WORLD Radio staff Christmas memories


MEGAN BASHAM, HOST: It’s Christmas Day 2019, Wednesday December 25th. Glad to have you along for today’s edition of The World and Everything in It. Good morning and Merry Christmas, I’m Megan Basham.

MYRNA BROWN, HOST: And I’m Myrna Brown. Megan, I’m so happy to be hosting with you. And this is my first time to co-host!

BASHAM: Yeah, it’s a great day for new beginnings!

BROWN: It is! It is. And to celebrate the occasion, we’re going to pass the mic around some of our team members for a few Christmas memories. And just to get it going, I’ll start!

My Christmas memory is connected to music.

Most of what my brothers and I know about singing comes from my mom.  She’s a strong soprano. My dad, on the other hand is a self-proclaimed toe tapper. At 78 years old, he’s still the coolest swing dancer I know. But he can’t hold a tune—unless it’s on Christmas morning!

As a kid growing up in Mobile, Alabama, our Christmas morning devotions are the only times I ever remember hearing my dad sing.

After taking turns reading Luke 2 (my brothers and I), my dad would stand up on Christmas morning and “raise a hymn.” Some people call this “hymn lining” others in the Black Church refer to it as a “meter” hymn.

My dad would chant a line from a hymn like, “Guide Me O Thou Great Jehovah,” and then we would repeat that line.  That would continue for the next 10 minutes. And then at the end of the song we would hum the melody until we had all prayed.

Off key and all, his singing has always been soothing to my ears and warms my heart.

KENT COVINGTON: My earliest Christmas memories were in a house that did not have a fireplace. That created some confusion for me when I learned the Santa comes down chimneys, because of course, we didn’t have one. … So my mom got this cardboard fireplace with a fake brick pattern, with a fake chimney that ran to the ceiling.

And for years I believed that Santa was coming down the cardboard chimney and though the cardboard fireplace to deliver my presents. … Finally, one day I figured out that there was no possible way that could be true. I remember confronting my mom and telling her I had figured out the truth about this whole Santa thing. It’s not possible for Santa to climb down a cardboard chimney, so he HAD to be coming through the front door. 

So my mom admitted to me that I was right. I had figured it out. Santa was in fact entering through the door. 

ANNA JOHANSEN: When my brothers were about 3 and 4 years old, they were singing in the kids’ Christmas concert at church. They were singing “Away in a Manger.” And you know there’s the line, “The stars in the sky looked down where he lay, the little Lord Jesus asleep on the hay.” And my brother Caleb, in typical little boy fashion, liked to sing it “the little Lord Jesus asleep on the hairball.”

Now, Mom and Dad had discussed this with Caleb. It’s not okay to sing “hairball.” Well, it came time for the performance. And my two brothers are standing next to each other in the choir. They sing “Away in a Manger.” And guess what, Caleb sings “asleep on the hairball.” He sang it quietly, so nobody noticed…Except for my brother Andrew, standing next to him. He heard Caleb sing “hairball.” And his little 3-year-old heart is filled with righteous indignation.

In the quiet just before the applause, he announces to the congregation, “HEY! He said hairball!”

BROWN: Little boys are going to be little boys! Sounds like my sons at that age! Well, I think Paul Butler is next. What do you have, Paul?

PAUL BUTLER: When I was a senior in high-school, my folks were missionaries on the island of Bonaire in the Carribean. On Christmas-eve morning, I awoke with a wild idea. I jumped out of bed, rode my bike over to my best friends house and started singing Christmas songs outside his window–waking him up. He got out of bed and we both decided to ride to a neighboring missionary’s house where another high-schooler slept. We woke her up, and then serenaded her family. They fed us breakfast. 

The three of us then continued going house to house, eating more along the way, until most of our youth group joined the chorus. We then ended at our youth pastor’s house—who fed us all lunch.

BROWN: They got breakfast and lunch!! What a deal! Well, let’s pass the mic to Jenny Rough.

JENNY ROUGH: Okay, here goes: My first Christmas holy-day came in 2011. Although I had celebrated 37 Christmases before then that was the year my nominal faith took root.

Before, Christmas meant material stuff.

After, Christmas meant the stuff of life: Where did life come from? What is its purpose? I began to actually read the Bible and was constantly surprised by what I discovered.

Take Jesus’ birth. I’d always believed three kings visited Jesus in a stable. This belief stemmed from the carol “We Three Kings.” Plus, the nativity set my mom displayed every year had exactly three kings. So did the pictures on the Christmas cards. But according to the biblical text, those who visited the Christ Child were magi, not kings. Three gifts are mentioned, but the magi aren’t numbered. Also, they visited a house, not a stable.

I was full of misunderstandings and incorrect assumptions about God, the Bible, and the Christian faith. My biggest misunderstanding was about Christmas. I’d always been taught to follow a bunch of rules and say a prayer about giving my life to God. But the words of the Bible shed light on the truth: God, through Christ, gives life to us. Merry Christmas.

LEIGH JONES: Well, I wish my reflection this year was as weighty as Jenny’s! It’s not, but it does involve sharing the blessings of Christmas with our family in Christ.

My husband and I are native Texans, but we spent several years living in Atlanta. While we were there, we celebrated holidays with friends. One of our closest friends was from Germany.

One year, as we were planning out our Christmas dinner menu, my friend began to pine for the tastes of home. Now as it turns out, Germans do not eat turkey on Christmas. They eat goose. Well, happy to relive a part of my friend’s childhood and always up for a culinary adventure, I declared that we should eat goose that year!

It took a little hunting (of the shopping variety) but my friend finally found a suitable bird to cook on Christmas morning. That afternoon we sat down with much anticipation as my friend carved and served our Christmas dinner. It was… well… let’s just say that was both the first and last time I’ll be eating goose for Christmas. Or any other meal.

BROWN: Two things for me there, Leigh. Who knew Germans don’t eat turkey for Christmas? And second, what a good friend! Let’s turn to Mary Reichard now.

MARY REICHARD: That just hurts my pescaterianism, Leigh!

When I was 12 years old I remember waking up in the wee hours. Everyone else was asleep. I tiptoed in my flannel PJs from my bedroom down through the hallway to the living room, mindful to avoid the creaking spot on the floor.

What I saw in the quiet of a Midwestern winter storm took my breath away. The tree with angel on top, tiny lights all over, glistening tinsel…everything thoughtfully placed.

The scene felt holy. It made me feel reverent. Not for the tree, and not for the gifts beneath, but for the One for whom the occasion celebrates.

Now that I’m in mid-life, that feeling still astounds me. The late Irish poet John O’Donohue resonated with my soul in his piece titled Blessing of Beauty. It recalls the same wonder from that night long ago. Here are a few lines:

“….May the light of dawn anoint your eyes that you may behold what a miracle a day is.…May you find enough stillness and silence to savor the kiss of God on your soul and delight in the eternity that shaped you, that holds you and calls you.  And may you know that despite confusion, anxiety and emptiness, your name is written in Heaven.”

KATIE GAULTNEY: I was trying to pin down one memory, or one favorite tradition. But I kept coming back instead to a feeling: That sense of anticipation that’s just inherent in the season.

As a kid, I mostly anticipated presents or a daily dose of sugar—like in my daily chocolate advent calendar.

My own family does an advent calendar now, but goodness knows my kids don’t need any more sugar! Most of the slots in our calendar contain a slip of paper where I’ve written down an activity that bonds our family. We love it. And the eager waiting and wondering to see what each day will bring, culminating with the celebration of Christmas Day, is such a beautiful parallel to the Christian life. That expectant joy.

I guess what I’m trying to say is, in 30 years I may not remember what I cooked on Christmas Eve or my kids’ favorite gifts. But I’ll remember how it all felt. The joy of the season, something sweet to look forward to, and seeing glimpses of God’s goodness and beauty in the everyday.

J.C. DERRICK: I don’t have a particular Christmas memory, but what strikes me this year is the preciousness of the ordinary. And that includes a lot of Christmases.

You all know my father-in-law was recently diagnosed with A-L-S. That has obviously made me acutely aware of the need to treasure every minute with loved ones. But it’s also made me think about those past years when I took things for granted. It’s a shame when we only realize how special something was when it’s past.

Kinda reminds of how Jesus told us Satan has come to steal, kill, and destroy. When we’re always looking toward the next thing, the next stage of life—rather than being fully present in the moment—then we allow him to rob us of the joy God intended.

So this year I’m resolved not to do that anymore… and reflecting on all those normal Christmases.

BROWN: Mmm-hmmm. Thank you for that reminder to be fully present. And I want you to know, JC, we’re praying for your father-in-law. So Kristen Flavin, you’re talking about a family Christmas that didn’t go quite as planned?

KRISTEN FLAVIN: One of my favorite Christmas memories comes from a few years back after a “staycation” in St. Louis with my family. 

We were driving home on Christmas morning—we felt like we were in the only vehicle on the road, which felt like a fun adventure. We talked as we drove about what we were going to have for dinner that afternoon. We’ve never been a family of traditionalists when it comes to holiday meals, so we were planning to have hamburgers.

About halfway home, my mom lets out an audible gasp—startling everyone. “I forgot to buy the meat!!!” As we collected ourselves, continued our drive, and started thinking about alternative meals, the empty streets and closed stores now seemed apocalyptic in light of our looming hamburger-less Christmas dinner.

When we got home, we threw some frozen toasted raviolis and other freezer foods in the oven before someone found out some restaurants were still open. 

So that Christmas, we gathered as a family around pizza boxes in our kitchen and laughed. It seemed like the perfect example the way the Lord provides for our every need—even if that’s with St. Louis style pizza instead of hamburgers on Christmas morning.

BASHAM: Well, I’m suddenly hungry. Nick Eicher, anything to add to that?

NICK EICHER: Let me just say here that I’m so glad we’re doing this. One of the things I hear regularly in emails and whenever I get to meet a listener is the sense that all of us here are part of a bigger family.

You know, that’s a real privilege. We’re guests in the homes of our listeners. We ride along on commutes to work. We’re in the kitchen during meal prep or cleanup. Our reporting is part of the dinner table conversation. So it’s a true privilege to have a part in the WORLD family of listeners and readers, and I think it’s good and right that we take this time to share the personal stuff.

So to be open and transparent, you should know Kristen Flavin’s my daughter. She’s all grown up and married with a new last name, and so yes, I’m the grillmaster who thinks it’s great to cook out in the cold and snow.

But seriously what gives me pleasure as a parent is to create memories. It’s like J.C. says, things we think are mundane when we’re doing them or experiencing them, become special with the passage of time. And when I hear one of my children articulate something that at the time, frankly, was an irritant to me, but that turned into a warm memory and an unexpected blessing, well that gives me incredible joy.

And my hope is that something we say today is meaningful to you, or blesses you in some way, or moves you to a deeper relationship with Christ. You need to know that’s a goal: “to stir up one another to love and good works,” as Hebrews says, “not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another.”

BROWN: Nick, that’s an encouragement to me and another reminder to pay attention and savor the little things. That’s what counts, right Sarah Schweinsberg?

SARAH SCHWEINSBERG: Yes, gratitude is so important and that’s something I didn’t have one particular Christmas when I was about 5. I have a bunch of cousins, so my grandparents would give each of us one gift. We’d open our presents one at a time from oldest to youngest.

I was one of the youngest, so this particular Christmas I’d seen 10 cousins open these incredible gifts: porcelain dolls, a Nerf gun, color books… so when it was my turn, and I saw a pink Precious Moments Bible, I was not impressed.

I remember saying, “ A Bible?! What am I supposed to do with that?” Now to be fair, I could barely read… but I still remember that hurt look on my Grandma’s face. I apologized, but still felt bummed. While my cousins played with their presents, I just sat there looking at what felt like a useless book.

That day has got me thinking about how I treat the Word of God all these years later. Still nice but kind of useless when it comes to my life and busy schedule?

So this month, I’m trying to take moments to slow down and really savor the amazing gift it is to read about Jesus’s birth and to even know the Christmas story is a miracle. Also, I’m sorry, Grandma.

JENNY LIND SCHMITT: My Christmas memory is from 2013. My mom passed away early that December. I got to walk her home to Jesus the months before and lots of time to say goodbye. But after she died a big part of the month got lost in planning a memorial service and dealing with her estate and just crying. So there’s actually a lot about that Christmas that I don’t remember very well. I know my wonderful husband and kids all pitched in to make it special.

But what I do remember is the overwhelming sense of This is what it’s all about. This is where the rubber of my faith hits the road of life. Because Jesus came to earth at Christmas, I know that that was not the last goodbye. I will see my mama again.

So all the Christmas carols took on new meaning for me that year. Death is a curse, and at Christmas, Jesus came to undo that curse.  No more let sin and sorrows grow, nor thorns infest the ground; he comes to make his blessings flow, far as the curse is found. Amen?

BROWN: I’m hearing a big perspective coming from many of us this year….the long view of what matters…Johnny Franklin, how about you?

JOHNNY FRANKLIN: For me, two things come to mind.

Like many families, my brothers and I were allowed to open one gift Christmas Eve – hand-picked by my Mom, which usually meant it was pajamas.

The other (more pleasant) memory is from a year that my elderly grandmother was staying with us. The details are a little fuzzy, but I was in the living room, probably listening to Andy Williams Christmas music. And I recall what sounded like other people singing – outside. We opened the front door and there was a group of Christmas carolers who had come to sing for my grandmother. She was house-bound, not able to get out very much, so having people come by to cheer her up meant a lot—to all of us.

MEGAN BASHAM: As soon as carols start playing, I start thinking about the second greatest blessing Christmas ever gave me. Though I’d grown up in a Christian home, I was a new believer at 24. That Christmas was the first time I’d attended church regularly since leaving for college.

That year my very large congregation put on an event similar to a Renaissance festival, only instead of Shakespeare, it recreated the Roman world at the birth of Christ. There were booths and skits, strolling players and live animals.

Naturally, it required a lot of church members filling a lot of acting roles to make this event work. I was cast in a little skit titled, “The princess and the potion seller.” I’d noticed the good-looking guy playing the potion seller a few times before, but didn’t know much about him beyond his name. Over the course of rehearsals—which he didn’t take nearly as seriously as I thought he should—I got to know that guy a lot better. By Christmas Eve we were dating. By Easter, we were engaged.

Whenever I’m tempted to doubt I have a Father who “rewards those who earnestly seek him” I think of His second greatest gift to me—that crazy potion seller who’s the grace of my life.

Hope you all have a wonderful Christmas. And from our family to yours: 

Merry Christmas!


(Photo/Creative Commons, Flickr)

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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