I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day

I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet the words repeat
Of peace on earth, good will to men.
 
I thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along the unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.
 
And in despair I bowed my head:
“There is no peace on earth,” I said,
“For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.”
 
Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor doth he sleep;
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail,
With peace on earth, good will to men.”
 
Till, ringing singing, on its way,
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime, a chant sublime,
Of peace on earth, good will to men!

 

These words written by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow during the Civil War are still true today. Hate is strong and peace is not found in the world. Yet, it is possible to be at peace and to find peace and forgiveness in your heart. True peace comes only from knowing Jesus Christ as your Savior.

Christmas is the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ as a human baby. Jesus left his home in Heaven and willing came to Earth to live as among us and to sacrifice His life for us. Without Christmas, there would be no Easter—no death on the cross, no resurrection, no hope of salvation.

This is the good news the angels spoke about when they announced the birth of Jesus to the shepherds.  “I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all people.  Today in the town of David a Savior is born to you:  he is Christ the Lord…Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.”     (Luke 2: 10 –11, 14)

As you celebrate Christmas in a few days, I pray that the true meaning of Christmas will bring joy and peace to your heart.  If you don’t know Jesus Christ as your Savior, there is no better time to invite Him into your heart.

Knitting a Lavender Christmas Stocking

I’ve knitted dozens of Christmas stockings over the past 37 years since my grandmother turned the duty over to me.  Most of them have featured traditional Christmas figures, such as Santa Claus, snowmen, and gingerbread men, on a red or green background.  I’ve even made a few on blue backgrounds.  Until now, however, I have never knitted a lavender Christmas stocking.

The occasion for this non-traditional stocking is the impending birth of our first granddaughter.  Two years ago, I made a pair of stocking for our son Matt and his wife Kristin for their first Christmas as a married couple.  They both chose a puppy pattern and, rather than having identical stockings, ask me to adapt the colors to look like their two dogs, Jasper and Allie.  With the expected arrival of their first child, a daughter to be named Brooklyn Elise, they wanted me to knit another puppy stocking.  The puppy on Brooklyn’s stocking has dark gray ears and a tan face on a lavender background.

It is coming along nicely, except that Brooklyn is a rather long name to fit on one side of the stocking.  I didn’t consider that when I stitched the name on it.  As it currently is, “KLYN” would show when the stocking is hanging.  Fortunately, I didn’t knit the name into the stocking but embroidered it on in duplicate stitch, so I can easily removed the stitched and rework it with “BROOK” on the front and “LYN” on the back.  My alternative plan is to try to free -hand the name using a back stitch.  I’m going to let the partents-to-be make that decision.

Last Christmas, I knit a stocking for our first grandson, Daniel.  It was a wonderful delight to carry on the family tradition begun by my grandmother and make a stocking for the first member of our family’s next generation. Daniel is too young to understand the family tradition yet, but I believe he will also treasure his special Christmas stocking.  Brooklyn is due January 7th, so unless she makes an early entry into the world, she will not be here to celebrate Christmas with us this year.  We will hang her stocking, however, and thank God for this precious new life and the wonderful blessings He bestows on our family.

Christmas Eve Anniversary

My parents celebrated their 55th wedding anniversary on Friday.  They were married on Christmas Eve and celebrated Christmas with their families the next morning before leaving for their honeymoon. 

Getting married on Christmas Eve makes it easy to remember the date, but it makes a romantic celebration nearly impossible.  The last time I remember my parents going out to dinner on their anniversary is the year I was eleven.  They were home early and declared they would never attempt it again.  Few restaurants are open on Christmas Eve, and even fewer have employees who are happy about having to work that night.

My parents had nine children born over a 21-year period.  Consequently, their Christmas Eve activities for the first thirty years or so typically involved wrapping Christmas presents, assembling bikes and other toys, and baking pies for Christmas dinner.  Their anniversary was almost an afterthought in all the chaos of Christmas, but they always took a few moments to exchange gifts and express their love for each other.

Christmas Eves are a bit calmer for them these days. More restaurants are open, but they still don’t go out on their anniversary.  They prefer instead to have a quiet celebration surrounded by their children and grandchildren.  They celebrated their anniversary this year with four of their children and three of their grandchildren present.  My sister and I brought the food, so Mom was spared the chore of cooking dinner on their anniversary.

I am grateful that my parents’ marriage has withstood the many challenges life has brought their way, including the death of one child and my father’s 26-year career in the U.S. Marine Corps.  I am thankful that my parents are both active and healthy and can look forward to many more anniversaries.  But most of all, I am eternally grateful that many years ago my parent’s committed their lives to Jesus Christ and made Him the center of their marriage.

The Stockings Were Hung by the Chimney with Care

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas at the Ball household.  A University of Florida Christmas wreath is hanging on the front door (love the Gators!), the tree is decorated, and the stockings are hanging on the mantle. 

I knitted stockings for Steve and me on our first Christmas after we were married–way back in 1981.  The next one was made when Chris was born in 1985, and the twins’ stockings were added in 1987.  For more than 20 years, there were five stockings on our mantle.

In the past few years, our mantle has become more crowded.  The boys are grown and starting families of their own.  We’ve added two daughters-in-law the past two years, and this year brought the joy of our first grandchild.  What a pleasure it has been for me to celebrate these precious new members of our family by knitting stockings for them.  I am looking forward to knitting more stockings to hang on the mantle in the coming years as our family continues to grow.

Bridging the Generations through Christmas Caroling

On the first Sunday of December each year, we take the children from our church’s boys and girls ministries Christmas caroling at a senior independent living community.  After the morning service, the children and the chaperones meet in the fellowship hall.  Fruit baskets are assembled for the nursing staff while the children practice the songs. 

We always serve pizza for lunch.  Some children only agree to go caroling because they want pizza.  We know that.  While we would prefer they come for more charitable reasons, we know something they don’t.  Even the reluctant children will touch the hearts of those who hear them sing, and they will be touched in return.

The singing starts in the activity room for those who have gathered.  After the carols are concluded, the children hand out gifts to the residents.  It is an easy way to get shy children to mingle and interact with the seniors.  This year the children handed out stockings they had decorated, cards they made, and bags of home-baked cookies.  The children eagerly present their gifts to the residents and make sure that everyone is included.  The residents reciprocate with smiles and hugs.

When the program is done, we walk through the halls singing and handing out the rest of the gifts.  The children are excited every time a resident opens his or her door and joins in the singing. The resident is serenaded for a few minutes and receives many hugs before the group moves on.  Some of the residents are unable to walk to the doorway so relatives or staff members open their doors to let them see and hear the children.  Often the children will march right into the apartment to hug the resident.  It’s very moving, and those are my favorite memories of caroling.

There’s a lot of truth in the carols they sing.  The children may not fully appreciate the meanings of the songs, but the residents who have sung these songs for decades certainly do.  I’m sure the words become more precious as they realize their time on Earth is nearing an end, and they will soon meet the baby born on Christmas day. 

Taking forty children Christmas caroling requires a lot of planning and coordination.  The date has to be scheduled. Chaperones have to be secured and transportation arranged.  Permission slips have to be signed.  Gifts and cards have to be purchased.  Pizza has to be ordered and cookies baked.  We have moments when we wonder if it worth the effort, but those moments are fleeting.  We only have to recall the experiences of previous years to realize that we will bless and be blessed by our afternoon spent Christmas caroling.  There’s really no better way to get into the Christmas spirit!

Hark the herald angels sing “Glory to the new born king!  Peace on Earth and mercy mild.  God and sinners reconciled.”

Hand-knitted Christmas Stockings: A Family Tradition

According to legend, the tradition of hanging Christmas stockings was started in the days of St. Nicholas. The good bishop, wishing to help a poor father by providing a dowry for his three daughters, tossed three bags of gold coins down the family’s chimney. The bags landed in the stockings the girls had hung by the fireplace to dry.  The next morning, the girls found the gold and, thus, were able to marry.  The tradition continues nearly 1667 years after the death of St. Nicholas.

When my older sister, Sharon, was born, my mother’s mother started a family tradition of hand knitting Christmas stockings for each of her grandchildren.  My grandmother loved to knit, and I loved to watch her hands fly as she knit booties, blankets, scarves, hats, and, of course, Christmas stockings.  She helped me to knit a pair of booties when I was seven.  I was very proud of those pink booties made with variegated wool yarn.  I wore them until my feet outgrew them.  I didn’t knit anything else until I was about eleven.  That summer my grandmother re-taught me to knit and I made a scarf.  I soon learned to knit by the feel of the yarn and sometimes continued to knit in the dark after my parents had made me turn out the light.

By the time the eighth grandchild was born, I was a proficient knitter.  My grandmother decided it was time to pass the family tradition down to me.  She gave me her patterns and taught me how to change colors without leaving holes in the stocking.  She helped me to stitch Jimmy’s name across the top. Two years later, I made my second stocking for my youngest sibling.

When I got married, I left my stocking at my parents to be hung each year on their mantle.  Thirty years later, their mantle is crowded with the stockings of their nine children and many of their grandchildren.  I knit a pair of stockings for my husband and me for our first Christmas.  Later, we added stockings for our three sons. Over the years, I have hand knit dozens more stockings for siblings and their spouses, nieces and nephews, cousins, and assorted other relatives and friends. 

A few years ago, one of my sisters commented that our mother was the only family member who did not have a knitted stocking.  Mom had a felt stocking she had been hanging up since she married.  Dad had started out with a matching felt stocking also.  However, my grandmother knit him one and sent it to him in 1968—the year he was stationed in Viet Nam and could not be home for Christmas.  I don’t know why she never made one for her daughter, and I don’t know why it took so many years for me to realize that I should make one for her.  I rectified that immediately and made one for my mother-in-law the same year.

As our sons have married, we have added stockings for their wives to our mantle, and I have made a pair for each new couple for their own homes. This year, the tradition continues onto a new generation.  I will knit a stocking for my first grandchild and proudly hang it from our mantle.  What a delight it has been for me to knit stockings for four generations of our family over the past 36 years.  It is a tradition I hope will continue for many generations through my nieces and, perhaps, one day through a granddaughter, if God so blessses.

December 23, 2010  The latest stocking is done, and my family’s stockings are hanging on the mantle.  If you would like to see them, I’ve posted a picture on my post “All the Stockings were Hung by the Chimney with Care.”

Merry Christmas!

Unto Us a Son is Given

“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”  Isaiah 9:6

Each year, Christians all around the world celebrate the birth of baby Jesus in a stable more than two thousand years ago.  For those of us who have made Jesus Christ our Savior by accepting His free gift of salvation, Christmas is a pivotal point in history. If Jesus had not come to Earth as a human baby and lived a sinless life, He could not have died for our sins and we would still be lost.  Through the birth of this tiny baby, salvation came into a darkened world

God used another baby boy to draw my family into a relationship with Him.  My brother John was born when I was 5 years old. Although our mother had contracted rubella early in the pregnancy, John was declared healthy and sent home.  However, we soon learned that John had serious heart defects and the he could neither see nor hear.

John underwent open-heart surgery when he was three months and endured several more surgeries in his first few years of life.  My mother began praying, asking God to heal John.  One day she asked an acquaintance to remember John in her prayers.  The woman proceeded to share the gospel with my mother.  Although my parents had attended church all their lives, until that day neither of them had a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

My brother died from heart complications before his eighth birthday.  During his short life, both of my parents and many other family members came to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.  Although we miss John and think of him every day, we know that one day we will be reunited with him in Heaven. 

This Christmas, and every Christmas, I am thankful that the Son of God humbled Himself and became human on our behalf and that God used a blind and deaf child with a bad heart to show my family our need for a personal relationship with God.