How does one celebrate Christmas without the trimmings . . .

            Tasty trimmings from a turkey fresh from the roaster,

            Ribbon trimmings on packages beautifully wrapped for those we love,

            Glittering trimmings on a tree chosen on a cold night under gently falling snow?

How does one celebrate Christmas without the trimmings of all her Christmases past?  This was my unformed question during most of that hot December, my second on the mission field.

Our first Christmas season overseas had been an interesting one of learning the customs of our new friends on a different continent.  As the season progressed, we learned that every celebration there, even those within our own family, would be different from those of any previous Christmas we had known.  During our second year, depression set in early in December.  The reasons for my heaviness of heart were not immediately clear to me, but as the month wore on I began to realize the problem:  Ninety percent of what Christmas had always been for me was taken away, and it did not feel like Christmas at all.  There were no shimmering snowflakes; no lights adorning homes and shops; no turkey, dressing, or other American holiday foods; not even an evergreen in the living room.  Our gifts were few, and boxes from family and friends never arrived until mid-January.

In the years that followed, I began to accept the fact that Christmas on the mission field would never be what it had been at home; but the final blow came when a dear friend who had planned to come for our fifth Christmas did not show up.  There was no way for him to let us know that a major problem had come up at home, and he just could not get away.  That year I did not go to church on Christmas because someone needed to watch the house.  Because of the shortage of propane for cooking, I was sitting on a low stool boiling a chicken over a three-stone fire, feeling very sorry for myself.  I decided to play some Christmas organ music—very loudly—an attempt to drown my depression, I suppose.  Then these thought came:

            Christmas is not

                turkey, tinsel, or trees,

                snow or Santa,

Christmas is Jesus

            Christmas is not

               parties and presents

               not even people,

Christmas is Jesus.

            Christmas is not

               family, friends, or fun.

Christmas is Jesus

            Christmas is not

               carols or cards

               not even a church service.

Christmas is Jesus.

            Christmas is Jesus, Emmanuel, God with us.

            Praise the Lord for Christmas . . . for Jesus!

How does one celebrate without the trimmings?  What I had been calling the ninety percent, the most important part, is not what Christmas is at all.  Christmas could and would go on without the trimmings.  Then it occurred to me that perhaps it was their absence alone that made the true heart of Christmas so real that I could taste its Joy.  Because . . .

            Christmas is Love.

            Christ, the Source of Eternal Love,

            Born in a cattle shed

            That man might not only taste, but feast

            On everlasting Joy.

            The King of the universe . . . and beyond

            Cradled in earth

            To bring finite man

            Into communion with

            The Eternal.

            Beyond all this man has only to choose.

            The rest has been completed

            From ages past

            Through Love,

            Shaped by a cradle

            And a cross.