For more than 50 years our family has celebrated Christmas in our Arlington homes. There have been three of them over time, and it’s where traditions have evolved, and cherished memories were made.
Always in preparation for the big day, our family gathered on Christmas Eve and listened as my wife’s father annually reminded us with St. Luke’s account of why we recognize this time among the most valued in the practice of our faith.
To review the quickly passing years all we need to do is pull out the photo albums containing countless pictures taken on every one of these occasions. In them we can see our children growing up, adding their spouses to our celebration, welcoming grandchildren along the way and being blessed when there were four generations present around the tree and among the decorations that adorn our home.
Then came the passage of time and annually feeling the loss of those with whom we could no longer share what had become our season of great joy. Fittingly, the practice of reading from the second chapter of the Gospel of Luke is now in the hands of the great granddaughter of the one who started the tradition for our family.
I’m sure what I’ve described is similarly shared by countless others who could tell the same stories that make Christmas time truly special in the journey of each of their own lives.
Last year we had a new experience in a different place. It was in the cabin on the side of a mountain among a vast range of the oldest mountains on earth. We had family with us, of course, but it was all very unlike other years.
For one thing, as we concluded our annual Christmas Eve viewing of the original Dr. Seuss’ “How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” it began snowing, and we awoke the next morning to a magnificent White Christmas. The snow covered everything. In all directions, it seemed an almost unreal scene thrilling our imagination.
Our location was in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Western North Carolina in the Nantahala National Forest. The scenery throughout that whole part of the country is much different than our home state. Okay, Texas has its own kind of beauty, that we’ve been enjoying for more than five decades.
This time it was very special. And, not just around the cabin. The small mountain towns and villages offer a great variety of the holiday landscape. They range from those with highly decorated main streets through the center of town to others laid out in a square surrounding a courthouse gleaming with lights and scenery to the delight of everyone.
As you wind through curvy mountain roads and over the hills, you can see the nighttime glow of these places even before you arrive.
Prominent among them is the town of Dahlonega in northern Georgia where the mountains mark their southern origins.
Southern Living Magazine calls it the perfect Christmas town. The writer describes it all as a whimsical holiday world draped in twinkling lights and, along with horse-drawn carriages, it’s “Hallmark Worthy.”
Interestingly, our hometown has something in common with Dahlonega (minus the mountains, of course): Its season is kicked off with a festive parade and the lighting of a massive tree all attended by the town’s citizenry decked out in winter attire. Just as we gather in the center of our city to celebrate the season Arlington-style.
It all looks familiar enough to remind us that there is no other time on the calendar when we are seemingly brought together and pause long enough to realize that we share a common bond across the land and, for that matter, throughout the world.
You might imagine that I’m going to conclude this month’s column with a proposition that if you are looking for something different in late December (while at the same time, somewhat familiar) we’ve a suggestion for you.