Keeping Christmas

“I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year.”

— Ebenezer Scrooge, A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

There’s no time like Christmas time! Everywhere we go we’re surrounded by the season. In our homes, decorations are hauled out and hung up. In the  malls, glittering store displays and nonstop holiday Muzak compete for our attention. In our churches, bath-robed children with homemade shepherd crooks rehearse for the Christmas play. People are nicer to each other, hold elevator doors and say “Merry Christmas!” to strangers. And most importantly, our faith is renewed as we once again celebrate the birth of our Savior.

Yes, Christmas is truly a time filled with memories — the ones we treasure and the ones we’re making. And then it’s over.

Every January, the magic fades and we settle into the new year with all the day-to-day stresses, messes and blessings life brings. Christmas is relegated to the boxes we carry back down to the basement, the extra pounds and credit card debt we plan to get rid of, and the faint anticipation of next year’s holiday.

Maybe it doesn’t have to be that way. Maybe this year we can make a vow to honor the Spirit of Christmas all year long.

In this, our very first Homecoming Magazine Christmas issue, we’ve tried to express just a few of the many ways we can all “keep Christmas.” Some of your favorite Homecoming Friends share their traditions, memories, recipes and poems. There are fresh ideas to add to the beauty of your home, and words of wisdom to add to the beauty of your soul.

As you enter your own time of seasonal celebration, our prayer is you will seek and find something to keep with you for the rest of the year. For He has truly blessed us all, every one.

Keeping Christmas … Close to Us

Treasured memories of Christmas past, the brimming joy of Christmas present, and heartfelt prayers for Christmas yet to come … Homecoming Friends, in their own words, share some personal thoughts about their favorite holiday.

Connie Hopper
Growing up in the ‘40s on a farm in North Carolina, I remember that Christmastime was always special, a time when Daddy would go out and kill the old red rooster and Momma would cook him up and make the best dressing I think I’ve ever had. And Momma would make about eight cakes and we could eat all the chocolate cake we wanted. We got together on Christmas Eve and we would always sing. And after we’d had a meal and opened the gifts and visited a while, we’d gather around the piano and sing. Singing is special, especially when you’re singing about the Savior.

Ivan Parker
One thing I’ve noticed is how easy it is to get caught in the fast lane. We get to the point where we are so busy building a career and a ministry that we overlook the ones we love most, our families. We are running so fast all year and then all of a sudden here it is, Christmas time, and we hadn’t even realized the year had passed! We have always driven home to North Carolina to spend Christmas with all our family, and it’s such a blessed time together. But as we have grown a little older and our kids are getting a little older, we have started making it a point to go home as often as we can. And it’s the best decision we’ve ever made.

Jessy Dixon
I think of the time I was singing concerts in Calcutta, India during the Christmas season. They wanted me to sing “Silent Night” and other holiday songs but didn’t want my testimony, because I say Jesus is God. Then I went to Kenya and sang a concert for the President of Kenya. I actually got heckled while singing, because again, I said Jesus is Lord. I went with Paul Simon to Jerusalem to perform in the outdoor amphitheatre at Caesarea, and I sang “Oh Come All Ye Faithful.” You know, the whole world sings these songs but they don’t all believe that Jesus is God! And I’m very serious about this — our responsibility as Christians who do believe it, is to say it out loud every day, to proclaim who Jesus really is.
This is such a great time of year.

It’s wonderful to sing and celebrate Christmas, to tell the story of baby Jesus — but this is really nothing more than a foundation. Yes, there was a baby born in Bethlehem, but guess who He is! That baby Jesus is Lord of all.

Amy Gaither Hayes
We’re learning that even though traditions are important to us, the fact of the matter is, life changes. And people change; people die and the house that we used to do things in isn’t there anymore, and the people that used to cook are gone now, or can’t cook anymore. Some of us have moved away, and we’re starting our own traditions with our own families. So maybe we can’t all be together on Christmas morning like when we were little. Things do change, and guess what — the world doesn’t fall apart. And not only that — it turns out that Christmas is very portable! You can take it with you wherever you are. It doesn’t have to be “the way it’s always been” to be wonderful.

But I don’t feel panicked anymore about the thought of everything changing. God has given me such a peace about it all. The important things are still intact. Our connections to one another haven’t lessened; in fact they’ve strengthened. So wherever Christmas is this year, and whatever it looks like, I know it will be all right. The traditions will still be alive whether we get to practice them all together or not. And it’ll still be Christmas.

(Although I’m really going to be bummed if I don’t get to have mom’s chipped beef and gravy with homemade biscuits — I’ve been craving that all year!)

Guy Penrod
We like to teach our boys that the most blessed thing to do is give. One year, our church had in about 50 of the local children and their mothers and fathers who didn’t have quite as much. We came together as a church and enabled our children to buy gifts and coats and toys for them and to have a special Christmas party for them. I think that’s one of the most memorable Christmases we’ve spent as a family.

Lily Isaac
Being raised Jewish, my family never celebrated Christmas, but I was always fascinated by it. Christmas in New York is the most festive, beautiful time of year. We would always head in to Manhattan and go look at Macy’s windows and the Christmas tree in Rockefeller Center and the ice skaters. To me, Christmas was just a beautiful holiday where people gave gifts and were happy. Since I accepted Jesus into my heart in 1971, Christmas has been so incredibly special to me. I had never had a Christmas tree in my life. But when Ben, Sonia and Becky got old enough to see that other people had trees, we decided to get one. I was panicked because I had no idea how to decorate a Christmas tree. We went out in the woods and cut down a tree, went home and made our own ornaments of tinfoil, Fruit Loops, you name it. It looked so terrible! It was our “Charlie Brown Christmas tree.”

We still put one up now; I also have my Hanukkah menorah for the Festival of Lights — they occur the same time of year, so we celebrate both. I let my grandson Levi light the candles for eight days, and we tell the story of Hanukah, and say special prayers. I’m so very glad that I am a Christian and that Jesus is my light. Now I truly understand what Christmas means, but I still light the menorah. I want my kids to know their heritage.

Mark Lowry
I don’t think it was an accident that God sent His son as a baby, not a full grown man. Just like every other baby, Jesus was fragile and needed to be protected. But He grew into a man who knew who He was and why He was here. My wish this Christmas is that I will let that happen inside me. I want to let Jesus live in my heart like that little child, and then all through the year allow him to grow in me until I can see who He is, who sent Him and who that makes me. And I want to have the patience to realize that other people are growing Jesus inside of them too, and that we all grow at our own speed.

Sue Buchanan
We also make an effort to cook the dishes that our families have passed down. I make Wayne’s mother’s homemade noodles and I can almost get it right. My sister-in-law Becky has perfected Mom’s pumpkin pie. And last year Dana and Mindy gave Wayne a gift certificate for a gourmet cooking school, so we think the future has even more family recipes in it! We’re collecting and passing on things that our families did and the stories that go with them — we ARE our stories; they make us who we are. And we don’t just tell them at Christmas, but all year long. (Like the one about the time Wayne made a green frog out of ice and put it in the bottom of the punchbowl … )

Lynda Randle
There are a lot of things about Christmas I would like to keep with me all year long! I think of the joy I feel when those that I love surround me and open the gifts my husband and I give them. When you’re sitting there and doing nothing but watching your kids, enjoying what they’re enjoying… there’s nothing else that matters to me on Christmas morning. I’d love to have that all year!

Keeping Christmas … on Your Table

Larnelle Harris’
“Pork Chop Delight”
Here’s a favorite family recipe Larnelle has enjoyed every Christmas morning for the past 30 years. A bit unorthodox for a holiday breakfast? Maybe so, but absolutely delicious — don’t wait ‘til Christmas to try it!

4 to 6 lean pork chops
Dash of salt, pepper and garlic powder
Seasoned flour mixture (flour, salt and pepper)
1 jar mild salsa
2T cooking oil

Heat oil in large skillet until hot enough to brown chops quickly. Dip both sides of chops in seasoned flour. Brown both sides quickly. Remove from skillet and place in large baking dish. Sprinkle dash of salt, pepper and garlic powder over each chop. Spread salsa generously on top. Cover. (Note: if using aluminum foil to cover, place a sheet of wax paper between chops and foil) Bake 40-45 minutes at 375 degrees. Note: the salsa makes a nice gravy for mashed potatoes as well!

Tori Taff’s Mom’s
“Soon-to-be-World-Famous Holiday Sugar Cookie Recipe”
Here’s the fabulous Alexine Timm recipe — these are a family tradition, and I have made them and given them as gifts for years! Russ LOVES them!

1 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
2/3 cup soft butter
1 beaten egg
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon almond flavoring

Sift flour with baking powder into a bowl. Cream butter and sugar together in another, larger bowl. Add the beaten egg, vanilla and almond flavoring to the butter/sugar mixture, and blend well, by hand or with a mixer. Add the dry ingredients in two or three portions, mix with big spoon until smooth — not too sticky, not too dry. Chill thoroughly about 45 minutes. Roll out about 1/8 to 1/4 inch thick, as desired. Bake at 350 to 375 degrees for about 6 minutes, watching so that the edges do not get too browned.

I make a basic frosting using merengue powder (dried egg whites) — the recipe is on the Wilton’s merengue powder box. Then I divide the frosting into about 8 plastic cups, and color each cup of frosting with food coloring. Use your fingers to decorate — washing them often, of course! I also use the tubes of decorator icing from the grocery, and of course lots of sprinkles, colored sugars and jimmies. Be creative, take your time and you’ll turn out detailed cookie masterpieces you can give as gifts.

OR, do what my mom did — include the children, make a huge mess and create a family Christmas memory they’ll never forget!

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