It happened earlier than usual this year. Perhaps it is a sign of our dismal economy and the fact that people need some “joyous light” in their lives. The line between Halloween and Christmas has been blurred as evidenced by the swiftness of holiday lights going up immediately after the candle was snuffed from the jack-o-lantern with its jagged tooth-smile still intact, now residing on the compost pile.
It is the most exciting time of the year and adding to the mix is the fact that frequently accompanying me on my treks searching for Christmas are my two preschool grandsons, Cole and Armen.
Each afternoon my phone rings and I know it is the boys calling “Nona” with the same questions: “Can we go to the train station and Quarton Lake? Can we go see the ducks and the boats? Can we come to your house?” There is no doubt grandkids have become the focal point of our lives and the answer to their questions is always: “Yes.”
Those of you who have grandchildren know they have added an immeasurable sweetness to life. They are curious and rambunctious, bright and inquisitive, and eager to learn. One has to be careful what is said in their presence because they are like toutags (parrots), and it is guaranteed it will be repeated to their parents.
They ask, “Can we go look for Christmas?” All bundled up secure in their car seats we’re off to points east, west, north, and south in our search. Hardware and dollar stores are not to be overlooked. Area nurseries are brimful of colorful poinsettias, fresh-cut pine trees, and pre-lit trees. We collect buckets of pine cones from Mother Nature’s bounty.
At Oakland County’s fresh greens market, the fragrance of pine has created a delicious fragrance melange with the still ample supply of apples for sale. The Bloomfield Nature Center offers trudging through the woods and a walk around the lake where Cole and Armen’s father and uncle, as boys, once participated in a grade school fishing derby.
“Here’s Christmas, Nona” they chime in unison with excitement, and on we tour. Prompted to keep their hands to themselves, invariably they ask, “Can I touch it?” And with watchful eye I relent. Manners are important but so is the tactile experience.
Vacant lots once filled with Indian corn and pumpkins now offer pine roping, wreaths, and fresh-cut Christmas trees. There is a special feeling in the air.
Birmingham continues to outdo itself with fabulous decorations everywhere. Each day I pass the tree by Peabody’s eatery with its hundreds of multi-colored lights reminding me of childhood Jujubee candies ready to be plucked and popped into my mouth.
Up and down the subdivision streets we drive looking for Frosty the Snowman, white lit deer with heads moving to and fro and the squeals of joy from the back seat harken back to the time my two sons—”Betty’s Boys”—were my companions on the same excursions.
Looking around from their back seat perch, they ask why all houses are not decorated. I explain that some people do not celebrate the birth of Jesus, unlike those of us baptized as followers of Christ. They become deep in thought.
We retreat upstairs for their first trip into Grandma’s attic where boxes of accumulated holiday decorations make their eyes pop. One is filled with old stuffed toys in mint condition that debut only at Christmas ala Noah’s Ark. I locate the box I am looking for, the one containing the manger scene and its figures.
We bring the special box down and begin unwrapping the figures. I explain to them that when Jesus was born a star appeared in the sky and three Wise Men followed the star, bringing gifts to the newborn baby. That is why people exchange presents on Christmas Day. I said, “Jesus didn’t get Thomas trains, bicycles, or play dough.”
“Be careful,” I say to them and they look up at my face as the wrappings fall to the floor from their little hands. Armen and Cole have now found the true meaning of Christmas. I show them the bottle of incense my mother gave to me decades ago and let them smell it. It is a new world to them.
They need to know a nativity scene is more than little statues surrounding a manger. It is their salvation. The line has been defined, a line that should not be blurred with ribbon, festive wrappings, and way too many gifts.
Who is the little baby lovingly gazed upon by Joseph, Mary, and the angels? Who do they sing about when they say, “The stars in the sky look down where he lay, the little Lord Jesus asleep in the hay?” Why do we bless our food at each meal and cross ourselves?
As I absorb the pleasure of my own progeny, I turn to Armen’s grandfather and say, “Bob they are ours and the reality is they would not be here if it were not for my grandparents sending their only son out of his village in Keghi in 1912 to come to Canada.” It is my private and special thought that occurs to me every single time I gaze upon my grandsons.
When I look at Cole and Armen, I see the history of the Armenians—their torture, their sorrow, displacement, and the miracle of their survival. I selfishly don’t even consider the others involved in my grandsons’ inherited genes. What goes on beneath Nona’s surface is private and will never change, but more importantly her grandsons have now found the real meaning of Christmas in a little manger scene they helped put on display in her house.
Merry Christmas to all from Robert and Betty Apigian Kessel, and Cole and Armen Kessel, too.