We’d lived in Lomalinda less than four months when, one December day, with the temperature 104 in the shade, I was walking a sun-cracked track while that celestial fireball cooked my skin. We’d just had a wildfire—a regular occurrence that time of year—and the smell of charred grassland swirled in the breeze.
The school principal puttered up to me on her red motorbike. “It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas!”
Pris watched me for a few seconds and then laughed—my face had betrayed my thoughts. I’d had to bite my tongue to keep from saying,
“This looks like Christmas?
You’ve got to be kidding!”
To me, Christmas looks like frost-covered evergreens, and snowflakes, and frozen puddles. Heavy coats, scarves, mittens, boots. Runny noses. Sledding. Ice skating. Swags of cedar and pine and holly tied with red ribbons.
I learned a lesson that parched December day. “It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas” means different things to different people.
To most Lomalindians, especially kids, Christmas looked like a bleached landscape, charred fields, hot wind, and a whiff of ashes in the air. Folks enjoyed saying, “I’m dreaming of a black Christmas.”
Christmas in Lomalinda included singing carols around a bonfire. And setting off fireworks. And cooling off in the lake.
And it just wasn’t Christmas until Tom Branks sang “O Holy Night” accompanied by his beloved Judy on the piano. (From Chapter 16, Please, God, Don’t Make Me Go: A Foot-Dragger’s Memoir)
But, of course, Christmas is so much more than gathering for carols, so much more than sledding, ice skating, and swags of holly and cedar. So much more than a bleached landscape, charred fields, and a hot wind.
A couple of years ago, Scott Branks, a neighbor boy and former student of Dave’s in Lomalinda, shared a story that came to mind upon hearing his favorite Christmas song, “Christmas Dinner,” by Peter Paul and Mary. (Click on that link!)
Scott gave me permission to post his Christmas memory (from what I figure happened in 1972) about God’s desire for us to love others, even strangers.
Thanks, Scott, for letting me share your story.
One of the best Christmases I ever remember is when my father decided that rather than getting Christmas gifts [for each other], we would make little wooden trucks for the children of [nearby] Puerto Lleras.
It was the year Jeremy was born the week before Christmas and Mom was pretty busy. Dad was restless to do something, so we all got busy crafting those crazy trucks!
We spent several days of our Christmas break sanding and painting the parts and assembling the little wooden trucks for them. The trucks were all the primary colors of the Colombian flag—red, blue and yellow. Super bright and fun!
Then we drove into town and gave them to the children in the neighborhoods that we knew. Probably the most meaningful Christmas gift I’ve ever received/given.
Now, as an adult, I realize that my father and mother simply didn’t have any money to buy gifts for the five of us [kids]. So, they decided to teach us the true meaning of Christmas—giving. . . .
That song [“Christmas Dinner,”] always reminds me of that wonderful year.
May we all open our lives with deep hospitality
to reach out to others in compassion, peace,
and joy this season!
Our world is in desperate need of such charity!
Thanks, Scott, for sharing your story and heart with us!
The Branks family did what we all are told to do: “Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow." (Isaiah 1:17)
They loved their poor neighbors by their actions and in true caring. (1 John 3:17-18)
Our family was so blessed to have the Branks for neighbors, friends, and role models.