The coming of Christmas always fills my mind with excitement and wonder, my heart with hope and love, my spirit with peace and joy. There is buoyancy in the air, our long winter nights sparkle with Christmas lights, the people we meet are merrier, and in the simplest of moments love shines brightest. For many of us, it is the season that becomes more poignant because of time anticipated and enjoyed with family and friends.
The first snowfall and the sound of carols herald that Christmas is fast approaching. I have often thought it unfortunate that we only hear the glorious music of Christmas carols during the season, and, almost in defiance, I listen to my yuletide favourites long before the beginning and well after the day that we rejoice in our Saviour’s birth. I especially love choral performances with the inspirational Hallelujah Chorus from Handel’s Messiah at the top of my list, although Bach’s exquisite cantata, Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring, is a very close second.
Like most of us, I get caught up in the hustle and bustle of the season dashing around in search of the perfect gift for everyone on my list, and in particular for my number one fan, Aidan J., who has more of everything than he could ever possibly need. In light of today’s bounty and affluence, when I was young my two or three small gifts under the tree, and my few trinkets tucked in with one Japanese orange in my stocking, could border on dearth.
Yet I have no recollection of ever feeling deprived during my grandparents’ annual celebrations. What I do recall is the peace, the simplicity, and the anticipation of spending time with my beloved grandparents. Our day customarily began by walking two doors down the street to attend the morning devotions at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church. Not one word of English was spoken, but those services remain the most meaningful religious ceremonies I have attended in my life, with the gleaming pipe organ, and the hymns sung in German, inspiring my love of choral music.
As many of my readers are aware, my Understanding Ursula trilogy is a labour of love for my maternal grandparents. Within three years of its publication, Simon Arseneau, a multimedia journalist with the Lloydminster Meridian Booster, concluded, “She not only wrote the kind of story she likes to read, but also one Canadians could enjoy. Readers responded in kind elevating the series to best-selling status.”
Throughout my childhood and youth, I spent endless hours listening to my grandmother, and she might well be the real narrator of my story, although ironically she would not have been able to read my books. On the front pages of Arriving: 1909–1919, I wrote the inscription: “In memory of my grandparents, Rudolph and Mary Gares, for their life-long gifts of love and inspiration.” Still, the greatest gift that they ever gave to me was the gift of being truly present when I needed them.
To all my readers, past, present, and future, I wish you and yours the love, the joy, the beauty, and the peace of this special season. May Jesus’ love surround you at Christmas and always.