Caroling, caroling, now we go
Christmas bells are ringing
Caroling, caroling thru the snow
Christmas bells are ringing
Joyous voices sweet and clear
Sing the sad of heart to cheer
Ding dong, ding dong
Christmas bells are ringing…
~ “Caroling, Caroling”, sung by Nat “King” Cole (words and music by Alfred Burt and Wihla Hutson)
Aside from the classic hymns sung in my childhood church, this is one of my favorite Christmas songs. Of course, pretty much anything sung by Nat “King” Cole is a favorite – but this one intersected with a tender moment last night between my daughter, my wife and her mom, my mother-in-law, who passed away on Oct. 25, 1999, two months short of her most treasured family holiday.
My wife loves family as much as her mom did, and Christmas maybe even more. Thanksgiving is just a warm-up. For Debbie, it’s like stretching before you work out at the gym. We broke out the 15 or so Rubbermaid boxes filled with Christmas decorations about an hour after lunch on Thanksgiving Day and the decorating began in earnest after the tree went up. Haley, my daughter, came in later in the day and jokingly said that the house looked like “Christmas just vomited all over the place!” and it did – boxes were everywhere as my wife worked to put everything in its place so that our house looks like a spread right off the pages of a Southern Living or Garden and Gun Christmas edition.
While we have multiple trees, the one in the great room near our fireplace is the focal point as it is the repository of all the family heirlooms garnered over a lifetime…and for my wife and her sisters, that means engraved Reed and Barton silver bells. These were gifts from a mother to her daughters each Christmas, that marked the passing of time – and it is a tradition carried on by my wife for our kids.
My daughter was remarked as to how many bells she has and how this is one of the things she can count on every Christmas.
My wife poignantly commented that Haley should be happy about the consistency because she “remembered the first Christmas she didn’t get her bell.” I was working on something and was peripheral to the conversations but there was a moment of sadness that washed over me as I remembered my mother-in-law and how Christmas meant the annual trek to my wife’s grandparent’s home in West Point, Mississippi to commune with all the aunts, uncles, and cousins.
I thought about how the passage of time has changed that dynamic. Both of my wife’s grandparents are now gone. My mother-in-law is gone, survived by my father-in-law. Both of my parents are gone and with such losses of those close to us, life sometimes seems nihilistic and unbearable. That’s the way that first Christmas without my mother-in-law felt, having to watch my kids and my wife mourn a lost mother and Nanny during what should have been the happiest of times.
But the twenty years that have passed since that Christmas proves that Christ redeems our souls, time eases the pain, memories grow sweeter, faith does heal – and above all, the family endures. Even though we are scattered all over the country, we still find a way to get most of the extended family together at Christmas.
The bells of Patricia Southern Gates continue to ring in our home each and every Christmas season, and I know long after we have joined her, they will continue to do so on the Christmas trees of our children.
Because that’s how a family remembers. That’s how a family endures.
No matter the challenges you face, may this Christmas season bring you happy remembrances of those gone before us and the hope for the future those simple silver bells represent to our family. From my family to all friends, family and all the nations of the world may the Peace of God be upon all of us.
Amen and amen.