I have known her since she was 5 years old. Last summer Judy, her husband and children visited us from a western state where they now live. I had not seen her since serving as a pallbearer at her father’s funeral several years ago. She and one of my daughters, who began school together and have remained lifelong friends, continue to keep in touch; email is wonderful!
It was an afternoon of catching up on events in life. We talked about her two brothers. There was much reminiscing, laughter and some sad moments. Our families became neighbors in the spring of 1969, living across the street from each other. Her parents remained our dear friends till their deaths.
During the course of our afternoon conversation, Judy surprised me with the following observation. She indicated that the Christmas mornings our families traditionally spent together were some of the happiest moments of her childhood. Her family was Jewish, but Judy held cherished memories of Christmas mornings at the home of a Christian family!
I listened as she remembered details I did not. She related the joy of gifts being unwrapped (including gifts their family members had exchanged for Hanukkah), the excitement of games being played with new toys, and mornings filled with lots of fun. On a hot summer afternoon in Atlanta, I was transported to Christmases past.
I do not recall how the tradition began. And yet through all the years we were neighbors, the first friends to come to our home on that morning, wishing us a “Merry Christmas” and bearing gifts, were not Christian but of another faith. Our friendship was among the most valued I have ever known.
Of course, the most important gifts they brought on those cold and sometimes snowy mornings were not the ones in beautifully wrapped boxes—but the gifts of the visitors themselves. Through our mutual love, loyalty, respect and acceptance, we were able to transcend all the barriers of prejudice, intolerance and ill will erected by society, and sometimes even by religion itself.
Judy did not mention the prayers that were said, when we shared breakfast at those gatherings. Perhaps that is because the children were too excited to care much about food or listen to a prayer, while their parents were exhausted from all the holiday preparations. I do remember, though, how I labored over those prayers, wanting my words to convey the deepest yearnings of the heart and meaning of the day.
Christmas morning is a cherished time in homes of every description. Each has its own traditions and rhythm. Its conversations, sounds and aromas, laughter and tears.
One never knows what may be remembered from a Christmas morning!
Retired Bishop White is the denomination’s Endorsing Agent for Chaplain Ministries and bishop-in-residence at Emory University’s Candler School of Theology, in Atlanta.