“Not spend Christmas at home?” I stared at this sudden incarnation of Ebenezer Scrooge, whom I normally refer to as my husband. “Are you crazy? Christmas at home is a tradition! Remember how the kids always come into our bedroom at the crack of dawn, and then you go out to check if Santa left anything, and then we all form a line, youngest to oldest, and then—“
He let me babble on for a full minute before cutting in. “We can do the same things there.”
There, I had just been told, was an A-frame chalet nestled in the rolling hills of western New York’s ski country. Supposedly, it supplied all the amenities—hot and cold running water, two baths, a furnace and potbellied stove, and sleeping quarters for a small army—necessary for a family with six children. It sounded nice enough, except that it would be Christmas and it wouldn’t be home.
Pat was clearly disappointed in my lack of enthusiasm. For several years running, he’d mentioned that he’d like to do something different for the holidays. I’d always managed to come up with some excuse. There wouldn’t be any friends or relatives to share the joy of the season. We’d miss a lot of parties and good times. What if we got suck in a blizzard? Could we afford it?
“You worry too much,” he said now. “We survived the Blizzard of ’77, didn’t we? As far as parties go, they’re always the same. We can invite people to join us for some skiing, and yes, we can afford it.”
“But—“ I saw his eyes. He really wanted this.
“All right,” I sighed. But my heart wasn’t in it.
The kids didn’t share my discomfort. Skiers all, they were ecstatic about the chance to schuss to their hearts’ content. I’d given up the sport many years ago. So, while they gleefully put their gear in order, I shopped for Christmas gifts and packed warm clothes for everyone.
The first sight of our new abode brought back memories of Heidi. Perched halfway up a hill off a dirt road, its triangular roof was already decorated with Christmas lights. Behind it rose a small forest of evergreen. As soon as everything was unloaded, Pat, with the owner’s permission, sent the kids up to cut one of the pine saplings. They went about it with a pioneering spirit and soon returned with an acceptable specimen. They stuck the tree into a hole bored into a log and promptly decorated it with ornaments, lights, and tinsel provided by the chalet owner. The rest of the day was spent staking out claims to bedrooms and settling in.
The next morning, Christmas Eve, Pat and I took a leisurely stroll down the main highway to the tiny village in the valley. The sun was unseasonably warm. As we passed the local ski resort, it was evident the weather was not, at this point anyway, about to accommodate the skiers.
But it occurred to me, suddenly, that this Christmas Eve was different from the many that had preceded it. It was peaceful, for one thing. There was no last minute tearing around for forgotten items, no phones ringing, no visitors dropping in. The family was together. And it felt absolutely wonderful.
After supper that evening, rain began to fall. Rain on Christmas Eve? We refused to let it dampen our spirits. We sat around chatting and ignored the slanting streaks of water on the windows. Finally, around ten o’clock, someone brought up the fact that we had a custom of everyone opening one gift on Christmas Eve.
“You two go first,” the kids cried. They’d evidently chipped in and bought us something special. What could it be?
Matching red long johns, that was what.
They wanted a fashion show. Our protests availed us nothing. Pat and I retired to our room and reappeared looking like a couple of middle-aged Santa clones.
In a sudden bust of what could only be called idiocy, Pat grabbed my hand. “We need to do a snow dance!” he yelled.
We pranced and capered in front of our giggling offspring, Pat bellowing out whoops and mysterious incantations.
“Look!” We followed Anne’s pointing finger up to where the spotlight on the peak showed a distinct flurry of white outside. “It’s snowing! You did it, Dad!”
There’d be no living with him now, I mused, although the sight of the falling flakes somehow put the final touch on the evening.
But it wasn’t over yet. The kids wanted to go out. A mad dash for coats, boots, and mittens ensued.
Down the drive and onto the whitening road we trooped, Barry leading the way with an old-fashioned kerosene lantern he’d dredged up in the basement. We held hands, took long, running slides along the slippery ground, and belted out a raucous rendition of Let it Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow. The surrounding countryside was dark. If anyone objected to our bellowing, there was no sign of it.
Earlier in the day, the boys had scouted out a hill across the road and it was there they led us. We climbed a short path through brittle stalks of summer’s weeds, the glow of the lantern lighting the way. The further up we went, the quieter it became. The singing changed, too.
“The first Noel, the angels did say, was to certain poor shepherds. . .”
A chill ran through me. We did look like a band of shepherds high up on our little mountain. An arm went around my shoulders.” Look down there,” Pat whispered.
Below, the lighted chalets of the ski resort shone brightly through the falling snow. With a little imagination, one might have thought we were gazing upon the little town of Bethlehem.
At the crest of the hill, we stopped, out of breath, and sank down into the snow. A stillness descended, as if each of us was aware that we were experiencing something from another time. Two thousand years ago, the world lay asleep in the night, unaware of the miracle taking place in its midst. However, we needed no angel to appear with glad tidings. We knew full well what that supreme act of love had wrought.
Out of the silence, Barry’s clear tenor began:
“Silent night, holy night. . .”
Softly, the others joined in.
Pat hugged me. “We seem to have done a pretty good job with this bunch.”
I nodded, unable to speak for the lump in my throat. Like the shepherds of old, we had carried the news of God’s command: “Love one another, as I have loved you.” And down through the centuries, God’s gift was manifesting itself anew on that holiest of nights.
Other Christmases have come and gone, with traditional parties and gifts and goodwill. But never have I forgotten the beautiful sense of peace and joy that came in the stillness on that hillside, when we welcomed the birth of the Savior as we had never done before. In the hands of God’s love, we were all “home.”