…the parched land shall become a pool, and the thirsty lands springs of water…(Isaiah 35:7)

Memories of Christmas

An essay by my mother Lisa Chaffey

By Eric Chaffey


Advent is always one of the busiest times of the year for me. But it’s a great one as well. It offers some time for quiet reflection and recalling some of the memories of Christmases past. My mother wrote this essay for a newspaper several years ago when they were asking for people to share their favorite memories of Christmas.  The newspaper rejected it. Twice. Just recently the subject of the essay came up and she was lamenting the fact only a handful of people ever saw it. Reading through this brought back a lot of sweet memories for me. So with my mother’s blessing, I thought I would share it here.

The Christmas I Remember Best

by Lisa Chaffey

My search for better holiday memories began a long time ago – perhaps when my five year old asked plaintively after working our way through a mass of presents, “Is That All?” or when my four year old son, dragging his record player and these battered Christmas albums asked on November 1st if we could just skip Thanksgiving and get on with Christmas. I looked for ways to enrich the season with meaningful and unique activities. One year we decorated with sand candles made at the beach – we had a barbeque instead of a turkey – we tried to involve our family in not mailing merchandise around the country.

But the Christmas I remember best happened in 1997. It was a challenging time for us. A job promotion at the library where I worked gave me more responsibilities than anticipated. My husband, Bill was serving a mission at LDS employment services. My son Eric was in college, and we had a new Old English sheepdog puppy living in our home. We all spent a lot of time caring for Alexi and keeping her out of mischief.  Having a dog in our home was a new experience for us. Most Christmases we went to spend with our family in California, but this year we were staying at home. Eric had his first job as a church organist. He would play for the Christmas Eve mass and the Christmas Day mass at a small Episcopal church in Shady Cove, Oregon. At my work, people rushed about anxiously asking one another if they were ready for Christmas.  In less hectic times I might have wondered what that question meant – but then I had no time for pondering. I wasn’t ready – I had nothing planned.

It was Christmas Eve. We were logging off computers and getting ready to close the library for two whole days. Someone found a wallet left by one of the Internet Access stations where someone had been researching products. It was a thin, unimpressive wallet with almost nothing in it. Perhaps it would not be needed in the next few days. But I decided to wait a while to see if someone came back for it. I turned one light back on after my co-workers left so the place didn’t look totally deserted. Soon there was a knock at the door and a man looking for his wallet. Inside in a secret hidden compartment, he had money and a list of what he needed to get for his family that night.

I made a quick stop for food on the way home where we had a fast meal and took care of Alexi. She and Bill would stay home while Eric and I went to the church services. We were both nervous and excited by the occasion. Although I had been a member of the LDS church for many years, I never lost my fondness for the traditional Christmas Eve services of the church of my childhood with its candlelight, ceremonies, and lots of singing. It was beginning to snow as we started out on our 35 mile drive through the country. Our route was along one of those highways with a morbid nickname given to it by logging truck drivers. Snow in Oregon is unpredictable and not removed as efficiently as in Utah. Soon we were moving along slowly through four inches of it on an almost empty road. Douglas fir trees lined both sides of the road. They were tall and massive – not small and perfect like the many that are shipped around the country for the holiday celebration. But with their new coating of fresh snow they were beautiful and lent calmness to what might have been a dangerous drive. We had only one small skid as we rounded the last sharp turn before the church.

I was anxious about going to a church where I didn’t know anyone and was unfamiliar with the rituals of the congregation. Had I worn the right clothes? A woman from the choir came up to me right away and invited me to sing with them for the evening. It had been a very long time since I had been in a church choir – not since I was ten years old and some of my friends and I had been invited to drop out of the junior choir. We were just too silly and found too much to giggle about. I did all of the music though and was so happy that someone was thoughtful enough to make me feel welcome in this way. I think my singing was alright this night.

The church service was truly beautiful. The candles and the decorations made the small church warm and wonderful. Eric’s music warmed my heart – seeing him alive in his own element. The rituals were as old as the church itself and yet as modern as the latest translation of the bible into English. Good food and conversation followed. Before long we were on our way home again. The snow storm was diminishing and bits of clear sky were beginning to appear. It was a great night to enjoy the outdoor beauty. At home, all was well. Bill and Alexi slept before the TV that was still broadcasting Christmas programs from around the world.

Christmas day arrived clear and brilliant. There was nothing to do since we had bought nothing and wrapped nothing. No special meal was planned. Soon we would all go to church again. I was outside walking Alexi around.  Suddenly a car stopped in the middle of the road. A woman jumped out of the car and rushed to embrace our dog. She told us how some of her happiest years had been when she had a dog like ours. She cheerfully ignored the protests of the car behind hers.

We went on to the church service on a cleared and easy road. It was a wonderful white Christmas morning which seems so rare now. Once again our hearts were filled with the timeless messages of Christmas – and as parents we enjoyed the compliments Eric received for his music. In the afternoon we went for a walk along our neighborhood bike path. Children of all ages were out enjoying their new toys on wheels. Little scooters were popular that year. Some dads had brought along tools for making minor adjustments. Moms had band aids. New mittens and fashionable sweatshirts were around – and of course, many young puppies needing an outing and socializing with one another.

Our Christmas feast that year was Swiss Fondue from a box from Safeway. We warmed it over a makeshift camp stove arrangement from bits and pieces. We had cranberry juice from plastic glasses and maybe a fruit salad and ice cream. Its taste still lingers with us and we enjoy this simple meal many times over today. No one felt too tired or stressed out – and I imagine that we fell asleep that night watching again one of our favorite movies that we now have on DVD. I think it was “The Bishop’s Wife.”

It is the Christmas I remember best because of all the small and good things that happened – how people all around us were expressing their love for one another – remembering how our Father sent in the world the greatest gift of love so long ago. He still keeps us in his care and helps us to reach our destinations safely.

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One Response to “Memories of Christmas”

  1. Rex Goode said:

    What a beautiful set of memories. Christmas is such a beautiful time. Tell your mom I loved her essay.

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