[Symbol] – Bows
[A Symbol related Article]
Without Ribbons and Bows
By Elder Jeffrey R. Holland
You will recall from Dr. Suess’s holiday “horror” story, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, that the devilish Grinch determined to rob Who-ville of every holiday treat. In a nefarious scheme in which the Grinch dressed as Santa himself, he moved through Who-ville taking every package, tree, ornament, and stocking.
He stared down at Who-ville!
The Grinch popped his eyes!
Then he shook!
What he saw was a shocking surprise.
Every Who down in Who-ville, the tall and the small,
Was singing! Without any presents at all!
He HADN’T stopped Christmas from coming!
Somehow or other, it came just the same!
And the Grinch, with his grinch-feet ice-cold in the snow
Stood puzzling and puzzling: “How could it be so?”
“It came without ribbons! It came without tags!
It came without packages, boxes or bags!”
And he puzzled three hours, till his puzzler was sore.
Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before!
“Maybe Christmas,” he thought, “doesn’t come from a store.
“Maybe Christmas … perhaps … means a little bit more!”
(Dr. Suess, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, New York: Random House, 1957.)
Part of the purpose for telling the story of Christmas is to remind us that Christmas doesn’t come from a store. Indeed, however delightful we feel about it, even as children, each year it “means a little bit more.” And no matter how many times we read the biblical account of that evening in Bethlehem, we always come away with a thought—or two—we haven’t had before.
I do not feel—or mean this to sound—like a modern-day Scrooge. The gold, frankincense, and myrrh were humbly given and appreciatively received, and so they should be, every year and always. As my wife and children can testify, no one gets more giddy about the giving and receiving of presents than I do.
But for that very reason, I, like you, need to remember the very plain scene, even the poverty, of a night devoid of tinsel or wrapping or goods of this world. Only when we see that sacred, unadorned child of our devotion—the Babe of Bethlehem—will we know why “tis the season to be jolly” and why the giving of gifts is so appropriate.
At the focal point of all human history, a point illuminated by a new star in the heavens revealed for just such a purpose, probably no other mortal watched—none but a poor young carpenter, a beautiful virgin mother, and silent stabled animals who had not the power to utter the sacredness they had seen. Shepherds would soon arrive and later, wise men from the East. Later yet the memory of that night would bring Santa Claus and Frosty and Rudolph—and all would be welcome. But first and forever there was just a little family without toys or trees or tinsel. With a baby—that’s how Christmas began.
It is for this baby that we shout in chorus: “Hark! the herald angels sing Glory to the newborn King! … Mild he lays his glory by, Born that man no more may die; Born to raise the sons of earth, Born to give them second birth” (Hymns, no. 209).
Perhaps recalling the circumstances of that gift, of his birth, of his own childhood, perhaps remembering that purity and faith and genuine humility will be required of every celestial soul, Jesus must have said many times as he looked into the little eyes that loved him (eyes that always best saw what and who he really was), “Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 18:3).
Christmas, then, is for children—of all ages.
[Song] Trim Up The Tree
[Scripture] Romans 8: 16
The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God:
[Challenge – Bond] – At Christmastime, we can find bows and ribbons all around, decorating our trees and homes. When we give gifts to our friends and loved ones, we often decorate them with beautiful bows. Because bows are tied, they are symbols of other kinds of ties, like the ties of love between parents, children and families. Christmas Bows help us to remember that we are all children of a Heavenly Father who loves us. Today find a way to tighten a bond with a family member.
[A Story relating to the challenge]
by Anita Stansfield
As this last Christmas approached, I found myself, not for the first time, feeling somewhat Grinchy, or maybe it was Scroogey. Although I must interject that both Scrooge’s and the Grinch’s stories are about a dramatic change of heart, so perhaps it’s unfair to always use their names, fictional though they may be, to describe negative and cynical attitudes toward the greatest of all holidays. The Grinch’s small heart grew enormously on that momentous Christmas morning after he’d attempted to steal all the things he’d believed were necessary for a happy Christmas celebration, and it’s declared at the conclusion of A Christmas Carol that “Scrooge was better than his word . . . and it was always said of him that he knew how to keep Christmas well.”
Given these facts, let me clarify that I was feeling almost as bad as the Grinch and Scrooge felt prior to their miraculous change of heart—though my negativity was not nearly so severe. I love Christmas and was sincerely committed to keeping it well; however, with ongoing health issues and financial challenges, Christmas, for all my efforts to always keep the true meaning in its proper place, had come to feel overwhelming in many respects.
Early in the course of my being a mother and being in charge of Christmas celebrations in our home, I came to realize that for all of my best efforts, I could never measure up to the standard my own sweet mother had set for how Christmas should be. Of course, as a child you never see the clues of how much work a mother is putting into such things, but in looking back and assembling the pieces of my memories, I could see that my parents had put a high priority on making Christmas as perfect as possible for their children, and my mother—being the homemaker—had put in an enormous amount of work. There had never been extravagant or expensive gifts, but there had always been an abundance of many things to open on Christmas morning. I also realized in looking back that my mother had used Christmas as an excuse to put the house in near perfect order. Spring cleaning was nothing compared to my mother’s cleaning preparations for Christmas. I doubt my room was ever cleaner or more in order than it was on Christmas Eve, including clean sheets on the bed that added to the magical effect of trying to go to sleep wearing brand-new pajamas.
My mother also put a great deal of effort into making a certain amount of Christmas goodies that seemed mandatory. The aromas and tastes of the foods associated with Christmas are still vivid in my memory. I can’t dispute that with all things combined, my mother certainly knew how to make Christmas feel magical and idyllic, though I know now that she was also frazzled and tired, and perhaps if she had it to do over again, she might not have spent as much time cleaning and cooking. And it would have been all right.
I personally let go of trying to make those same memories many years ago. I minimized and pared down little by little as our family became larger and my career became more complicated. Still, I always managed to create a good Christmas for my family, and it was something I always found fulfilling and worth the effort.
And I always seek to keep Christ at the center of Christmas and feel strongly about the essence of certain facets of our celebrations contributing to the intended spirit of the holiday. Like most things in this world, putting up lights and decorating trees and singing songs and watching tender movies and giving gifts to those we love can all be good if they’re done with proper intentions.
I love the feel of the house with the Christmas tree properly lit and adorned, and I love getting gifts for my loved ones and seeing them wrapped and accumulating beneath the tree. I love the music and the movies, and I love it when I feel glimpses of that tender warmth inside of me that reminds me of my own childhood Christmases and, more importantly, of the Spirit of Christ.
Nevertheless, in spite of all that, chronic illness and subsequent financial struggles have made the approach of Christmas the last few years difficult to face. It has come to feel overwhelming and exhausting, and I’ve found it increasingly necessary to talk myself into being positive and making the most of it—for the sake of my children and grandchildren, if nothing else.
Nevertheless, I’ve sought for a cure to my anti-Christmas blues the same way I always have—even if it has become increasingly difficult through the years. I’ve watched Christmas movies to pass the time while I’ve been too ill to get out of bed, and I’ve saturated myself with the Christmas music I love. I’ve learned the benefit of online shopping and how economical it can be when I can manage to get free shipping. If not for this blessing of the twenty-first century, I couldn’t do my own Christmas shopping at all.
My daughters love Christmas and are wonderful at overseeing the decorating and gift wrapping and whatever else needs to be physically done in order to pull Christmas together now. Without them, I fear the holiday would be a sore disappointment. But it all seems to come together on Christmas Eve when my married children come with their families and we’re all together for a wonderful meal, the exchanging of gifts, and just being together. I know this part of the holiday means a great deal to all of them, and it’s something I hope will hold fast in their memories throughout their lives as they face their own challenges.
Yes, it all comes together and usually rather well in spite of my concerns leading up to the big event.
Except when it doesn’t.
This Christmas I couldn’t get my mind away from all of the difficulties that had marred Christmas celebrations in recent years. There had been illness and surgery and cancer and bad moods and contention and foul weather—just to name the forerunners on the list. I prayed every day for the absence of all these things in our forthcoming Christmas celebration, needing to feel like my efforts would all be worth it and that we could share a good Christmas together as a family.
But a week or so before Christmas, it occurred to me that—as I’ve heard many times—the most constant thing in life is change. More specifically, a family is always in a state of flux. When my children were little, I had more control over Christmas and how it all played out. We all lived under the same roof, and even though challenges came up and glitches occurred, I felt more in control in dealing with them. Now three of my five children are married, and I have gained three precious new daughters who are my son’s wives. Grandchildren are coming into the family and growing and changing continually. The dynamics of my children’s lives have changed and are affected by all these things, just as dynamics change with every family.
The bottom line is that I think I finally accepted that I do not have control over whether or not it will all come together and work out as a pleasant experience. And just as with many lessons I have learned in life, I recognized that what applies to Christmas applies to the rest of my experiences in this existence: I can do only what I’m capable of doing. I can be grateful for the assistance and support of others. I can strive to keep my priorities in the right place. And then I just have to let go and give it to God, and by letting go, I mean really letting go of my expectation of the outcome. If the weather or germs or cancer or disagreements create challenges, there’s always another day, another year, another Christmas in the future. And in the whole grand scheme of things, the disappointments and difficulties may not be as bad as they feel in the moment.
With my determination firmly set on pulling everything together with the help of my daughters, both of whom I believe secretly acquired skills at the North Pole while I wasn’t looking, I pressed forward through the days of December, thrilled that we would have a white Christmas. I never want snow to make travel difficult for anyone, but, oh, how I love the atmosphere it creates!
My husband and I did what we’d recently made a tradition—we sat on the bed in our pajamas with a laptop and ordered Christmas gifts for every member of the family. Our budget was limited, but we found on their wish lists inexpensive items we knew they wanted, and as the packages arrived and we wrapped them, I felt an anticipation over the potential excitement—especially with the young children.
When Christmas Eve arrived, no one was sick, and I was still filled with that pleasant anticipation. The roads were clear for travel, but the snow on the ground and trees was beautiful, and so far everything was under control. I was greatly looking forward to a nice meal with my entire family and the excitement of my children as they exchanged their sibling gifts and the joy of my grandchildren, who would get to open one of their gifts from Grammy and Pop. And all but one were old enough to be terribly impatient to get dinner over with and get to the good part.
When dinner was finally cleaned up, we all gathered to exchange gifts. It was tradition for the youngest to go first. Evy had been born in July and didn’t have a personal interest in her gift, but her parents were pleased. Next came Smith, who was almost two. Now, getting a gift for Smith had been a conundrum. The child was obsessed with balls—anything and everything round. His parents had told us they’d gotten him toys that all were related to balls, so what could we give him that he would like that we could afford? He had little to no interest in cars or dinosaurs or other things his father and uncles had liked at that age. We’d searched online and come down to a classic red rubber dodge ball—the kind we all used in elementary school. The ball had arrived in its deflated form, and my husband had filled it with air before I’d put it into a large gift bag with tissue paper to cover it.
I always watch closely to see the reactions of my loved ones when they open gifts. I want them to not only like what’s been chosen for them but to also feel the love meant to come with the gift. But I felt a special anticipation with Smith’s red ball. His father pulled the pieces of tissue paper out of the bag like a magician pulling scarves out of his sleeve. Then Smith’s big brown eyes popped. I don’t use that word lightly. He’s a child, not a cartoon character, but when he saw that big red ball, his eyes popped. He pulled it out of the bag, squealing with delight and hugging the ball with arms that couldn’t reach all the way around it, and then he did a true, genuine happy dance.
I leaned over to my husband and whispered, “That’s the best five dollars and sixty-four cents we’ve ever spent.”
And he nodded in agreement.
Smith’s delight went on for nearly an hour. He bounced the ball and rolled the ball and hugged the ball. William, Gabriel, and Lorelle all loved their presents too, and I watched them closely and loved the hugs they gave their grandpa and me. And while everyone continued to open and enjoy gifts, Smith just couldn’t get over his excitement for that red ball. He held it while he dove into piles of wrapping paper and giggled with perfect happiness. And the entire family couldn’t stop laughing over his antics. Each person’s pleasure over the gifts they were giving and receiving seemed secondary to observing Smith’s exquisite joy.
In the midst of all the delight and chaos, I realized this was a perfect, precious moment, a memory that would never fade. We were all together, we were laughing, we were happy and cozy and filled with the Christmas spirit and the sharing of our family bond.
The next day we were still talking about Smith and agreed that his red ball would go down in our family’s history as one of our best Christmas moments.
I’m learning more and more that with Christmas—as with our everyday lives—there are things we can control, and many more things we simply can’t. But there are at least as many good things outside of our control as there are bad ones.
We were blessed to have a Christmas free of some of the challenges that had come other years, but I’ll never forget how Smith taught me that joy can come so unexpectedly in such simple ways. It’s the accumulation of these precious moments scattered intermittently throughout the journey of life that really make all of our efforts—whether great or small—completely worth it. I’m certain that it’s more likely than not that I will face next Christmas with new trepidation, and I will have to remind myself of all I’ve learned in the past in order to have a positive attitude and make the most out of whatever might come. But in spite of the challenges of life, each year has also given me treasured precious moments I can hold in my memory as the reasons why family and love are at the center of all that truly matters at Christmas. And yet I know that even with the absence of what we might consider important or ideal, Christ is always there, He always loves us—each and every one—and it is He who blesses our lives, sometimes in the most unexpected ways.
Media link: [Moments that Matter]
10th Anniversary Advent Throw-Back :
[A Favourite from Previous Advents]
Ye are … willing to bear one another’s burdens, that they may be light; Yea, and are willing to mourn with those that mourn; yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort
[By Veloy Richards]
I have seen many Christmas trees. Usually they have been topped with a lighted star or a lovely angel. But the most beautiful tree I have ever seen had a big red bow on top.
I wasn’t sure how to celebrate Christmas that year. My mother had been a widow for several years, and since I was single, we had continued many of our family traditions and had celebrated most of the holidays together. When my mother died just before Christmas, however, the old traditions suddenly seemed too painful without her.
The bishopric came to visit. They expressed concern about my being alone for Christmas. Looking around, the bishop asked why there was no Christmas tree or other decorations. I explained that I didn’t want to decorate a tree alone and so had decided not to have one. Christmas was so much of a family celebration that ignoring it seemed like the best way to make it through the holidays.
After they left, I went about my work. The bishop did not let the matter alone, though: He phoned the ward Primary president. I had just been called to be the Merrie Miss B teacher but would not start serving until the first of the year.
One afternoon, Michelle, one of the girls who would be in my class, called and asked if she could drop by the next evening about 7:30. I was surprised but looked forward to her company.
The doorbell rang at exactly 7:30, but it was not just Michelle who stood on my porch. It was all of the girls in my new Primary class—with a Christmas tree, lights, and decorations!
They pushed the large tree through the door and started setting it up in my living room. Their enthusiasm was contagious, and I was soon moving furniture to find just the right spot for the tree. I asked what I should do to help and was told to sit on the couch and just watch and enjoy. My next two hours were filled with the holiday laughter and love that only eleven-year-olds can create and share.
The girls told me their names and what part each had played in the project. Cindy showed me the hot-glue burns she had suffered while attaching ribbons to the backs of gingerbread cookies. Amanda couldn’t come that evening, so she had gone with her mother to buy the tree earlier in the day. Bethany was the tallest, so she was in charge of the lights. Lindsay joined in the decorating with a large box of candy canes. Rachel put a stocking filled with candy and a gift under the tree. Michelle told me that they had tried to find or make a star for the top of the tree but couldn’t, so they had brought a large red bow.
That bow topped one of the largest and most beautiful Christmas gifts I have ever received. Even before that tree was finished and lighted, my heart was full of the spirit of Christmas and of love for each girl in my future Primary class. That feeling was renewed each time I turned on the tree lights.
I have some new Christmas traditions now. I plan to have a tree every year, and it will always have candy canes, gingerbread men—and a big red bow on the top.
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