Christmas time in married student housing centers around simple pleasures. The semester winds to a close, days are not quite as busy, and from most apartments music spills out in festive notes. Even in Baton Rouge, the season turns cooler and caps and sweaters appear in all shades of red and green. The pine trees move to and fro, and almost rhythmically they drop pinecones all around.
When the Louisiana winter rains come, the fragrance of the pines takes me back to my grandparents’ home. Mawmaw’s kitchen put out good smells of pumpkin pies and roasting pecans. All of us had the rosy red cheeks of the season, and it seems, looking back, that laughter was the chief mode of communication. Joy surrounded the anticipation of the holiday coming. . .
One memorable December living on the Louisiana State University campus, Kathy and I bundled Kyle into his Snugglie and walked over to the forestry department’s tree sale on campus. We saw lots of our neighbors from married student housing shopping for just the right tree, too. Prices divided the sections, and Kathy and I headed to the back corner where the pine trees stood. We found one just about my height that would fill the designated corner of our little apartment just right. It was perfect – full, fragrant, fresh – and we didn’t care that it only looked that way from one side. Our small batch of ornaments would fill the front and no one would see the skimpy side that faced the corner. I toted the tree, Kathy toted Kyle, and we went home smiling.
My mom’s crocheted bells, trees, and candycanes looked cheery next to our store-bought apple and pear ornaments from TG&Y – two boxes for a buck. Kathy’s crafted fabric tree skirt added a bit of flare, and with Kyle in the crook of one arm,
I placed the star atop the tree, turned on the lights, and felt the familiar rush of peace that signaled the season. Later, we listened to Christmas music lying on the tile floor to see the patterns of twinkle lights on the walls and ceiling.
On another December, my graduation and a move from college life necessitated a different kind of holiday. Due to the busy season and the transition, there would be no tree. Kathy decided we could simplify our preparations. Mom and Dad gave us a large basket from their travels in Spain, a bread basket that spanned nearly three feet long and a foot and a half wide. Kyle joined us as we went pinecone gathering, filling the basket with all shapes, colors and sizes of pinecones from around campus. Our son loved it. His knitted mittens protected his hands from the prickles but hindered his release of the cones into the basket, so I plucked them from him as he shook his hands, eager to gather more.
Back at home, I pulled out the lights, tucked them amid the pinecones, and opened the box of ornaments. Kyle placed apples, pears and candycanes. We put the basket on a small table in front of the window, added a big bow atop the handle, and plugged in the twinkle lights – it was different, smaller, but perfect. Later that evening, we had a good surprise as the lights’ warmth released that old familiar pine fragrance of my boyhood.
With the lights and scent of pine and the anticipation in the eyes of my son, that Christmas felt like the best ever. I said it aloud, and Kathy laughed: “You say that every year!”
That was true then and remains true now. Christmas brings past joys and memories to me, and they join the good memories we make each new season, and they all meld into something that feels like, well, Christmas to me. A Savior’s birth, the thrill of hope, our promise of God’s provision for our salvation.
Now only weeks from Christmas, Kathy sees me as she pulls into the driveway at the end of her day. I am on the porch. We are now empty-nesters. Most evenings, we watch the sky darken and listen to the birds call. And no matter what the day brought, all is better, two best friends, husband and wife, on the porch, holding hands, finding joy in togetherness.
Then there is a breeze. A pinecone falls. This will be the best Christmas!