"We are not measured by the trials we meet -- only by those we overcome."
- - Spencer W. Kimball
December 24, 2014
Christmas Remembrances
by Marian Stoddard

I loved Christmas growing up. I know that sometimes it was crazy busy stressed, but most of the time it was magical.

We chose big bushy trees every year, and eventually made a major Saturday expedition every year and cut our own, then warmed ourselves up over dinner at a well-known country inn on our way home. We had traditions for food, an old English dinner of goose and fig pudding, with modern additions of sweet potatoes and a variety of other vegetables, fruit, and rolls. The table was always full.

My father ordered Danish kringle for Christmas breakfast, from a particular bakery in Wisconsin. My mother always made scrambled eggs too, so that the protein would slow down the sugar rush.

We got to plunge into our stockings first, and then sit down to eat before we were allowed to open the presents under the tree, a pattern we have stuck to with our own children. It helps keep the chaos to a minimum.

I remember some of the Christmas projects we made. My mother always tried to create something for Christmas. Some of our efforts were fun for the season and done, but some endured to be carefully wrapped up and brought out again.

The year in that category that I still remember was when we made three kings out of styrofoam cones with balls stuck on top, then used paper mache and wire to make arms and robes. I was a teenager at that point, and so relatively competent.

We shaved down the front surface of the styrofoam balls slightly to give the contour of a face, and used peach-colored tissues rather than white, dipped in diluted white glue, to smooth over and cover them. We didn’t add any features; these were stylized three-dimensional images.

Then we sculpted the robes out of fabric scraps, dipped in the glue mixture, and placed tiny wrapped boxes into the wire hands, which were stretched forward, almost meeting at the center of the body. I made one king’s robe with a rich red fabric, shot with gold. I remember gluing a fancy bead on the center top of the tiny foil gift.

Our celebrations, and the traditions and surprises that were a part of them, were ultimately all about the Christ child. We knew this, even with the excitement of Santa and reindeer and buying or making presents for our family and friends. The story of his birth was part of my earliest awareness of the Savior.

On Christmas Eve we would pile into the car and go looking at lights. When we came home, our father would gather us together and read the Nativity story out of Luke, and we would have family prayer.

Then we would be sent to get into our pajamas and gathered back to read “The Night before Christmas” and hang up our stockings. We went to bed in happy anticipation, unable to settle easily as we waited for the morning hour allowed to us to knock on our parents’ door.

We baked, we crafted, we sang. We would go as a family and deliver our best efforts with doorstep caroling. Here, so many years later, we do it still after all the years of increasing numbers and ages of children and then departing and decreasing numbers. Even with only the two of us, we sing. Christmas means music, my heart fills too full in this season to be contained in any lesser way.

The somber longing in this hymn draws me, as it always has. This year, perhaps because I have just finished teaching the Old Testament for roughly two years, I find its significance even greater. The music, in plainchant, predates the words by a couple of centuries.

The several verses * refer to the Rod of Jesse, the Root of Jesse, the Wisdom, the Key of David, the Day-Spring, or the Lord of Might on Sinai. Those words speak to the prophecies and promises throughout the Old Testament, as the Lord pleads for his people to turn back from sin, to return from greed and apostasy, and honor Him in righteousness so that He may bless them.

O come, O come, Emmanuel
And ransom captive Israel
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear

Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Key of David, come,
And open wide our heavenly home;
Make safe the way that leads on high,
And close the path to misery.

Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Desire of nations, bind
In one the hearts of all mankind;
Bid Thou our sad divisions cease,
And be Thyself our King of Peace.

Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

This music video is one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen and heard. Watch and listen to it. As the music echoes, remember: We are all of us Israel, struggling through a fallen world. We are all the children of His promises.

Go to this link to see the whole set of verses (at least the most I could find).

Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel has come for thee, O Israel.

Merry Christmas, as you enjoy the ways in which you connect and celebrate His coming, as a simple baby, with those you love.

Joy in Christ, who comes to save us all.

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About Marian Stoddard

Marian J. Stoddard was born in Washington, D.C., and grew up in its Maryland suburbs. Her father grew up in Carson City, Nevada, and her mother in Salt Lake City, so she was always partly a Westerner at heart, and she ended up raising her family in Washington State. Her family took road trips all over the United States and Canada, so there were lots of adventures.

The adventures of music, literature, and art were also valued and pursued. Playing tourist always included the local museums as well as historical sites and places of natural beauty. Discussions at home, around the dinner table or working in the kitchen, could cover politics, philosophy, or poetry, with the perspective of the gospel underlying all. Words and ideas, and testimony and service, were the family currency.

Marian graduated from Winston Churchill High School in Potomac, Maryland, and attended the University of Utah as the recipient of the Ralph Hardy Memorial Scholarship, where she was graduated with honors, receiving a B.A. in English. She also met the love of her life, a law student, three weeks after her arrival; she jokes that she had to marry him because her mother always wanted a tenor in the family. (She sings second soprano.) They were married two years later and have six children and six grandchildren (so far). She treasures her family, her friends, and her opportunities to serve.

Visit Marian at her blog, greaterthansparrows.  You can contact her at bloggermarian@gmail.com. 

Marian and her husband live in Tacoma, Washington. Together they teach those who are preparing to go to the temple for the first time, and she also teaches a Stake Relief Society Institute class.

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