A Christmas Tradition

by Carol Lee Yarbrough

          It was a dark wintry night…snow blowing so fast that he couldn’t see beyond a few yards.  He was an old man now but a man with a young heart still.  The year was 1912 and it was Christmas Eve.  He had lived a full life and was grateful to God for all the events that had formed his life.  He thought of his family and of Christmases past.

The old man had seen a lot his during lifetime…and, many times, more than he ever wanted to see.  He had fought in the Civil War and had seen men die by his musket.  He was young then and full of bravery (or foolishness he thought now).  He understood the purpose of the war at the beginning but after the first horrendous battle questioned his role in it.  Even so, he never faltered in his duty.  But looking back now, he thought mostly of the lost boys and it saddened him greatly.  That was what he remembered most about the war…the young lads who never would know the joys he has known.

The forest was home to the old man and had been his life long friend.  He had hunted there all of his life and could boast of many fine elk and deer slain by his hand.  Once he even treed a bear here while hunting with his sons…a story they recall with glee. But tonight the place seemed alien to him. He could not seem to make out the smallest of shapes and his steps were not as swift and firm as they used to be.  His old hands ached from the cold, and still he pushed on.

This night reminded him of the time he returned home from the War when his gait was steady and full of purpose.  It was a cold then too and a blizzard abounded.  As he walked through the forest that night, hungry and frost bitten, he did so with the knowledge that he would soon be home for Christmas.  He could have delayed his homecoming a day and waited for better weather but Emma was there and it was Christmas. They had been married for only two months before the war and had been apart for 13 months during his active service.  The newness of her, her smell and her tender body and touch, was still fresh in his mind and his desire for her grew stronger with every step.  He had spent months lying awake on the battlefields wondering why God had blessed him so with such a woman and was so very grateful that she loved him back.

When he arrived at the door of their little cabin in the woods he paused and peered through the small window.  Emma was putting a candle on the small Christmas tree and the room was filled with a warm glow from the fireplace.  He had never seen a fir in a home before and wasn’t quite sure what to make of it. They had no children to gather round it and it seemed to him that was an awful lot of trouble for her to go, as he imagined her chopping the tree down and dragging it to the house and fixing it so that it would stand so proudly. 

She looked like an angel in her blue gingham dress and he was so awed by the sight, he could not move.  He watched as she moved about and it seemed to him that she was floating on a sunbeam.  On a table nearby was a package wrapped in a flour sack and tied with a fine red ribbon and a wild turkey was roasting in the fireplace, which caused his stomach to growl.  How could she have known that he would arrive that night when he did not even know?  Still he could see that she was expecting someone.  Suddenly the greatest of fears rose in his belly, that maybe she was not expecting him at all but someone else.  He felt a panic that he had not once experienced in the War.  He grew dizzy and faint while at the same time trying to regain control.  In his deepest of heart, he knew that he did not deserve a woman like this but what would he do if it were not his arrival she was preparing for? He could not entertain the thought for long and stepped back and knocked three times on the door.

Emma slowly opened the door and stood back for a moment to collect herself.  She could not speak as her eyes filled with tears.

“Can a man get a kiss from his bride?” he asked.

With that, she fell into his arms trembling all the while.  “I knew you would come tonight.  I just knew it. Welcome home and Merry Christmas, my dearest.”

            In his life the old man had experienced many things, but that one particular Christmas night stands out, having never been shelved in the recesses of his mind like so many other memories.  Whenever he recalled his Emma that night and how he felt when he realized it was, indeed, him that she was expecting still brightens his soul.

            Every Christmas since that one, the old man would make his trek in the woods to find the perfect tree to display in their home.  Even after the children had married and had families of their own, it was a tradition that he and Emma cherished, and, even in his old age, still put the twinkle in his eye, for it reminded him always of that first Christmas…of their real beginning.

            He thought of all that now as he trampled through the woods and those memories warmed him.  He soon came face to face with his tree.  It wasn’t as big and sturdy as in the years past or as bushy nor as beautiful, but still it’s branches reached out to beckon him. He knew, like him, that this little tree had survived many obstacles and weathered many a storm and even though it had lost some of his branches and needles, and did not stand as straight as before, it was still a fine tree.  This little tree has heart, he thought.

            He quickly chopped the tree down and headed for home where Emma would be waiting for him and where they would light the candles and rejoice in God.  Christmas is a wonderful time of the year, he thought, when love abounds and a little tree can brighten your life so!


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