Tomorrow we're going to shop the day away as a family. We'll end up eating hot Krispy Creme donuts at the end of the day (I'll inhale!) and head home happy and exhausted. This brings back memories of Christmas' past when we've done the same thing.
Two years ago our entire family got together and stayed in a cabin in Pigeon Forge to celebrate Christmas together. At the end of the day all the kids, Grandpa Charles, Esther, Alicia, Nathan and I (with Grandpa Gary at the wheel) all crammed into the church van (and I mean literally!) and headed off to get Krispy Cremes to take back to the cabin.
We were singing, taking in the array of lights and having a wonderful time. When we got to the window of the Krispy Creme the girl at the window wanted to know how many people we had in the van. Gary told her and she handed us each one a Krispy Creme hat to wear! Well, that made the kids happy! Grandpa Charles held the warm Krispy Cremes and we all put our hats on while we made a tour of the 12 days of Christmas down the strip and then headed back to the cabin where the little girls played waitresses in their hats and handed out the melt-in-your-mouth donuts. You just can't have Christmas here at the Neals without one trip to the Krispy Creme on a Christmas outing. When I asked Asher the other day what food he associated with Christmas shopping his answer was, "Warm Krispy Cremes at the end of the day."
Some of our family traditions began from making the best of a rough time. When the older four were very little we had very financially "tight" Christmases. One year while my husband was at work the kids and I put the tree up and the children wanted to have a party around the tree after we were finished. I had little to no food in the house and was racking my brain what to do.
I told the kids we'd have a birthday party for Jesus around the tree. I made a chocolate cake and then realized I didn't have any milk! So I found a jar of Tang someone had given us and heated the Tang. Now I don't know about you but chocolate cake and hot orange drink doesn't sound to good to me but the kids thought it was fantastic!
We turned all the lights off and I gathered the children around at my feet while I sit on the bottom steps of our stairway and I read them the Christmas story while they ate birthday cake and drank hot Tang.
Every year the kids would want to do the same thing. We had to have chocolate cake and hot Tang. People would say, "Chocolate cake and hot tang?????"
"Yup, it's a tradition!"
Our pocket calendar was another attempt on my part to bring sparkle to a very tight budget. I made the first one out of little scraps of fabric I had and hung it on the wall. Back then it was mostly coupons and little promises from mom.
"Good for one hour of playing whatever you want with mom." I ended up playing with GI Joes, Johnny West, and Tammy and Cyndy dolls many an hour over that one! When I would announce my hour was up they would always beg me to keep on playing saying, "But we just got started!"
My grandmother had one of those little elf dolls (looked like Snap, Crackle and Pop) sitting in her china cupboard and somehow when she died he ended up at our house. He would preside over the pocket calendar and sign the coupons. He was named Ralph. Ralph still visits via the pocket calendar each December. Ralph puts new batteries in toys that have been forgotten, makes sure a new person or prop joins our nativity set each year, hides money in the tree branches and leaves the children coupons to this day. (He just left one promising each of our children the meal of their choice during January or February.)
When Alicia was little she was positively sure she saw Ralph meandering through the branches of the Christmas tree! She also thought she felt him pinch her when she reached in my pocket! :)
I look back at the late hours I put in sewing Christmas gifts from scraps of fabric, sewing Barbie doll clothes and selling them so I could buy my children the toy (notice the singular word toy?) they wanted, dropped my pride and bartered with the lady at Party House to buy a display model of a doll that Niki had set her heart on, (Niki, I had to go home and give that doll and its clothes a good washing it had been handled so much!) went to auctions and bought items and then came home and revamped them, (Niki's first sewing machine, the boys beloved barn, and the Walton's cardboard home that was played with till it fell apart!) and scouring library books for ideas that I could convert to our budget.
Over the years these very things that came out of necessity have turned into the most wonderful traditions and memories that the Neal family has. Once the Lord taught me to always try to make the most of the hard situations it was a Christmas gift for me in disguise.
I think of how some of the most wonderful memories we have are from the Lord stepping in and giving us a Christmas miracle.
When my husband was between churches we were living in Knoxville and we were living by faith, my husband's income and our older children's income pooled together. When Christmas came we had $3.00 per child to spend on Christmas.
The Lord had been faithfully providing for us so I wasn't paniced, just wondering what we were going to do! I had gone to the Goodwill and found a little fire truck for Asher that had a siren on it and Brian's aunt had sent me a large metal semi truck to give him that had the buttons with the sound on it so he was taken care of. I had gone to a thrift shop and bought each of my girls a skirt. I had made them each a piece of clothing to match their skirt. I had nothing for Nate or Nevin but was looking!
Gary was working long hours as a manager at a Save A Lot grocery so I was having to do my hunting for something for the boys after dropping the girls off at Crown College.
Just two days before Christmas our friend Mike Shockley showed up and handed us money that someone had given him to give to us. He said that person had stipulated it was to be spent on getting Christmas gifts for our kids. It gave me $25 to spend on each child!
Boy was I excited! So we piled all the kids (plus one of Nevin's friends) into the van and headed out to shop!
At about 10 p.m. everyone was starved so we decided to stop at a Hardee's. We pooled our money to eat and didn't have very much. When we got into the Hardee's the manager came up to us and said they were getting ready to clean out the fried chicken and they offered us all they had left (it was a bunch) for $3.00. You talk about rejoicing in the Lord's goodness! I was so excited. It was like the Lord just topped off a day of blessings with one more.
Most of all, I was thrilled that my children were seeing that the Lord doesn't fail us when we walk in obedience and faith. Even over things we don't need but just desire.
Now that I have grandchildren I get the privilege of gathering them around me. That makes the wonder of the season twice the delight!
I love sewing for them. In my scrapbook I have a picture of a superhero that Caleb drew me. I was talking to Alicia's children and Audrey told me that she wanted a fancy dress that she could wear to play in, (I guess her mom wasn't too fond of her playing in her fancy church dresses1:) Isaiah told me he wanted a military uniform, and then Caleb told me he wanted a Sylvester man costume. I asked him what he looked like and he described him.
He said, "You know, he has green in the body, and an S on his chest, red at the bottom of his legs..."
I said, "Caleb, I don't think I've seen him before. Could I look him up on the internet and get a picture of him?"
He said, "No grandma, I made him up!"
I said, "Then you'll need to draw me a picture so I know what I'm doing."
He said, "Ok, I'll do that right now." And the phone went dead!
Three days later I got the picture. He wrote on it. "Call me when you get this."
When I went to get the fabric I told the lady cutting it. "You're in on something big here."
She said, "Really?"
I said, "Yes, my grandson and I are creating a new superhero named Sylvester-man and you're a part of it now."
That tickled her!
I wouldn't trade watching the American Girl movies with my granddaughters or the Christmas we made a play and acted it out for the family after we'd watched one together.Thank you Mariah, Savannah, Briley and Cierra for letting me be a part of your acting careers!
I wouldn't trade watching "The Nutcracker" or "Polar Express" with my at-home children and my grandchildren. I wouldn't trade reading Christmas stories to them or late nights of laying on pallets on the floor and talking to them while the tree lights flicker.
Christmastime is a wonderful way to culminate the year. It's like throwing icing on a cake!
This year I've thought much of the mood that comes into our home this time of year. The house is twinkling with lights, a tiny village, Bethlehem sits quietly in our living room waiting for the birth of the Savior, the breakfast bar has a new treat on it each day for the family, special blends of coffee are perked, new flavors of cocoa show up in the beverage basket, sweet music plays on the computer or the cd player in the kitchen, and the house smells of chocolate, cinnamon, warm breads or cookies. You can sense anticipation, excitement, and a sense of celebration. There truly is a spirit that comes with Christmas.
And all this is as a result of the Savior's birth! We are able to enjoy life, our family, to have a sweet spirit in our home because He has entered our lives. It all began with Him being willing to bring Himself to earth as a little baby. I never want my children and my children's children to forget this part of it all. That every good and perfect gift that we have in our lives is because of Him, Him, Him.....and that blessings are worthless if we don't know the Blesser Himself.
Merry Christmas to you all. I trust that this Christmas you do know Him and that He has the proper place in your heart and life. If not--I assure you He is ready and waiting to know you and to take His place in your heart and life!
With much love,