we memorized our parts in preparation for the big day. Each class had its turn and of course every child longed to be chosen for the coveted role of Mary or Joseph. Even the littlest class had poems or scripture to recite and worked hard to learn their parts.
There was always a real tree donated by some church member and decorated by all. Under the tree, were nestled the gifts we received from our Sunday School teachers —– farmer’s wives, grandmothers, women who loved God and children. Each showed up for Sunday School equipped with lessons often taught with flannelgraph. Their images remain in my mind to this day.
How we looked forward to that special night. The gifts were simple, pencils with verses, and my favorite, the slide puzzles with a verse to be placed in order by sliding the pieces to the proper spot.
At the end of the program the pastor would step to the front of the church and share a short message reminding us of Christ’s birth and the Father in heaven who sent His Son in the form of a baby to save the world. The story, spoken sincerely, while lights twinkled on the tree and dear folks listened respectfully, was ever new and always old, just as God’s work in our life. When the last hymn was sung, the happy congregation visited with one another as they filed to the back of the church. Waiting at the door were the Christmas bags filled with hard candy and a juicy orange, accepted with excitement and enjoyed thoroughly by grateful children and adults. We stepped out of the church to a cold winter night, often with a light snow floating down.
It was all so simple — a quiet church in a little vale, a country pastor, familiar Christmas carols, families seated in wooden pews, mothers holding babies, fathers smiling proudly as they looked down their row of children. Families were larger in those days, a symbol of love and something to be admired.
Memories can sometimes be larger than life, and it is often a temptation, especially in the present age when life has become so cynical, to hear stories of the past with a wry expression on one’s face and a rolling of the eyes. But I like to think that the important things in life are still going on, that there will always be a Christmas program in that little country church, that families still gather to sing the great old hymns of Christmas, children still hope they will be chosen to play the part of Mary, and that a pastor still tells the ever new and always old story of the Father who sent his Son to save us.