Sometimes you know how something started.
You understand the roots of it.
And there are things — traditions — that start and you don’t realize they have started until the next year, and the year after, and then again the year after, etc.
Or until those traditions are no longer part of your life.
During the last couple of days I have thought about a tradition my family used to have at this time of year.
It came to mind when we decided on what the front cover of this edition should be.
A Christmas newspaper.
And while I am sure it has happened before, I can’t recall specifically when The Courier News’ print day coincided with Christmas Day.
So, we wanted it to be something different.
Something a little special.
When I was a child growing up with a loving and caring family, Christmas was always exciting, full of magic, and filled with sleepless nights. It really was a wonderful time of the year.
Hmmm … Someone should write a Christmas song about that.
The centerpiece of this season was my grandmother.
Goldie Gibson Wells had a hard life.
But it was a good life.
She was married to a coal miner and this union brought them seven children. Her husband, my grandfather, Roscoe Wells, would not live to see the birth of his last child, a daughter, Jeri. He died of a heart attack in his mid-50s.
I could say that my grandmother was destitute, that she was poor — dirt poor.
And it wouldn’t be a lie.
And she may have been just that — a widow at a time when life was hard on widows, with a house full of kids and one on the way — to the outside world, but she wasn’t.
She had no money, nothing really of value to sell.
There was no golden parachute. No life insurance. No CDs to cash in.
You would think she had nothing and you would be wrong.
She had a work ethic and she had family.
And she had a Bible.
Those were my grandmother’s riches.
She found work, often two jobs at a time; she raised her children to be good people, caring people, and she read her Bible.
She became the centerpiece of many lives.
And as far back as I can remember Christmas was spent at her house — later at my parents’ house when she came to live with them — and it seemed to last days.
It usually started two or three days before Christmas when everyone would start arriving — and sometimes it would last as long as the New Year, when everyone had to head home and back to work.
There were hard Christmases — those years when her three sons were serving their country (two Army, one Air Force) in Vietnam.
But those years passed.
Presents would be unwrapped, revealing the many treasures hidden beneath the colorful paper on Christmas morning, all the small kids running around like little banshees, the adults gulping coffee and rubbing sleep out of their eyes, and trying act so shocked that Santa Claus had brought that particular gift.
There were a lot of Christmas mornings like that. I remember a lot of the gifts I received on those Christmas mornings. I’ve forgotten a lot of them, too.
And I remember the Christmas Eves.
That was when the magic really happened. Even then I knew there was something even more special about Christmas Eve.
There were a couple of years one of my aunts thought it would be fun to actually have the family go Christmas caroling on Christmas Eve. This is “back in the day,” so that was kinda cool to do.
Actually, it was kinda cold.
And probably way off-key.
Afterward we’d trudge back to the house and have hot chocolate and coffee and cookies and much laughter about our singing ability.
Or, lack of.
And I know I always complained because we never sang “Good King Wenceslas” and that was my favorite Christmas song but I don’t think anyone knew all the words so we would have ended up humming the thing and appearing even more like a bunch of disheveled refugees ...
But man, it was sooo fun.
But every Christmas Eve — even the ones where the family walked up and down the neighborhood torturing people with our mishandling of “Deck the Halls” and “Silent Night” — at some point, a stillness settled over everyone.
The tree would be lit up, presents nestled underneath with the colorful paper and bows, and my grandmother would be sitting in her favorite chair with everyone fanned out around her.
And she would be holding her Bible.
And this is no “carry to church on Sunday morning” Bible. It was one of those big, heavy, family Bibles — the kind nobody has anymore. The kind that had blank pages so the owner could record the important events of their family’s lives.
And the stillness would just “be.”
Nobody was busy on their smartphones, catching up on social media, or texting a BFF about the awkward round of Christmas caroling they just endured.
No one was looking for a Christmas movie on the television to provide background noise for the occasion.
Nobody was running out to spend money at a store that just happened to be having a last minute Christmas blowout special.
We were just there with the people we loved and whom we loved back and we were transfixed by everything around us.
I felt true peace on those Christmas Eves. It felt warm and it felt happy and I felt grateful for being alive and being right there, right then.
And then someone — for some reason I always think it was aunt Jeri (every time) — would walk over to my grandmother and take the Bible from her and start reading: “And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree …”
And for something like 10 or 15 minutes we would just sit and listen and really just soak up the words.
And it put it all in perspective, it made having all of these good feelings make sense. It gave Christmas a focus, a reason for being.
My grandmother passed and many of us tried to carry this tradition on — we had some success until my mother died — and then we all drifted into other celebrations and traditions with our own families.
But somehow, I believe, we have lost that focus, that meaning, of what this — all of the colors and celebrations and gifts and warmth of being around loved ones — really means.
What it’s supposed to be about.
Take time. Read a little something. It starts at Luke, Chapter 2, Verse 1. It’s only 20 verses — maybe a whole 15 minutes out of your holiday schedule.
Maybe you’ll get it, maybe you won’t.
Either way, Merry Christmas to you and yours.