I must admit I’m not a regular church goer, but I just LOVE Christmas Eve service. The music gives me goose bumps, and the church seems more colorful than usual… maybe with the brilliant poinsettias adorning the altar. And my favorite part is when they light a single candle at the end of each pew, and one by one the candles are lit throughout the congregation, and the church begins to glow. It actually gets me choked up for some reason.
But there’s something else about Christmas Eve.
December 24th was my grandmother’s birthday. And anybody who knew her would say she was an angel on earth — always thinking of others. And when you spent time with her, everything was right in the world. She had the sweetest smile, and when she laughed it made you laugh… and I miss her dearly.
She was kind of silly too. When we were kids she’d fry up pieces of baloney, and cut them into triangular slices and tell us it was our “Baloney Pizza.” She’d serve it with toothpicks and we just loved that. And she’d always come up from the basement carrying a big pink plastic bin, and dump it upside down in the living room…and we’d watch, as a load of toys would spill out all over the floor. She even let us unlock her glass cabinet in the dining room, against our mother’s wishes, and was perfectly calm as we handled her fine glass collectibles. It was a treat, like exploring a treasure chest.
And knowing grandma…if she was sitting next to me in church on December 24th, she’d be sure to say it was the most beautiful birthday gift she could ever ask for.
Well, a few years ago I wandered into church on Christmas Eve just a few minutes before the service began. I was lucky there was room…at the inn. (See how I made a funny there?) I sat down in the last pew towards the back, and made sure to move in as far as I could just in case there were other latecomers like me.
Just as the service began, an elderly woman came in from the cold and sat down next to me. She turned and smiled. I was taken aback because she reminded me so much of my grandmother. I actually had to force myself not to stare.
When the minister asked the congregation to greet your neighbor, I attempted to shake her hand. But instead, she placed her palm under mine and patted the top of my hand. My grandmother always did that when we’d sit and chat. It was her thing.
Throughout the service I couldn’t help but notice her mannerisms, and I felt like my grandmother was sitting right there with me.
When it was time to leave, we were the first ones out the door since we were in the back. She turned to the right and I veered to the left as we headed to our cars. I was a little nervous because it had started snowing and I was praying she’d make it home safely. I couldn’t help but keep an eye on her as she walked away – making sure she had her footing.
When we were about 20 feet from the door of the church she stopped suddenly. She turned around and looked at me. “Look!” she yelled over, “Have you ever seen snowflakes like this before?!”
I walked over to her and we looked up into the sky and watched the snow fall. I said “They’re really beautiful aren’t they? The snowflakes are so big!”
Then, with a glimmer in her eye, she said “Do you know what I want to do right now? I want to go home and build a snowman.”
I inquired “Then, why don’t you?”
Her answer, “Well, what would people think? I live on a corner lot. Everyone would see me and they’d say ‘Who’s that crazy old lady building a snowman?’”
It was at that moment I remembered the last bit of advice my grandmother had given me before she passed. She said “Remember, you don’t have to answer to anyone but yourself. Always be true to yourself.” …something I’d lost sight of lately.
So I turned to the woman and said “So what. Who cares what they’d say? BUILD IT ANYWAY!”
She smiled a familiar smile, and said “Ya know what? I think I will! Merry Christmas!”
And that was, to this day, one of the best Christmas presents I’ve ever received.
“And may I wish, a very Merry Christmas to you too!”