Christmas

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My Uncle Elmer Johnson was an amazing cook. My cousin, Ellen Bremner, his oldest child recalls the many holiday meals he cooked over the years, and just how wonderful they were. Many people think that cooking is no big deal, but opening a few cans and heating them on the stove, is not cooking, nor is heating up a frozen dinner, which seems to be the norm these days. I suppose that in a busy world, such as we now live in, heating up a previously prepared (usually by some company) meal is the best way to get a meal quickly. Nevertheless, people like my Uncle Elmer…well they knew how to really cook…making a wonderful holiday meal from scratch, with everyone in the family standing there watching and smelling the meal with mouths watering and stomachs growling. The anticipation was almost too much to bear. Ellen tells me that her dad was a more adventurous cook than their mon, my Aunt Dee.

Uncle Elmer loved Christmas, and loved to spoil his four children, Ellen, Elmer, Darla, and Delwin, as well as Aunt Dee. I can imagine him at Christmas…just like a kid in a candy store, getting everything ready for his family, and then sitting there with a twinkle in his eye as they opened their gifts. The day most likely passed far too quickly and all too soon it was over, and life went back to normal.

Normal for my uncle was driving a truck. He worked for Burke Moving and Storage, as well as United Van Lines. He also worked for Dalgarno Transportation, where he and his son, Elmer got to work together. He was also a certified welder working on pipeline, and later in a uranium mine at Shirley Basin. Uncle Elmer was also a capable mechanic. Still, I think that as jobs go, Uncle Elmer was happiest when he was driving a truck. He liked to drive, and that made him a good teacher of driving. Ellen remembers that he was very patient with her when he was teaching her to drive. He encouraged her, even when she made a mistake.

Every summer, Uncle Elmer would take the family fishing in the Tensleep area of Wyoming. Uncle Elmer loved fishing, and he passed that love of the sport down to his kids. I think they all still enjoy fishing to this day. Uncle Elmer was witty and had a great sense of humor. That probably came from the years he and his brothers spent getting into mischief…good clean fun really. Uncle Elmer, and especially his brother, Les pulled many pranks. Their brother Tom was quite a bit younger, and so not as involved in their mischief, but I imagine he managed to contribute his share as he got older too. After all, he had his big brothers to show him the ropes. Unfortunately, Uncle Elmer passed away in 1981. Today would have been his 87th birthday. Happy birthday in Heaven, Uncle Elmer. We love and miss you very much.

Christmas…a time with family, presents under the Christmas tree, eating far too much great food…is that all there is too it? No, of course not!! In fact, those things have very little to do with Christmas. That’s because Jesus is the reason for the season. The family time, food, and gifts are fine, but we should never forget the gift God gave us on that wonderful day so long ago. The people of Earth had made such a mess of things here. No, I’m not talking about climate change. I’m talking about sin. God could have walked away, and started the whole thing over, but His heart was with his children. He wanted us all to be with Him in Heaven, when our time here on Earth is over. He knew that we needed at Saviour, and so His son agreed to leave Heaven and come to Earth…as a helpless baby.

Adam had sinned and ruined things here, and it would take a man without sin…for his whole life, to change the whole outcome of Adam’s mistake. Jesus had to be born as a human baby, because that was the only way to operate in the Earth realm. Then, He had to live a sinless life. It didn’t matter what human parts of him were trying to tell him to do, he couldn’t get angry, be disrespectful, lie, or any other sin. If you and I were to be saved by Jesus’ death on the cross, He had to be sinless. It was the only way for his death to make a difference. It would be a horribly cruel death, and Jesus knew it, but He did what He had to do…and it all started when He came to Earth as a baby to become our Saviour. Nothing beats that.

Yes, the family gatherings are great, and the gifts are nice, but the greatest gift that was ever given was the gift of a perfect life that became the sacrifice to restore righteousness to those who could not live a perfect life. It was an amazing gift, and one we cannot ever thanks Him for enough. Happy birthday dear Jesus. Thanks you for your sacrifice, and Merry Christmas everyone. Have a great holiday, thank you for all you did for us.

When most people think of Christmas, their minds think of Santa Clause, turkey dinners, and weeks of preparatory shopping, and yes those things are a part of Christmas for most people, but there is a far more important reason for the Christmas season…the birth of our Saviour, Jesus Christ, the Lord. Yes, I am aware that we don’t know the exact date of our Saviour’s birth, and many are quite certain that it was nowhere near December 25th, and in reality, not in winter. To most Christians, however, those minor details don’t matter, because we are talking about our Lord. It’s ok to celebrate Jesus anytime.

Most Christians think of gift giving as being symbolic of the greatest gift ever given…Jesus who came to earth to save us from our sin filled world by dying on the cross so that we would be able to go Heaven. Of course, no gift we could ever give could measure up to the gift Jesus gave us, but we can celebrate Jesus by having a giving spirit. After all, that is what Jesus was all about. I don’t mean presents, but rather the ultimate gift, the greatest love ever given…”For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” John 3:16. What great gift could there ever be than to give His life so that we could live, and what greater reason could there ever be to celebrate Jesus. The date error, if there is one, makes no difference…just God’s love.

Christmas means different things to different people, of course, but I think that the most important thing is to make sure that we don’t lose sight of the real reason for the season…the birth of the Saviour of the world. Before Jesus came,we had no hope. We were lost, and going to Hell. After Jesus lived, died, and rose again, everything changed and hope returned. For Christians, there is nothing more important. Jesus is our advocate with the Father. He is the the true meaning o grace. His git to us…salvation, was not something we could ever earn. we were lost and all hope was gone. Then Jesus was born, and we had a reason to celebrate again. Happy birthday Jesus, and Merry Christmas everyone.

When disaster strikes, and homes are in ruin, people try to come together to help return a sense of normalcy to the people affected by the disaster. Disasters happen quickly, and the devastation is often heavy. It is a difficult thing to help people heal. While one disaster or event is often the same as another in terms of damage, something we somehow don’t connect to that same kind of devastation, is war. I’m not sure why, but when I think of war,I picture a battle held in the middle of a vast desert, with no civilization in sight. of course, when I really think about it, I now that is not reality, but rather my mind trying to fit war into a box of civility. In reality, there is nothing civil about war. Gun shots, bombs, and land mines aren’t picky about who they hit. Soldier or civilian…all are fair game in a war. And towns…well, there is often little to nothing left after a bomb hits.

During World War II, London was often the targets of the German Luftwaffe, and the bombs they dropped, devastated many parts of London. From September 7, 1940, London was systematically bombed by the Luftwaffe for 56 out of the following 57 days and nights, in what was called “The Blitz.” Most notable was a large daylight attack against London on September 15th. Of course, these weren’t the only bombings, and the people of London didn’t know when or if it was safe to be out of the bomb shelters. Life in London had taken on eerie gloom,as people continued to seek refuge in the bomb shelters, because that was the only safe place to be. The biggest problem was that the bomb shelters were also gloomy, boring, and generally depressing. The children probably suffered the most, because kids don’t really understand all this hatred and killing. Their world had been turned upside down…and they didn’t know why.

By the end of 1940, 24,000 civilians had been killed in the Blitz and hundreds of thousands made homeless. In November, German bombers had obliterated Coventry city center and there had been particularly fierce raids on Manchester and Liverpool in the days leading up to Christmas. The public were now mourning the loss of their loved ones on the home front and in combat, as well as praying for the 41,000 British soldiers captured on the continent, but it was the children, in my mind, who suffered the most. Their childlike innocence was completely destroyed, along with their homes. Their parents, and other adults made the decision to change their little world, even if it was only for a short time. They didn’t have much, but they put together whatever they could to lift the spirits of these scared children. Christmas parties were held for the children and the shelter walls were decorated with paper chains and decorations, while amateur singing nights, discussion groups, and sewing circles were held regularly.

In order to avoid the bombs, many families spent some of the holidays in air-raid shelters and other places of refuge. They decked out their temporary homes with makeshift decorations…and very short Christmas trees because of the height of the shelters. Even if gas or electricity was available, Christmas dinner would have still been an amazing feat, because turkey was so expensive. Most people made do with other cuts of meat, which were still expensive. A family of four’s weekly meat ration probably wouldn’t even cover the cost of a small chicken. One alternative was home-raised chickens or rabbits, much to the shock of young children who often regarded them as pets. Home-grown vegetables and chutneys would have also made the table. Rations were scrimped and saved including ham, bacon, butter, suet, and margarine. The tea and sugar rations were increased in the week before Christmas. Very little fruit was imported and nuts were very costly. Consequently, cooks had to improvise Christmas cakes and puddings devoid of dried fruit and marzipan, using instead sponge or other unlikely ingredients. Alcohol was available but, horribly expensive. And there would be no after-dinner French cheeses or brandy due to the German occupation. It was a poor Christmas party in comparison to those in the past, but it served to remind all the people that Christmas is more about the blessings in life, than it is about the things we are given.

For a number of years, my husband, Bob and I have dragged ourselves out of bed to jump into the Black Friday shopping,to get a head start on our Christmas shopping. Our morning started with a stop for much needed coffee, and a quick look at the ads to see where to start our shopping. While a lot of people have told us that we are crazy to enjoy this tradition, we really enjoyed it…until the stores changed it. Call me a traditionalist, but i don’t like the idea of shopping on Thanksgiving. That is a day to spend with family, and I see no sense in having the stores open at all. The people who are forced to work to keep the stores open, should be spending that time with their families, but instead they are working and I will not go out and shop when it means that those people are not able to spend Thanksgiving with their families, and that isn’t fair to them or their families.

When the stores started their “Black Friday” sales on Thanksgiving Day, it also eliminated the need to get up early on Friday to stand out in the cold and wait for the opening of the store, so you could try to be the first one to get in and get those “must have” gifts, that were on sale, starting at 6:00 in the morning. With the sale starting on Thursday, I would rather use the day to sleep in, and…maybe go shopping later in the day. I guess that we have just become disenchanted by the whole “Black Friday” event, because it starts on Thursday…and even on Wednesday in some stores, so that basically we are seeing the death of Black Friday. These days there are no crowds, even at the “Early Bird Sale.” If no one is rushing into the stores to buy, why should I get up at 4:00 in the morning to get there first?

Strangely, it seems like the sale items aren’t even that spectacular. I suppose there might be a few items that are must haves, but nobody seems to be rushing out to buy those, and the stores seem to have more than enough of them to go around. Suddenly, black Friday shopping is just like any other day, except that I refuse to go shopping on Thanksgiving, because that is just wrong. I’m sure there are those out there who do shop on Thanksgiving, but I have too many family members who have had to work on thanksgiving because the store they work in is pen that day. They missed out on that time with their families, because the stores thought it would bring in a few dollars more. To those stores I say…no thanks, I’ll wait until Friday, or better yet…shop online!! I won’t be part of the complete disregard, by the stores, of the need for their employees to have family time.

The Christmas rush is behind us for another year. The gifts are purchased, and wrapped, and for many people, already opened. Christmas dinner is being prepared and families are gathering together. The house is filled with laughter and conversation and stomachs are growling just a bit as the aroma of the turkey fills the air. It’s hard to wait for the meal to be ready. It’s such a wonderful time to be sharing with family. Many people think of these big dinners as a lot of work, and it can be almost a relief to have them over, but really, they are a gift. All to quickly, children grow up and sometimes, move away, and before you can even blink, everything has changed. All the more reason to cherish the times you have, while you have them.

So much has changed since the Christmases of my youth, and while I wouldn’t go back, because then I wouldn’t have my precious daughters, sons-in-law, grandchildren, and now the new little great grandbaby that is on the way in late spring 2018. But, I do wish my parents, Allen and Collene Spencer were still here. Having them in Heaven brings a little bit of a melancholy feeling to an otherwise cheerful season. Nevertheless, knowing that they are spending their days in Heaven with Jesus…the reason for this season, makes me feel very happy for them, even if I’m sad for me. It has been 10 Christmases since I have seen my dad, and 3 Christmases since I’ve seen my mom, as well as, 5 Christmases since I’ve seen my father-in-law, Walt Schulenberg. It’s odd, I suppose to think of how many Christmases they have been gone, but they were such a big part of what Christmas was for me, as well as every day of my life, that I find it really hard not to contemplate the fact that so much has changed in the years since they left, and just how much we miss them.

While the commercialized part of Christmas is about giving and receiving gifts from loved ones, it is the ultimate gift that really is what Christmas is all about. I don’t know what other people think about gift giving, but for me, it is God’s children imitating the Father. God gave us the ultimate gift, when He sent His son, and Jesus gave us the ultimate gift when He gave His life for us. We can never give a gift that could begin to compare to the precious gift that God gave us, but it is a show of our love for each other, and I know that makes God happy. He wanted His children to love each other, just as He so loved the world. I’m thankful for the coming of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ, and for the price He later paid, because without Him none of us would receive Heaven when we passed away. That you Father for your precious gift, and thank you Jesus for paying my debt. Happy birthday Jesus. We love you!!

The birth of your first child is always an exciting time. Your life is forever changed, because you are no longer just you or just a couple, you are a parent…you are somebody’s parent…forever. December 14, 2017, was that day for my grand nephew, Keifer Balcerzak and his wife, Katie, when their beautiful baby girl, Reece Victoria Renae Balcerzak made her grand, two month early entrance into the world. Little baby Reece was not supposed to arrive until about February 20, 2018, but as babies sometimes do, she got in a bit of a hurry. Nevertheless, the good people at Presbyterian Saint Luke’s Hospital in Denver, Colorado were able to delay her arrival by two weeks to give her a little bit more time to grow. And she did a pretty good job of it, weighing in at just 3 pounds 11 ounces, which I think isn’t too bad for a baby who is two months premature. Reece is 17¾ inches long, and she and her Mommy are doing well.

For Katie and Keifer, the love was instantaneous. In fact, Katie put it in such beautiful words that no others are really necessary, when she said, “And at last I see the light, And it’s like the sky is new. And it’s warm and real and bright and the world has somehow shifted…All at once everything is different, now that I see you. Now that I see you…” I think truly does change your life for ever. It is a wonderful miracle…a precious gift from God, to bless your life.

Little Reece is no bigger than a minute, but she is a fighter, and she is going to do just fine. The nurses tell her parents that she is a “feisty handful” and she keeps them busy. That isn’t a bad thing for a preemie baby. The doctors have said that she will likely be moved out of the Level 1 Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, to the Level 2 Neonatal Intensive Care Unit next week. She won’t be able to be home for her first Christmas, and in reality, her first Christmas was supposed to be next year, but she is a sweet Christmas gift to her mommy, daddy, grandparents, and the rest of her family, all of whom are very excited to meet her. But for now, Reece has some growing to do, because they don’t send babies home when they are no bigger than a minute. So eat hearty baby girl, you have family to meet. Congratulations Keifer and Katie on your tiny bundle of joy.

I was a little girl of three in 1959, when the Barbie doll came out. Every little girl old enough to understand what these dolls were, wanted one…me included. There was one little problem. I just couldn’t seem to get the name right. I told my parents that I wanted a Bride doll. In fact I think I told them that every day for the three months before the arrival of Christmas. Advertisements for the Barbie doll did nothing to deter my quest for a Bride doll. I just didn’t understand that there was going to be a problem.

The Barbie doll made its first appearance on this day, March 9, 1959 at the American Toy Fair in New York City…just like any other supermodel, I suppose. The doll was just stunning, and over the years has been at the center of the self esteem controversy, because some people felt like she gave girls a misguided view of what their bodies should look like. I suppose the doll could have done that, but it certainly did not affect her popularity. In retrospect, I don’t recall that I ever once looked at the doll and decided that I was fat. It was a doll after all, but somewhere along the way, someone must have, so the controversy continues to this day.

At eleven inches tall, Barbie had beautiful blond hair. Barbie was the first mass-produced toy doll in the United States with adult features. It makes sense. A baby doll can’t play the part of the mom, so if girls were to continue to play with dolls, they had to have a mom…reasoned Ruth Handler, who came up with the idea. Ruth co-founded Mattel, Inc with her husband in 1945. She saw that her young daughter, Barbara ignore her baby dolls to play make-believe with paper dolls of adult women, and realized there was a niche in the market for a toy that allowed little girls to imagine the future. The line has grown to include Ken, Midge, and Skipper.

Over the years, Barbie generated huge sales. On the positive side, many women saw Barbie as providing an alternative to traditional 1950s gender roles. She has had a series of different jobs, from airline stewardess, doctor, pilot and astronaut to Olympic athlete and even United States presidential candidate. Despite the criticism, sales of Barbie-related merchandise continued to soar. The line topped 1 billion dollars annually by 1993. Since 1959, more than 800 million dolls in the Barbie family have been sold around the world and Barbie is now a bona fide global icon. Eventually, I did get my Barbie doll, and for some reason, I never told my parents about the mix-up. I guess I couldn’t let them think that my Christmas gift had not been what I wanted. Besides that, the Bride doll was very beautiful, although I never played with it as much as I would have played with the Barbie doll.

trenton-nj-mapThe year was 1776, and it was Christmas Day, but for the men with George Washington, it was not a day of celebration…not exactly anyway. They were in the middle of fighting a war, and the fighting didn’t just stop because it was Christmas, not this year anyway. This was to be an unusual Christmas as far as wartime Christmases went. In 1776, it was difficult to fight a war in the wintertime, because the slower modes of travel. Most times in a war, the armies took the Winter off from warring, but this army was not laying up for the Winter. This war would continue on…no matter what the weather was like.

Things looked bad that year. The Continental Army had suffered a series of defeats in their battle against the British oppression. After some successful maneuvers, Colonel Henry Knox came to the attention of General George Washington who worked to place him in overall command to the Continental Army. Under his command, the Continentals brought 18 cannon over the river…3 washington-crossing-the-delawarePounders, 4 Pounders, some 6 Pounders, horses to pull the carriages, and enough ammunition for the coming battle. The 6 Pounders, weighing as much as 1,750 pounds were the most difficult to transport to the far side of the river. But in the end all the trouble of moving this large artillery train to Trenton proved its worth. Knox would place the bulk of his artillery at the top of the town where its fire commanded the center of Trenton.

The plan devised by Knox and Washington was to conduct a surprise attack upon a Hessian garrison of roughly 1,400 soldiers located in and around Trenton, New Jersey. Washington hoped that a quick victory at Trenton would bolster sagging morale in his army and encourage more men to join the ranks of the Continentals in the coming new year. After several councils of war, General George Washington set the date for the river crossing for Christmas night 1776. It was an unprecedented plan, because the expectation was always that the armies would hold up somewhere for the winter. No one had attacked in winter before, and especially on Christmas. George Washington led 2,400 troops on a daring nighttime crossing of the icy Delaware River. Stealing into New Jersey, on December 26 the Continental forces launched the surprise attack on Trenton.

washington-marches-to-trentonThe gamble paid off. Many of the Hessians were still disoriented from the previous night’s holiday bender, and colonial forces defeated them with minimal bloodshed. While Washington had pulled off a shock victory, his army was unequipped to hold the city and he was forced to re-cross the Delaware that same day…with nearly 1,000 Hessian prisoners in tow. Washington would go on to score successive victories at the Battles of the Assunpink Creek and Princeton, and his audacious crossing of the frozen Delaware served as a crucial rallying cry for the beleaguered Continental Army. The Revolutionary War would be won by the Continental Army of course, and the rules of warfare changed forever.

img_9568img_9553With each passing year, I find myself looking forward more and more to the Byer Family Christmas Party. Sadly, I think that part of the reason is that as time passes, we seem to lose more and more of my aunts and uncles. This year found us with only four aunts and only one uncle at the party. There are other uncles who are still alive, but that aren’t really able to come out for these events any more. It makes each time we get together that much more precious. I always feel sorry for those who didn’t make it to the party, because we always have such a nice time, and we are a family of excellent cooks, so the food is fabulous. And it is a way to keep those who have gone to Heaven just a little closer to the family. Nevertheless, the sadness over missing those who have left us persists, and grows with each new passing.

I think one reason that our grandparents wanted their children to continue the annual Christmas party and annual picnic was so that we would all get to know each other better. As the new generations come along. It would be so easy to lose touch with each other. That would be so sad, because little kids are usually instant img_9583img_9577img_9555friends, and that makes it extra special to watch. The kids had a sparkle in their eyes, and smiles on their faces. They were so excited to have new friends to play with and lots of room to run around, with no one to get upset at them. For kids, Christmas is always a special time of year, and it’s really hard to hold back the excitement. I love watching them bounce around the room. I could say that they ran around the room, but that wouldn’t be right exactly, because they really did bounce with excitement, and after all, it’s all about the kids right.

My grandparents were wise people. They had a vision for their kids and grandkids…for all of the generations that would follow them. They knew how easy it is to get busy in life, and to lose touch with family. It happens img_9552img_9551in so many families, and they didn’t want that for their family. Very wise people indeed. They wanted their kids not only to know their nieces and nephews, but also their grand nieces and nephews, and great grand nieces and nephews, for as long as they lived. What a precious gift that request turned out to be. It was not a burden to be carried or work to be done…it was a gift, and one I am thankful for every single year. It’s a time for family and reconnecting. While we miss all those who are gone now, I know that they would be proud of us for continuing this tradition. We love you all.

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