Dear Family of St John’s

I think by now everyone knows that I love Christmas.  The only Christmas day I can remember that wasn’t wonderful was when I was 19 and waitressed at a restaurant on Christmas Day.  It was awful!The reason I love Christmas, and everything that goes into this time of the year, is largely due to my paternal grandparents.  I spent every December holiday that I can remember with them, until I was about 18. They lived on a farm, named Libertas, in the eastern Free State.  It was a fruit farm.  I still can’t see a cherry without remembering the smell of them growing in orchards!  My grandfather retired there after giving up his medical practice in Estcourt.  He then opened a clinic on the farm for all the farm workers in the surrounding areas.  And, my dad oversaw anything related to the farming side of things.My gran, or Gogo as the grandchildren called her, made a big effort for Christmas.  It’s from her that I have learnt the importance of traditions. I loved helping her decorate the Christmas tree.  My cousins (both boys) would organise the lights and make sure they worked.  Gogo and I would sit and unwrap the tissue paper off each decoration as we unpacked them out of her huge trunk. Each decoration had a story.  She’d tell me when she’d bought it and how old my dad was at the time.  They all had significance.  These decorations were fragile and needed to be handled with care.  This tree was placed in the formal lounge.  Children did not play in there.  I can remember very few occasions, other than Christmas morning, when we gathered in this space. Then, we also had another tree to decorate.  This was a fresh tree that was cut from somewhere on the farm and planted into a massive potjie-style pot.  It stood on the huge front veranda. This tree was decorated with a different set of decorations.  They were more child-friendly and I didn’t need to be so careful in handling them. A bell was hung on the veranda that, when you pulled a cord, would play beautiful music. As a treat on evenings when it was warm enough my cousins, brother, and I would sleep out on the veranda, head to toe, in two big day beds.  I loved falling asleep listening to the music from the bell.  The fumes from the clouds of Peaceful Sleep we’d been sprayed with could have helped in how well I slept!There were more decorations that went into the house.  All the indoor palm trees (my grandfather had a lot) were adorned with little angels blowing trumpets. We had to be careful hanging these up so that we didn’t damage the palm fronds.Christmas morning was very exciting and had its own tradition.  No presents until after church. And, no presents before breakfast, which also came after church.  So, we had quite a while to wait until presents could be opened. One of my uncles loved drawing out breakfast to tease us!I don’t remember any specific presents.  I do remember having to go around and thank each person for their gift and give them a hug before I was allowed to play with anything.  But, Christmas was never special to me because of the presents.  It was special because of the feelings, how my grandparents made me feel. The word that I was looking for to describe that feeling came up in a marriage preparation class I was doing with a couple recently.  They were looking at the wedding vows and they remarked on the promise that they will make ‘to love and to cherish’.  Cherish. What a beautiful word.  It means to protect and care for (someone) lovingly.That is how my grandparents made me feel, and that memory is tied in with every experience of Christmas.  That is why I love it so much.And, do you know what? Our God cherishes each one of us.  That’s why we had the first Christmas so many years ago.  He wanted to protect and care for us.  The best way to do that was to send His Son that we might be saved.  What greater gift of love could there ever be?I know that my love for Christmas, and my experience of Christmas, isn’t the same as everyone else’s.  But, I also know that our God loves and cherishes each one of us, no matter who we are or what our experiences have been.My prayer for each one of you is that you will feel loved and cherished by our Lord this Christmas, and in the New Year.  May you never doubt how special you are to Him.I wish you and your families a joyful and peaceful Christmas, wherever you may be. With loveYour friend and rector,Claire