Christmas is a time for celebrating traditions. I’ve enjoyed reading on FaceBook about customary family activities like cutting a Christmas tree together, or touring holiday lights with carols playing and enjoying cookies and hot chocolate. Some families would assemble a brass ensemble and staff a Red Kettle for a shift, or go to a Christmas Eve service.
This year holds new “traditions” for Sandy and me – it’s been a Christmas like none other. There have been no kettle runs, no corps groups parties, no snow, and no gathering with family to open gifts around the Christmas tree.
Here in Papua New Guinea, Christmas happens during what amounts to summer break. Sandy and I went shopping wearing shorts and flip-flops, and we would see colorful decorations in the stores and listen to familiar carols piped through the stores, but nothing else seemed “christmasy.” So we were prepared for today to be quiet, peaceful and different.
The day started with a hilarious tradition that goes back about 34 years, and it was a complete surprise to me. I was pranked. The co-conspirators were Tim and Donnel Hoppes and Sandy Hartley.
In 1978 I was a college kid, having just moved from Salina, Kansas to Peoria, Illinois. I was a newcomer, but I was warmly welcomed by others at the corps. Tim and I found that we had a natural affinity for shared goofiness. He showed me a fascinating new way to spin donuts in the snow, backing out of the parking space and whipping the steering wheel so that the front end of the car began to spin in an arch! I’d never seen that before! Front-wheel-drive was something new.
One Sunday morning as we left the corps, one of us found a white vinyl tissue holder with a dainty pink flower applique on it nestled in the snow in the parking lot. We laughed at its tackiness, and thought one of us should try to deliver it to lost-and-found. “Not me!” became the mantra, as we kept trying to force the other to take possession of the tissue holder.
These many years later it’s hard to recall exactly who did what to whom and when. But I think that I threw the tissue holder into Tim’s car and tried to dash to my own car for a quick get away, leaving Tim holding the treasure. But Tim was able to tuck it under the windshield wiper on the passenger side of my car, so that by the time I made it around to the gift, he was already pulling into the street – with a huge grin on his face. For the next couple of years, we took turns mailing it back and forth, and Tim even showed up at my wedding bearing a “special” gift. He had that same huge grin on his face from across the room as Sandy and I opened that little vinyl tissue holder, and he watched me try to explain it’s significance to my new bride.
Somehow I got the “gift” back to him, and for years, I’ve not thought of it.
This morning, Sandy comes down the stairs with a little red gift bag, and I started lecturing her because we were not supposed to be getting gifts for each other this year. With a sly grin she said, “No hating. Just let me get my camera and then open it.” I’m sure you’ve guessed the result. As I unfurled the toilet tissue wrapping and recognized that grubby white vinyl with the faded pink flower, I busted out laughing.
Sandy and I were prepared for Christmas to be different this year, and it certainly has been. But thanks to an old friend, something old and familiar brought great cheer to our hearts. As I gathered our gifts together on the coffee table to get a picture of the books, t-shirts and the many cards we’ve received, I placed that little vinyl tissue holder prominently in the photo.
It’s a symbol of love and friendship, and a reminder that the spirit of Christmas is really embodied in the hearts of those who care about us.