December 2003 was a tough one. I remember when dad had called sometime around Thanksgiving that year. He was almost begging me to go to my sister’s in Ohio for Christmas that year. He kept insisting it was going to be his last. I don’t remember if I had ever given him an answer because I kept thinking that if I said no, maybe he would have more faith in Yahweh’s healing power and miracles. I always believed he would be healed of the disease that attacked him.
Then things changed. To be honest, I don’t even recall what day I received the phone call. I just know it was before December 24th. I know that he and mom were out picking up things for their trip from New York to Ohio, including, I believe, a Christmas tree.
Christmas was always a BIG DEAL to dad. From Yule logs in the fireplace (even when we lived in Tucson!) to presents and stockings, Dad was “all in” for Christmas. The tree was always very important to him, too. Our family did Christmas BIG.
Even when my kids were little, we did everything every other family did, and more! I learned as a young mom how to bake gingerbread and make gingerbread houses. I LOVED constructing and decorating them with all sorts of hand-made decorations, as well as all sorts of foil-wrapped candies. One of my favorite candies to use was always those spearmint leaves. They made adorable bushes around the houses, all topped with little plops of frosting snow. One year the kids and I made about 28 gingerbread houses all decorated to the hilt – we gave them out as gifts to youth leaders, teachers, music instructors, and close friends. It was such fun to give a hand-made gift from our hearts. The kids treasured that time we spent creating those gifts.
So, there we were in 2003, receiving the call none of us expected, and the kind of call everyone dreads. Especially around the holidays. Dad was in the hospital – in ICU. He had been battling against Hep-C for some time, as well as the attacks against his organs from that disease and the drugs to fight it. He had been fighting hard and fast. Yet, there he was, suddenly critically ill. My heart sank. But I packed, fully convinced this was just a quick trip, and that he would be JUST FINE. A short 24 hours later, we all knew better.
There we were, gathering as a family, getting ready to say goodbye. Those last hours were so hard, horribly painful, and yet so beautiful all rolled into one. A lot of the details escape me now, many just in a fog – probably my own way of not letting it stir in me the same hurt I felt back then. Yet there are other details that remain emblazoned upon my mind as if written in indelible ink forever. Things like walking into the hospital room and seeing my adorable just-turned-9 son, hands folded, kneeling in prayer by the bed-side of his precious grandfather while also singing Silent Night. The grampa who understood that little boy’s love for science and nature better than anyone on the planet; the grandpa who used to send him those colourful instructions for science experiments from the Sunday Funny papers.
How I rubbed my father’s arm, talking with him and praying for him, while with every single breath, he quietly called my mom’s name. Literally with every single breath, as if he had something of great importance to tell her. “Carol. . . Carol. . .Carol. . .” The worry I felt in my heart as I anxiously awaited the arrival of my two eldest who were driving to get there in the midst of the snowstorm that had crept in off Lake Erie.
I remember even praying for that snowstorm to hit the following day so that the kids could enjoy the sleds and hills near the cottage. I sat there talking with dad and saying how I KNEW he felt it was time to go home, I begged him to wait for the girls to get there to say goodbye, and I remember asking him, “Dad, it’s Christmas. If you could, give the kids one more gift before you leave us. Make it snow. . .” I KNOW my dad didn’t have the “power” to make it snow – I knew that was all up to God. Yet it was the simple thoughts and distractions I used to fill the final hours with my daddy.
Then, he breathed his last breath. I don’t recall what time it was. I just know it was December 24th, Christmas Eve, 2003. And the man the kids had always thought was their Santa Claus, had gone home to be with God. We awoke the next day, Christmas morning, deeply saddened and heartbroken, yet filled with such peace and joy at the same time. We needed to celebrate with the children who were excited about opening gifts, yet crying because Grampa wasn’t there. We needed to keep going because that is what he had wanted. In our hearts, we all knew that Christmas was the perfect time for him to go home – his favorite holiday. Yet we also wondered what the coming years would bring as the season approached each and every year. How would our hearts handle it?
The kids opened presents, and Justin got the sled he had been wanting. So, we bundled up and went next door to where mom and dad lived. There were BIG hills to sled down. We stayed out for what seemed like forever, having such a fun time! The rest of the day, we drank hot cocoa and reminisced about all the fun times he had with dad.
We all, even mom, went from laughing to crying to laughing again. We all knew that the next day, December 26th, we would be planning the funeral or memorial service. And we did just that. People came from all over to say their goodbyes. The funeral home was overflowing with people! So many that they couldn’t all fit for the memorial service. Many had to simply pay their respects and leave. The final words were spoken, then the veterans paid their tribute with Taps and the gun salute. And we all gathered Dad’s things and went to the dinner provided by the Tea Ladies in town. Then back to mom’s house.
The time flew by, we said our goodbyes, everyone went home. I stayed behind with mom for a bit extra. She had asked me to stay, and I was so glad I did. We got that chance we needed to create a new bond together, become adult friends, which we had not had time to do as yet. It was precious. When I finally went home, it was back to business and busy-ness of homeschooling, day trips, and living life.
There you have it – my Christmas story. You know, many people believe that Dad’s passing on Christmas Eve and the events around it are my reasons for why it was so “easy” to “give up” Christmas. I have even heard some in my own family make that claim out loud – that because dad died on Christmas Eve, I could just tuck it away and ignore the sadness that might creep in each holiday season. Yet that is not true at all. It wasn’t until about ten years later that I started to discover how I wanted to celebrate the biblical feasts instead of the typical holidays.
There were ten years of holidays where I dealt with my personal grief and mourning around the December holiday times. And to be completely honest, it was the memories of that Christmas Eve, the fun times as children, and the joys of raising my kids with the holiday traditions that make it HARDER, not easier to “Quit Christmas.” Yes, I said it – those memories tug at my heart-strings every year, even to this very day.
A friend recently said to me that these are the things that make it so difficult this time of year – that tempt us to return to Egypt. And that is so very true! Missing the traditions we created, that have become a part of our very being. The photographs of the children in their “jammies” Christmas morning, of Dad, dressed in his red Santa hat handing out gifts from under the tree. Precious memories, all of them, and yet also, TEMPTATIONS.
Having mushy feelings, missing those traditions and still aching for time with my dad, the memories of watching little Justin sing Silent Night and beg Abba not to take his Grampa. Those are not going to turn me away from what Abba wants for me – and that is to follow Him. When it all comes down to brass tacks: I want always to know that I am working toward being the best ME that Yahweh can mold me into. And if that means I have to sacrifice the typical holiday season for that which He has taught me is true and right, then so be it.
I don’t often bear my heart full-open, I don’t often put it out there on my sleeve for the world to see. Not because I don’t like to share, but simply because, when it comes down to fulfilling the calling that Yahweh has placed upon me, the teachings, messages, and blogs I share are not based on my emotions. They may come from my experiences in life but are based on biblical teachings and principles – messages that Yahweh would have me teach to those who are seeking.
I know deeply how it is not easy to give up something that is such a part of your past, your memories, your life. Yet who are we? Yeshua asked the rich young man to give up much; he asked Peter to give up a lot and follow him. He told several who were healed, to go and sin no more (John 8:11; John 5:14), fully giving up their former life and desires. Each of these was asked to give up something that meant “the world” to them. What are we each willing to give up for Him?
As he was going out into the way, one ran to him, knelt before him, and asked him, "Good Teacher, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?" Jesus said to him, "Why do you call me good? No one is good except one—God. You know the commandments: 'Do not murder,' 'Do not commit adultery,' 'Do not steal,' 'Do not give false testimony,' 'Do not defraud,' 'Honor your father and mother.'" He said to him, "Teacher, I have observed all these things from my youth." Jesus looking at him loved him, and said to him, "One thing you lack. Go, sell whatever you have, and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me, taking up the cross." But his face fell at that saying, and he went away sorrowful, for he was one who had great possessions. Mark 10:17-22
And Jesus, walking by the sea of Galilee, saw two brethren, Simon called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea: for they were fishers. And he saith unto them, Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men. And they straightway left their nets, and followed him. And going on from thence, he saw other two brethren, James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, in a ship with Zebedee their father, mending their nets; and he called them. And they immediately left the ship and their father, and followed him. Matthew 4:18-22
I quit Christmas not to avoid the memories of my father dying – I quit Christmas for Yahweh. Because I still have those joy-filled precious memories of great times shared with family and friends, they are there and always will be a part of me.
It wasn't easy when Jim started to discover details about our traditional holidays - things which made us question if they were right to continue. The more he researched and shared with me, the more we felt led away from those events which had initially meant a lot to us.
In the end, we quit Christmas because there are countless reasons as to why it is not a biblical celebration, AND it is a time of year where a number of Yahweh’s commandments are broken by participating in the celebration. Over the next few weeks, I plan to expound upon these in a series of articles, but for now my prayer is that you will search your own heart regarding this holiday season. And discover for yourself: is this what Yahweh would have you do?
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Lead Author (Bio)
Jim, (Judi's husband), has Sephardi Jewish ancestry and is a minister and head of Shofar Productions. Jim was a denominational pastor, hospital chaplain, and former director of a non-profit community organization.
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