What Child is this who, laid to rest
On Mary’s lap is sleeping?
Whom Angels greet with anthems sweet,
While shepherds watch are keeping?
William Chatterton Dix, 1865
The fragrance of fresh yeast rolls, savory and warm, freshly pulled from the faithful oven–golden brown–Ah, the dulcet tones my tummy had been emitting instantly elevated an octave. I sang in harmony not with the grumblings of my tummy but with my mother’s Christmas music which filled the house. Christmas was glorious and it was here. Our table was set to precision with Mom’s best china. My eyes darted from the tart cranberry salad to the succulent sliced turkey and on to the heaping mashed potatoes, roasted green beans, and bowl piled high with stuffing, then back to those rolls, the glorious buns now dripping with rich butter–the good stuff.
Countless trays of these buns had been baked in our family–a recipe inherited from my Norwegian grandmother and passed on to my mother and now onto me. Fragrant. Delicious. We had made the yeast dough the previous afternoon and the process always remained the same. Once risen, the dough would be punched down and then risen again as we shaped it into buns which slowly rose again overnight. The following morning each sheet of buns was baked about 20 minutes until golden brown. What started out as a small bowl of dough produced a plethora of delightful steaming mounds.
A few weeks prior, Dad had taken his Pontiac hatchback into an area of east Texas’ uninhabited land and cut down a fresh cedar tree. We joyfully hung the tree with colored lights, and then carefully arranged each branch with an assortment of favorite ornaments. Far from a Hallmark postcard tree it was still personal and beautiful in our sight. Depending on where we lived that year, our handmade stockings were faithfully hung from a fireplace, a bookshelf or staircase. I still have mine to this day. One wall housed our advent calendar while the family piano accommodated my feeble attempt at Christmas carols and mom’s much more competent keyboarding. Oh Come, Oh Come, Joy to the World, What Child is This, These Three Kings of Orient Are…songs of the season. With my developing vocals and heartfelt gusto, I sang with great enthusiasm.
My dad’s wood candle lamp business had kept us working in his shop until just before Christmas Eve but then everything stopped. On Christmas Eve, we celebrated. We opened our stockings and just the gifts from my Aunt Lena, dad’s eccentric older sister, each one wrapped in the same red paper. She must have purchased a case of it to get the job done.
All of us kids were early risers on Christmas. On Christmas morning mom’s fragrant Norwegian Julecaka ignited appetites and seemed to be the universal cue for stomachs to growl. Coffee, hot chocolate, bread were had by all and then finally, the time came to open presents. Oh, what joy to see what the various relatives sent and to discover what our family had gotten each other. Some gifts were even marked “from Santa” which is the furthest reach of my parent’s extension of the fable. I could count on receiving a set of silverware for my “hope chest,” new pajamas, and the best part, new books by beloved authors, L.M. Montgomery, Janette Oke, C.S. Lewis to name a few.
An old picture in one of our photos albums shows me and my siblings kneeling before the colorful Christmas tree with our dachshunds, Bulova and Rolex, and some of the new Nubian goat kids our family had in diapers. So much fun and so many memories.
“Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 18:3
Hours after our decadent Christmas meal was delightfully consumed there was still enough of it for leftovers for the following days. It was such a treat beyond our all too frequent beans and cornbread, collards, and casseroles. It was the continual reminder that at Christmas, we celebrated.
What invoked all of this wonder? Not the meal or bread alone, nor the gifts, the tree, or even the carols. This was the time, the season where we came to Him as children. When we joyfully remembered. Where we remembered the greatest gift ever given. The baby Jesus, whose miraculous advent changed the world forever. Emmanuel had come. Our family savored the fragrant buns—this recipe passed on through several generations who too, had celebrated their Savior’s birth. The tree, the opened gifts, the sung carols and hymns, and the bread broken in unity and gratitude infused for each generation a deep, abiding connection. To the one we celebrate and to one another. In this sense, wonder is all about being still and remaining in that state of awe like a child, treasuring the moment with fresh eyes each year. Can it be? Can it be? Yes, I receive.
Raise, raise a song on high,
The Virgin sings her lullaby.
Joy, joy for Christ is born,
The Babe, the Son of Mary.
The featured image is courtesy of Mark Miller and used with his generous permission for Cultivating and The Cultivating Project.
Mary has cherished life-long literary dreams coupled with a passion for ministry, all of which lead her to study English literature and later theology and counseling in seminary. She has been designing artisan jewelry for eight years while homeschooling son Ian and daughter Julianna. She and her husband Mark Miller have been in ministry for the past thirteen years in San Diego and temporarily moved to Washington with their cat Lord Peter Wimsey while Mark finalized his dissertation. Dr. Miller is now pursuing ministerial opportunities nation-wide. Mary enjoys off-the-wall humor, gardening, cooking, and curling up with anything penned by Dorothy Sayers, C.S. Lewis, Tolkien, or Jane Austen.