© Bruce Stambaugh 2022
It’s the gathering that counts.
Of all the holidays in the calendar year, Christmas is my favorite. I know I am not alone in that declaration.
I have many fond memories of Christmases past. The most memorable seem to be snippets of bigger pictures, but they are still meaningful after all these years.
Delivering Sunday’s newspaper as a teenager on a snowy Christmas Eve night is one of my favorite memories. I can still see the smiles and hear the well-wishes from many customers as I tromped through heavy, wet snow.
Christmas was my father’s favorite holiday. He was a big little kid when it came to Christmas. He and our dear mother worked hard to make each Christmas extra special on Dad’s meager salary.
Dad loved to get the last-minute shopping discounted deals. He spent part of Christmas Eve buying presents he thought were bargains. His offspring reaped the rewards early Christmas morn.
Christmas Day in the Stambaugh household was a joyous time. We woke our parents too early and tore open packages with abandon. The pile of ripped wrapping paper grew exponentially.
As my brothers and sisters and I grew, married, moved, and raised children of our own, our traditions changed, of course. However, Mom and Dad hosted us all as long as they could until the brood expanded beyond the limited capacity of their post-World War II bungalow.
My siblings who lived nearest our folks took turns hosting the annual Christmas dinner and gift exchanges. Of course, once our children grew to adults and married, those traditions changed again.
My wife’s family always opened their presents on Christmas Eve, usually after attending services at their church up the road from their farm. It was Christmas Eve with Neva’s family, Christmas Day with mine.
At my age, the calendar isn’t nearly as important as the opportunity to gather the family together whenever we can. Christmas just made it a most memorable delight.
Nostalgia only carries so much weight in celebrating the holidays. It’s the here, and now that counts. We celebrate with those we love today, creating similar meaningful memories for the younger generations.
We will cherish the season with those who can join us and connect remotely with those who can’t. It’s the best we can do in this season of holidays mixed with precautions necessitated by the pandemic.
With that, I wish you all Happy Holidays, Merry Christmas, and Happy New Year!
A special note to followers of this blog.
Much of the content of this blog comes from newspaper columns that I have written for 23 years. This is my last column, but not the last blog post. I will continue to populate Roadkill Crossing with other musings and of course my photos.
As I near the three-quarters of a century mark in age, I have other writing projects that need my attention. I want to complete them while still having my wits and enough energy to put pen to paper.
I started a memoir of living among the Amish years ago. Completion of that book is long overdue. I have other stories swirling in my head, too. I want to set them to print before the Good Lord calls my name.
In that regard, I hope to share snippets of those with you here on Roadkill Crossing. So, please don’t give up on me!
© Bruce Stambaugh 2021
My wife and I and another couple toured a greenhouse in the Shenandoah Valley for their Christmas Open House. I was expecting Christmas wreaths and lots of poinsettias. They had those, but these festive calla lilies dressed in their many holiday colors really caught my eye.
I thought you might enjoy them, too.
© Bruce Stambaugh 2021
It is more than preparation.
We are halfway through the season of Advent already. Advent in the Christian tradition occurs the four Sundays before December 25. That is the day earmarked as the birth of Jesus.
Advent is generally understood to be an annual time of preparing and waiting for Christmas, the personal recognition of the birth of Christ. For many, Advent is a sacred, significant time.
For others, Advent is just another word in the Christmas vocabulary. It’s familiar to us, but do we genuinely consider its implications in our hustle and bustle before the big day? Perhaps a better question is this: Do we even know what Advent means?
A concise, accurate answer to that question would be to recite the four universally accepted Advent themes: Peace, Hope, Joy, and Love, most often celebrated in that order on Advent Sundays.
I remember as a youngster having an advent calendar in our home. My two brothers and two sisters and I would take turns opening the little doors to reveal the contents hidden behind each tiny flap.
Each day of Advent revealed a colorful illustration, scripture, or word to ponder, or perhaps a suggested act of service to others.
I just remember the pent-up anticipation of what lay hidden behind each door. It was a successful subliminal modeling method for the Christmas waiting.
To be clear, no one would have described our family as devout. We were “religious” only because we celebrated Christ’s birth and attended the local Methodist church regularly.
But as youngsters, we naturally got caught up in all the secular holiday hubbub. Later in my life, I was introduced to knowing and respecting that other religions had solemn and festive holidays.
Consequently, the older I have gotten, the more I sense a spiritual link between the lights of Christmas and those of Hanukkah. It is a significant element of our Judeo-Christian history for this septuagenarian.
That understanding creates a deeper meaning to Advent, one too often ignored. While we wait for Christmas, Advent also calls us to reflect on what has transpired in the course of history, personally and collectively.
Human history is full of cruelty by one race, tribe, or religion to others who look, live or believe differently. The Trail of Tears comes to mind.
White settlers of our nation literally and brutally pushed out Native Americans from their homelands, where they had lived for generations. Those indigenous peoples not only lost their land, but many also lost their lives in the agonizing march west.
A similar but lesser-known atrocity occurred in Illinois and Wisconsin in 1832. The bloody Black Hawk War opened land to white settlers who replaced the Sauk, Fox, and other native nations.
Nor can we ignore the unethical enslavement of an entire race of people for economic purposes. That indictment, unfortunately, applies far beyond our southern states, where slavery was a way of life.
Perhaps you can add personal examples to this lurid list. Sadly, such horrific atrocities continue today around the globe. We only need to look at the headlines for confirmation.
The oft-overlooked reflective aspect of Advent requires each of us to acknowledge and confess these wrong-doings. Doing so is part of the necessary preparation for the celebration of Christmas.
So, Advent, like life itself, has a dark side. We must allow the season’s light to infiltrate the darkness that is all around us. Preparation, anticipation, and repentance are the main ingredients of Advent.
The principles of Peace, Hope, Joy, and Love help guide us through these dark times into the light. That is what Advent is all about.
© Bruce Stambaugh 2021
I took this shot last week about 20 miles from our home in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. I was surprised that the photo turned out. I loved the vivid holiday colors that created an abstract look.
Can you guess where this shot was taken? There are clues if you look closely.
© Bruce Stambaugh 2021
There are many reasons.
December has always given me plenty of reasons to embrace the 12th month despite its sometimes wicked weather.
Though not the most important, I’ll confess that the first reason is personal, perhaps even selfish. My birthday is in December. It’s always precisely three weeks before Christmas, which I believe has propelled me through to the holidays over my many years.
Like it or not, the holidays of December take center stage. Marketing gurus ensure we get their messages.
I always look forward to the four Sundays of Advent. Our lives would be a lot more pleasant if we carried the message of peace, hope, joy, and love far beyond the holidays.
A byproduct of those cherished qualities is joyous holiday music. Some of it, of course, has been absconded by the Scrooges of the world. Their tunes can be a bit corny. That aside, the musical sounds of Christmas somehow still warm the coldest day.
I also love the various stories and films created around the holiday season. Charles Dickens’ novelette “A Christmas Carol” tops my annual December reading list. When I taught elementary school, I read it every year to the delight of my students before Christmas break.
I’ll also admit that I’m a sucker for the movie “Home Alone.” In a somewhat ridiculous manner, the classic film brings home the joy and spirit of the season. Even though I have seen it multiple times, I still laugh as the left-behind youngster gets the best of the buffooning burglars.
Even though the holiday decorating seems to happen earlier each year, I still enjoy seeing the many displays of holiday cheer. It catapults me back to the 1960s when our hyperactive father piled his obedient children into the family sedan after dark. We would drive miles and miles, finding a wide variety of holiday light displays.
Of course, Dad had to join in the illuminating competition. He decorated the big pine on the corner of our suburban lot with hundreds of multi-colored lights. He kept at it for years and years, constantly adding to the glowing ostentation.
Those were the days when sending Christmas cards was in vogue. Hallmark loved our dear mother. She addressed and signed the cards in her lovely cursive while her children licked the glue of the stamps and the envelopes to seal them. It’s a wonder we’re still alive.
I always enjoyed a white Christmas. A fluffy layer of snow made it seem warmer than the actual air temperature. We would dust off our sleds and slicken the blades with paraffin to ensure good sledding.
Off we would head to a nearby hill or a local park where others had built snow-packed ramps. One teeth-shattering jump was enough for me.
Of course, we loved when it snowed well before December 25. But snow on Christmas just made that day all the more special.
The holidays always seemed to make December go too fast. In reality, it was and still is all of the activities we pack into preparing for the holidays.
Still, December awakens all of our senses. The fragrant pine wreaths, the ringing of the Salvation Army bells, the twinkling of the light displays, the yummy Christmas cookies, and especially the hugs of appreciative grandchildren fill my spirit to overflowing.
Lastly, it’s humankind’s general geniality that stitches December’s colorful quilt together. I still believe that even amid today’s global health and humanitarian crises.
I hope I am right. Only time and our intentional daily interactions with others can determine that answer. If that happens, that’s the only birthday gift I’ll need.
© Bruce Stambaugh 2021
I’m not sure what Christmas will bring this year, let alone Santa. With the pandemic surging and health guidelines more stringent, it might just be my wife and me enjoying Christmas Day. And that’s okay.
Pandemic or no pandemic, Christmas is still Christmas, whether we are alone or with a gaggle of rowdy relatives. We can still celebrate the sacred day. This year, though, our celebrations will probably be very different since the pandemic is still raging.
Since we likely can’t gather in our traditional ways this Christmas, I have an idea. Let’s enjoy this holiday by joyfully reflecting on Christmases past.
I realize that isn’t always the easiest to do. The holidays bring sad and painful memories for many folks for diverse reasons. Many, like our family, have lost loved ones.
My father and my wife’s father both died just before Christmas. So have close friends, some of them much too young. It’s not hypocritical to miss and mourn as well as celebrate the season, however.
My father loved Christmas. When it came to Christmas, Dad was like a little kid. He couldn’t contain himself.
Dad would overspend on multiple gifts for his two daughters and three sons. I never could figure out how he and Mom afforded what they did for us. They set an example for us that we still follow, though perhaps with more restraint.
It was only appropriate that we celebrated our father’s life well-lived on a cold and snowy December 26. That was 11 years ago already, and it was a Christmastime I will always cherish. The family loved that so many folks took time out during the holidays to pay their respects.
Late one Christmas Eve, I fondly recall delivering the town’s daily newspaper. A fresh six-inches of snow brightened the colorful holiday lights all along my neighborhood route. People seemed extra friendly as I handed them the next day’s paper.
As a youngster, I joined my siblings in excitingly awaiting the appointed early hour of 6 a.m. Christmas morning to bolt downstairs to see what Santa had brought. In minutes, we undid what had taken Mom and Dad hours to assemble and wrap.
Our stockings were always hung with care on the fireplace mantel. We could always count on Santa stuffing it with nuts, candy canes, and an orange at the very bottom. Neva and I continued the same tradition with our own children and grandchildren.
When I was principal at Winesburg Elementary in the real Winesburg, Ohio, the fifth and sixth graders would return to school one evening before Christmas to go caroling to the appreciative elders of quaint Winesburg. The youthful entourage would always end up at the late Mary Ann Hershberger’s house for hot chocolate and yummy cookies. As cold as those nights often were, the memories warm me still.
The weather will determine whether Neva and I can gather with our daughter and her family this year. If it’s fair, we will celebrate adequately distanced on the back porch. If not, connecting using technology will have to suffice.
Besides remembering Christmases past, let’s also reflect on how we can brighten someone else’s holiday today. Connect via letter, email, phone call, or card with someone that you know who finds the holidays especially hard for whatever reasons. It may brighten the season for you both. After all, that’s the true spirit of Christmas in action.
However you celebrate this holiday season, please do so safely and with others in mind. After all, we all want to be around to enjoy many more Christmases to come.
Merry Christmas, everyone!
© Bruce Stambaugh 2020
A familiar aroma wafted all the way from the kitchen to my office. Joy overwhelmed me as I inhaled the welcoming whiff of Christmas cookies.
I had seen my wife mixing the ingredients and rolling the dough earlier in the morning. Just imagining the taste of the gluten-free Moravian ginger snaps and cookie crumbles made my mouth water.
Neva loves to bake, and the dynamo that she is, she did so even though not feeling the best. After nearly 50 years of marriage, I knew not to intervene.
Baking is only one of Neva’s many gifts for which I am grateful. During the holiday season, she goes into overdrive, providing goodies and other pleasantries for friends, family, and even strangers. That’s in addition to taking the lead in decorating our home for the holidays.
(Please click on each photo below to enlarge them.)
We decorated for the holidays earlier than usual in an earnest attempt to counter 2020’s double-barreled doom and gloom of pandemic and politics. We plan on letting the festive lights shine well into the New Year, too. Hopefully, that effort will soothe our souls and those of others as well.
Strings of lights, wreaths, and trees said “Christmas” even before Thanksgiving. It was our way of being grateful as this long and tedious year winds down. We all need the holiday spirit now more than ever.
We are determined not to let the negative news negate the hope, peace, joy, and love of the Advent season. We weren’t immune, after all. There was nothing fake about family and friends who contracted the virus. We are most thankful that all have recovered or are in the process. Too many others here and around the world can’t say that.
Neva and I are grateful for leaders who do the right things for the common good, whether it concerns the pandemic, raging wildfires, or assisting hurricane victims long after the storms have departed. We rejoiced with the announcements of effective vaccines that will soon arrive, starting with those on the frontlines of COVID-19.
Gratitude always helps the one who shows it. The more you give, the better you feel. Perhaps that is what motivated Neva to bake in the first place. Being productive is in her DNA.
No matter our circumstances, expressing our gratitude, serves as a healing balm. I have often experienced that, sometimes in the least likely of places.
I was fortunate to have traveled to Honduras multiple times on short-term work trips. Our groups usually helped local residents build churches and houses for the very needy.
I vividly remember one situation in Gracias, Honduras, the country’s old Spanish colonial capital. The six of us worked side-by-side with community members to help construct their church building.
Each workday, the women of the local congregation that we were assisting prepared lunch for us. In the cooling shade of her adobe home, the pastor served us chicken noodle soup and refreshing fruit juice. We were most grateful for the food and hospitality.
When I learned that the pastor had killed her last chicken to feed our small group, I was genuinely humbled. Given her gracious sacrifice, we all thanked her profusely.
Showing gratitude works both ways. Study after study has shown that expressing gratitude through productive actions benefits both the recipient and the giver. Our Honduran experience indeed verified that.
Perhaps author Ami Campbell appropriately summed up the purpose for appreciation. Gratitude is the birthplace of generosity, she stated. To that, I say, “Amen!”
In what ways will you express your appreciation to others this holiday season?
© Bruce Stambaugh 2020
I don’t know about you, but I am more than ready for the holidays. It’s been a long year with all that has happened, and we still have a month to go in 2020.
What a month it is, though. Holidays of all sorts fill December. For Christians, Advent marks the beginning of the Christmas season, the four Sundays before the big day on December 25.
For our Jewish friends, Hannukah runs from the evening of December 10 to the evening of the 18th. The winter solstice is December 21.
Orthodox Christians, Amish, and other faiths extend the season into the New Year with the celebration of Epiphany or Old Christmas on January 6. That’s the date fixed for when the three kings found the Christ child by following the bright star.
All of these special days revolve around the idea of light. That is most appropriate in these dark days, figuratively and literally.
Each celebration puts the onus on us. We need to be the light that brightens these bleak times. That is especially true given the resurging coronavirus. The tightened restrictions on group sizes will undoubtedly alter our traditional holiday gatherings. That’s as it should be to keep us all safe.
Consequently, we will all need to be on high alert for ways to brighten the holidays for others. We need to contemplate how to spread that cheer, directly and indirectly.
I see the holiday season as an opportunity to finish out this unimaginably horrific year on a better note. Amid the gloom and doom that permeates our daily lives, we each have chances to make this holiday season extra special. The secret is in our daily actions.
That’s true every day, of course. But during these next few weeks, we will likely have multiple occasions to overshadow the social angst and dark news with the shining light of kindness, generosity, and compassion.
To keep the cheerful holiday spirit alive throughout the season and into the New Year, we need to stay alert for every opportunity to spread goodness to others. We may not be able to counter all the dark news that swirls around us. We certainly should not add to it, however.
I’ve noticed that some people already have gotten into the spirit. They have their Christmas trees up and doors decorated with wreaths. Towns and cities have erected their holiday banners, lighting, and trees, too.
As a child, I always enjoyed the holiday lights. I suppose I have my father to thank for that outlook. Every Christmastime, he would load his progeny into the family car, and off we would go looking for decorated neighborhoods. Sometimes we would drive to other cities to see the holiday lights and department stores’ decorated display windows.
I’ve never lost that passion. My wife and I have continued our family tradition of displaying candles in our windows. It’s our way of sharing the bright holiday spirit. We intend to leave them up longer than usual this year. You just never know how such little things can positively affect others.
Our sharing the light with others doesn’t have to be extravagant or expensive. Send a card to someone you know but haven’t communicated with for a while. Drop your loose change in the red kettle. Secretly send someone a gift card from a local small business.
In what ways can you help brighten the holiday season and still keep yourself and those around you safe? How can you help others improve their life, even if it’s only a simple gesture?
© Bruce Stambaugh 2020
This is one of my favorite Christmas morning shots. It’s also very personal and sentimental. After 37 years in the same house, December 25, 2016 was our last Christmas here before we moved to Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley to be near the grandkids.
This photo shows our granddog, a Sproodle (English Springer Spaniel/Poodle mix), watching a horse-drawn Amish buggy trotting by the house. It was a familiar scene for us all those years. The clop, clop, clop of the horses’ hooves on the payment of the busy road on which we lived soothed our souls. We miss that a lot.
I suppose, in part, that is why I chose this peaceful Christmas morning photo to share. I took it in the calm of the blessed morning before the grandkids awoke one last time at our Holmes Co., Ohio, home.
“Christmas Morning in Amish Country” is my Photo of the Week.
© Bruce Stambaugh 2019