I left home, in Nashville, Tenn., for the Air Force when I was 23. Other than for two brief years working as a business reporter for The Tennessean newspaper in Nashville, I have been gone from my homeland for the entire time. That would be 43 years (now I have given away my age!).
When one lives far from home, it is rare to get home for both Thanksgiving and Christmas. Mom has always insisted on Christmas. So I have made it home for Christmas every year, but one since I left home.
Santa would visit all three of us kids until we told him he could go elsewhere, not to worry about us anymore. While Santa always came, mom and dad always taught us that the real meaning of Christmas was the Incarnation. It was a time to celebrate the arrival of God Himself in the person of baby Jesus, who, as theologian B.B. Warfield declared, was “the Savior of the World!”
The idea of family being together and offering gifts were done in the spirit of celebrating the greatest gift of them all, the birth of Christ. Dad, mom, brother and sister would always gather Christmas Eve, some years to attend the local Christmas Eve services at church, but always to gather at home around the tree in the living room to exchange gifts. Everyone would have multiple gifts under the tree, but each person would open one gift at a time, while the other four giggled and watched. I have always felt that opening our gifts this way afforded us the opportunity to share in the surprise and joy of giving.
With the living room a disaster area littered with torn ribbons and Christmas paper, we would retire to the kitchen where mom presented her annual homemade fruitcake. This is not just any fruitcake. The tonnage of chopped, green and golden pineapple, red cherries and southern pecans is astounding. I bet the thing weighs 15 pounds – and I am not exaggerating! Mom has baked one every Christmas for the past 60 years, a remarkable feat.
The eggnog flowed as well as Christmas music played on the Motorola stereo console. Go ahead and laugh. I realize there are two generations out there who have never heard of Motorola, much less a stereo console.
There was usually an album the Firestone tire salesman gave dad (he owned a Texaco gas station), featuring a variety of singers like Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, Perry Como and Dinah Shore. Two of our favorites were “O Holy Night” and “I’ll Be Home for Christmas.”
Mom has a beautiful soprano voice. I can remember her holding my brother (I was about 9 years old and he was two), bouncing him on her lap as she sang “Here Comes Santa Claus.” I can also recall looking at my baseball card collection in my bedroom and hearing her sing “Silent Night,” her voice floating throughout our home. Even now, just the thought I find comforting.
Another Christmas tradition in the Hinkle house was the annual Christmas cantata. Mom and dad sang in the choir and took part in many. I got brave and sang in two or three. I loved “The Night the Angels Sang.”
As a child some of my happiest moments were Christmas morning. I can remember one year, when I was nine years old, I woke up at 4 a.m. The house was dark and the only sound was the tick-tock of the clocks, so I knew Santa had come. Mom and dad were hibernating – or so I thought.
I knew if I could sneak past their bedroom door, I could tip-toe down the hallway to the living room. So, like a cat burglar, I quietly made my way past their bedroom doorway and down the hallway. When I slid open the living room pocket door I nearly fainted. My eyes beheld Toyland. It seemed like I got everything I asked for, including an electric football game! I carefully shut the door, flicked on the lights and began hyperventilating with joy.
My ecstasy turned to horror when the living room door suddenly opened.
“Boy, what in the world are you doing?” Dad asked, eyes squinting. “Don’t you know what time it is?”
“Yes sir,” I sheepishly replied.
“Well, don’t you wake up your mother.”
With that directive the door closed and I resumed celebrating. It was one of the greatest Christmases I can recall. Dad always told mom that he felt Christmas was the one time us kids should get everything we want, because it never happened any other time.
I am grateful to God for giving me my family. I am grateful for the memories, especially at Christmas. And most of all I am grateful to have had parents who taught us that while Christmas is about giving and being with family, it is most importantly, the time we celebrate the birth of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.