Category Archives: Christmas

Giving a gift that really matters

country road

Rural road.

By Bruce Stambaugh

I’m about to tell you the best possible Christmas story I could imagine. None of the usual animated characters play a part. No Grinch or Santa, no reindeer or elves, no extravagance or selfishness are involved.

The main characters are two ordinary, observant, wise, and caring women. I think that’s what makes this narrative so meaningful and beautiful. As soon as my wife told me this true story, I knew I had to share it with you. It’s that good. I hope you agree.

I don’t personally know nor have I met the women in this story. Maybe you have. I’m not even aware of their names. We’ll call them Alice and Betty.

Alice and Betty had never met before until recently. They had, however, seen each other daily on their way to work.

Alice lives in the Wooster, Ohio area and works in Millersburg, 16 miles to the south. Betty resides in Millersburg and works near Wooster. These two women travel the same county road to and from their jobs and apparently work similar hours.

Each day Alice and Betty passed one another driving in the opposite directions on their way to work. As they did so, they both began to notice the other. Alice and Betty likely passed near the same location since they kept comparable time schedules.

Amish children, Amish cart

Along the way.

Soon they began to wave to each other as they passed. It became something to look forward to on the routine drive to work.

Their waving became more and more vigorous as time went on. The women looked for one another, partly as a source of reassurance like a sailor seeks a lighthouse. Their mutual waves became bright beacons of familiarity.

One recent morning, Betty noticed that Alice had pulled off the road. Thinking she might need assistance, Betty turned around.

Alice was shocked when her waving buddy pulled in. That’s when the story gets surreal.

Alice couldn’t believe what had just happened. She told Betty it had to be a miracle, and then handed Betty a coffee mug filled with chocolates.

Alice had only stopped to flag down her unknown friend to give her the gift. In the process, she didn’t see that Betty had already gone by. Alice explained to Betty that she struggled at times with enjoying her job.

Amish farmstead

Amish farmstead.

Alice said Betty’s welcomed wave instilled a positive start to each day. Imagine that. Something as simple and easy as a friendly wave made her day, and gave her strength to see the day through even though Alice knew it might be tough.

Betty was stunned. She had no idea her energetic wave had such an affirming influence on this stranger, who in reality was no longer a stranger.

The two women exchanged names and numbers. I have a hunch they’ll be staying in touch with one another more than their friendly waves.

It’s hard to comprehend that such an uncomplicated gesture as a wave from a person you had never met could make such a significant impact on your life. But it did for Alice.

Wonderment and risk-taking flavor this Christmas story. Both women made themselves vulnerable for the benefit of the other.

Isn’t that what Christmas is all about? Isn’t that the purpose of Christmas? Those who believe in the Christmas story are charged with creating joy, not just for self, or for those we know and love, but for all.

Merry Christmas everyone!

Merry Christmas

Advent candles.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2016

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In the season’s darkness, let your light shine

early snow

What’s wrong with this picture?

By Bruce Stambaugh

Residents of northeast Ohio have now tasted both the Thanksgiving Day turkey and the season’s first snow. The holidays are indeed upon us.

As we prepare to head into the year’s final month, holiday lights twinkle inside and outside homes and businesses alike. Even without radiating any substantial heat, they warm hearts nevertheless.

Most holidays in December focus their celebration around the theme of light just as the daylight diminishes. The days are in fact the shortest of the year.

Advent candles

Advent candles.

I’ve always found it more than a bit ironic that in the darkest part of the year, our secular and religious holidays glow with light. In fact, these important days gather together as if they were competing for our attention as the calendar year draws to an end.

Given the state of the world today, these celebrations of light are just what the doctor ordered. Earth’s inhabitants need as much light at they can get.

It’s only fitting that the major celebrations of Christmas, Hanukkah, and the winter solstice all squeeze together in late December. It’s like a hidden magnet pulling them into the light itself. I don’t mean to be too jocular about these simultaneous celebrations. Just the opposite is true.

Christians consider Advent, the weeks leading up to and just after Christmas Day, as holy, sacred, magical. My Jewish friends rightly believe the same about Hanukkah.

Those who celebrate the winter solstice as Yule have a practical reason for making merry. From that point forward, daylight increases little by little each day.

It’s all very human of us to acknowledge the importance of light in our lives just when we have the least of it. Doing so gives us hope in the midst of darkness.

Hanukkah is an eight-day Jewish festival also known as the Festival of Lights. One candle is lighted each day on the nine-candle menorah. Hanukkah means rededication and annually commemorates the Jewish struggle for religious freedom.

Chrismtas drama

Star over Bethlehem.

Christmas also is a commemoration. Lights of many kinds fill its traditions. The star in the east that hovered over Bethlehem, birthplace of the Christ child, is reflected on Christmas cards, and in displays, plays, poems, stories, and musicals.

Candle lighting services, often held on Christmas Eve, symbolize the birth of Jesus, the Christians’ declaration of the true light of life. In fact, four churches in Millersburg, Ohio will hold a Candlelight Walk on the evening of December 9 to help usher in the season.

My energetic wife had the electric candles glowing in our windows even before Thanksgiving this year. Illuminating each window with candles is a tradition we’ve had for our 45 years together.

In fact, one Christmas long ago our young daughter wouldn’t let us take down the candle in her bedroom window. When I shared in church about Carrie’s insistence, our late friend and resident poet Lorie Gooding wrote a poem about it. To my knowledge, this is the first publication of that poem.

Carrie’s Candle

I have a candle. It is mine.
I like to watch my candle shine.
It was a light for Christmas cheer.
But I’m going to keep it all the year.
Then when the darkness comes at night,
I’m going to watch my little light.
My good daddy and my pretty mother
Smile at my candle. So does my baby brother.
The light is for everyone to see.
But the little candle belongs to me.

Lorie Gooding

My wish for all of you this holiday season is that the light shines brightly in your lives wherever you may be.

sunrise, Amish farm

Morning light.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2016

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Christmas in the Mountains

Christmas tree farm, West Virginia

Christmas in the mountains.

I pass by this scene on every trip between Holmes Co., Ohio and Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. Due to schedules or weather, I never had a chance to photograph the beauty of this Christmas tree farm in the mountains of northern West Virginia. But my latest trip proved the perfect opportunity. I wasn’t disappointed. The early morning sun highlighted the various greens and browns of early September, and the rows of evergreens added a geometric touch to the natural beauty.

“Christmas in the Mountains” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2016

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Merry Christmas!

2015-12-20 12.08.48

All the Advent candles are lit. Only the Christmas candle remains to be lighted.

Merry Christmas everyone!

© Bruce Stambaugh 2015

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Being vigilant reaches far beyond Christmas

nativity display, nativity scene, quilting, wall hanging

Nativity display. © Bruce Stambaugh 2014.

By Bruce Stambaugh

Vigilance is one of the main themes of the annual Christmas story. It shines as bright as the star of Bethlehem far beyond that ancient event.

For Christians around the world, the season of waiting for the Christ child, Advent, is nearly over. It is a glorious time of hopeful expectation that is renewed each year as winter approaches.

I have always found it a mystery and an appropriate model that the first folks to see the long awaited Christ light were generous foreigners and lowly shepherds, not saintly religious leaders or puffy politicians. The kingly entourage from the East persisted in their long travels to find the meaning of the glowing light in the night sky.

nativity scene, Christmas, hope

Nativity. © Bruce Stambaugh 2014.

A heavenly host appeared to the shepherds, not exactly the highest class of citizens even in today’s social mores. Even as a child, I wondered why other folks never noticed what the wise men and the herders plainly saw.

Old and New Testament scriptures alike urge worshipers of God to be on their guard, to be alert, to watch for the light. Asked when that would be, even the adult Messiah said no one would know. The key was to be ready.

As a child, the holiday season meant a lot to me. First came Thanksgiving, the family gathering, and fun and amazing food. Next was my birthday, which always falls three weeks before Christmas.

Just as I knew then, I know now that Christmas is upon us. As a child, those were exciting days of expectation going from unwrapping my birthday present to the anticipation of opening too many gifts beneath the Christmas tree.

Now all those years later, the joy and excitement of Christmas remain, but hopefully for more mature reasons. As a grandfather and mostly retiree, I try to savor and share the mere moments of each day. It’s why I write. It’s why I photograph. It’s why I live.

Amish buggy, Christmas presents

Heading to Christmas.

As I have aged, I realize just how gracious life has been to me through all the experiences I have had. Best of all, most of those blessed moments have been with family, friends, neighbors, co-workers, and sometimes even strangers who happen to love the same joys in life as me.

To me, the idea of Christmas is to use our senses to absorb, inhale, appreciate, touch, smile, share, and reflect the goodness given to us. Our gift to the world is simple. We are to use each and every opportunity to make the world a better, brighter place, one thought, one kindness, one word, and one person at a time.

From my perspective of living nearly seven decades, there is no higher calling than to make someone’s day, to help where help is unexpected, to give even when it’s your last dollar, to smile though you are hurting.

The first Christmas likely wasn’t December 25. Those poor sheep and their tenders would have been mighty cold. No matter. I like that we flow so smoothly from Thanksgiving to Christmas and on into a New Year in one holiday season.

My goals in life are simple. I try to awake every morning with a keen sense of the unknown. I cherish comfortable rest at night from a day well spent in service to others. Each day we renew the process all over again until our last breath.

Best of all, we know not the hour or the day or the season. We only know to live vigilantly.

Merry Christmas, everyone.

Christmas, anticipation, expectation

Christmas anticipation. © Bruce Stambaugh 2014.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2015

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Breaking a long tradition for a heartfelt reason

cuttingthechristmastreebybrucestambaugh

The perfect tree.

By Bruce Stambaugh

My wife and I made an impromptu, important decision. We broke a long-standing tradition for the perfect reason.

For the last 40 years, we have always had a live Christmas tree grace our home. That won’t happen this year.

The live tree always stood centered in front of the living room windows for most of December. This year an attractive, used artificial tree retrieved from a local thrift store fills that spot.

Our first live trees weren’t cut either. They still had their roots bound in burlap. After Christmas, we transplanted the trees in the yard of our first home we built four years after our marriage. When we moved to our present home 36 years ago, we switched to live, cut trees.

Christmas tree, opening gifts, family

Christmas morning.

Both my wife and I had grown up with fresh cut trees in our homes for the holidays. My family often took excursions to select just the right tree. Dad used the saw, and us kids would help carry the piney prize back to the car.

We continued that Yuletide tradition with our children. We loved the family experience, the exhilaration of the nip in the December air in Holmes County, Ohio.

My favorite Christmas trees growing up were the Scotch pines. I loved their long, soft needs as opposed to the stiff, prickly ones of the Colorado blue spruce species.

In recent years, my wife and I tried Fraser, Douglas, and Concolor firs. They all kept their needles longer than other species and filled the house with a pleasant, conifer fragrance. Their soft, bluish-green coloration added a festive flair, too.

With all of these positive traits, why would we change now? The truth is, we hadn’t intended to switch.

We went looking for a Concolor that would serve a dual purpose. We would again get a balled tree first to serve as our Christmas tree. After the holidays, we would plant it to replace a mature blighted blue spruce removed from our side yard last summer.

Concolor, memorial tree

The Jenny tree.

We found a small, balled Concolor at our first stop. It was hardly three-feet tall, much smaller than we had in mind.

Then we got an idea. We bought the little tree and planted it where the stately blue spruce had been. We chose this lovely fir to serve as an evergreen memorial to our dear friend, Jenny Roth Wengerd, who died on Sept. 11 from a brain hemorrhage at age 47.

The tree was about the size of Jenny when we first met her at age three after her adoption from South Korea. Neva and I witnessed her naturalization as a U.S. citizen.

We often cared for Jenny and her siblings while their parents were away. She and her family stayed in our house the day their home burned down. We mourned with the family when Jenny’s brother, Steve, died of cancer at 25.

We had been through a lot together.

Jenny was as beautiful and compassionate as a human could be. She radiated love and joy to all who knew her. Planting a tree to her memory only seemed fitting.

Only a single ornament adorns this extra special Christmas tree. A simple, translucent angel watches over this dedicated evergreen.

We will celebrate Christmas with a fake tree this year just as joyfully as if it were a fragrant, beautiful fir. Outside our Jenny tree will sink its roots into the earth, a living memorial to our gregarious friend who died much too soon.

Paul Roth family

The Roth family.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2015

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Illness reawakened appreciation of life’s little things

Pileated Woodpecker, bird and shadow

A mere shadow of himself. © BruceStambaugh 2014

By Bruce Stambaugh

I had a lot of time to think and reflect over the recent holidays. It wasn’t what I had in mind. In the end, it may have been what I needed the most.

Like so many other folks, I got the flu. Mine hit just before Christmas, not good timing with the family gathering for the holidays. We had a lot planned, too.

I’ve learned that plans sometimes have to change, whether we like them to or not. I isolated myself from the grandkids until I was no longer contagious and felt well enough to participate. Even then, I kept my distance and paced myself. When the chill subsided, I snapped a few photos from the house.

This current flu outbreak has been particularly bad, spreading fast and furious. I got my annual flu shot, but medical officials said this strain had mutated, rendering the vaccination no defense against the illness’s manifestations.

grandkids, grandchildren, pajamas, Christmas morning

The pajama gang on Christmas morning. © Bruce Stambaugh 2014.

The other problem was that the initial symptoms behaved more like a head cold than the flu. This strain was more a respiratory influenza than an intestinal one. Consequently, most people were out and about unknowingly spreading more than good cheer at the holidays.

Sneezing and coughing were the first signs that all was not well. Then came the chills, aching and sore throat. Many people had fevers, too.

I pitied children and older folks. Both groups had little resistance to fight the flu’s harshest effects, fatigue, and fever. Unfortunately, some even died from this infectious infirmity.

Not only did this sickness spread rapidly, it stayed with people for days on end. Often, it morphed into other physical issues, like strep throat, sinus infection or laryngitis. This exponentially extended the time of sickness.

It respected no boundary lines either. People all around got sick. Health officials declared this influenza occurrence an epidemic. It certainly was in my family. The flu bug spanned three generations among my close relatives.

As I lay shivering beneath warm blankets, all I could think about was how lousy I felt. Then I heard of someone else getting sick, and I felt even worse. Not that it was my fault, but I felt bad for them.

It wasn’t until I reached the end stages of my round with the flu that I began to recognize just how thankful I was for life’s little things. Yes, I had missed some traditional gatherings with family and friends. But the times of solitude gave me opportunities to reflect on the good that had come into my life.

I appreciated the homemade Moravian ginger snap cookies paired with warm mint tea my wife fixed for me. That and the bubbling sodas and the clear, cold water kept me hydrated.

Amish horse and buggy, Amish buggy, New Year's Day

Our neighbors headed out for a New Year’s Day gathering towing a load of presents. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015.

A rare bright, sunny morning bathed the dormant earth in radiant beauty, and warmed at least my soul. So did notes of encouragement from others that came via phone calls, texts, cards, and emails.

I found great comfort in those thoughtful gestures. They helped me heal. I wanted to return the favors.

When I discovered another person had the flu, I relayed what information my own doctor’s office had given to me. It was about all I could do. For once, my message was pretty short. Rest. Drink. Eat. Take your medication. Repeat.

Of course, you don’t have to get sick to be thankful for the random common occurrences that better and brighten your day. Just embrace and enjoy them as they occur. And don’t forget to say thank you.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2015

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Merry Christmas!

nativity display, nativity scene, quilting, wall hanging

Nativity display. © Bruce Stambaugh 2014.

Christmas is upon us. I thought this photo of a Nativity scene the best way to say Merry Christmas to my friends and followers of this blog. This shot of a quilted wall hanging, lighted candles and poinsettia plants is my Photo of the Week.

I wish each of you a Merry Christmas!.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2014

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Christmas: Where dreams and memories meet

Christmas morning, Christmas gifts

I found this black and white photo of Christmas morning 1956 at the Stambaughs. Apparently I wanted a guitar. © Bruce Stambaugh 2014.

By Bruce Stambaugh

Growing up in Canton, Ohio after World War II, Christmas was the holiday of holidays for our family. Christmas related activities ran the gamut of the Advent season. My earthly father saw to that, and Mom chimed in, as if she had a choice.

Our wonderful parents modeled the joy of the season for us. We didn’t have much money, but that didn’t seem to derail any of their holiday plans or enthusiasm. Given my father’s meager income, I don’t know how they pulled off the Christmas they did for us year after year.

Like most families, we had our Yuletide traditions. Shopping was one of them, and extravagance was not on the list. Consequently, shopping took a back seat to preparing the home place inside and out for Christmas. Dad led the charge.

Christmas decoration, pine tree

This is the corner pine tree Dad decorated with lots of colorful lights every Christmas. © Bruce Stambaugh 2014.

We lived on a corner of a very busy intersection in our mixed blue and white-collar neighborhood. Dad had planted a pine tree right on the corner to provide some privacy and help block the noise.

At Christmas, Dad filled that tree with multiple strings of lights, the nightlight-sized bulbs so popular then that glowed in all the primary colors. As the tree grew, so did the string of lights. Year after year, Dad wanted those Christmas lights to shine for all who happened by.

Then there was the family Christmas tree. Dad would round up as many of his five children as possible, and off we would go, sometimes tromping through deep snow, to select just the right tree for our household.

The tree always went up in front of the large plate glass window in the living room. Again, Dad wanted the world to know that his family had the Christmas spirit.

On went the ropes of garland, the fascinating bubbling light bulbs, and strings of regular Christmas lights. On went the fragile decorative ornaments, including colorful antiques from previous generations, and the simplistic arts and crafts ones we had made at school.

Next came real candy canes that somehow seemed to have totally disappeared by Christmas morning. Finally, we slathered the tree’s tender limbs with tons of silvery tinsel. There wasn’t an empty space on the tree.

The plastic church that illuminated centered the wooden fireplace mantel. A pair of red candles affixed in Mom’s cherished cut glass candlesticks adorned the mantel’s ends.

baking Christmas cookies, Christmas

My wife continues the tradition of making Christmas cookies with our grandchildren. © Bruce Stambaugh 2014.

Mom and her cherubs rolled, baked, iced and sprinkled sugar cookies in shapes of stars, Christmas trees, bells, and ornaments. Dad bought chocolates at the neighborhood candy shop.

My brothers, sisters and I were so excited we could hardly sleep the night before Christmas. All the while, Mom and Dad stayed up late assembling and wrapping gifts. We weren’t allowed up before six on Christmas morning. But younger brother Jim always started the countdown well before then.

Because of his hardscrabble childhood, Dad always wanted us kids to have the Christmas he never did. If Dad’s goal was to turn his dreams into a lifetime of memories for us, he more than succeeded. I think he wanted that for Mom and himself, too.

When Dad died five years ago just before Christmas, my brothers, sisters and I mourned his passing. We marveled, though, at the timing of Dad’s death, Christmas, his favorite time of year.

Christmas is for children. It brings out the youngster in all of us no matter what age we happen to be. That’s only appropriate, since the holiday started with the birth of a long-anticipated child.

May your Christmas dreams also be fulfilled, and may loving Christmas memories last a lifetime.

Christmas tree, Christmas, Christmas presents, Christmas decorations

Christmas at the Stambaughs. © Bruce Stambaugh 2014.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2014

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Tis the season to remember the poor

snow scene, barn in snow

Christmas landscape. © Bruce Stambaugh 2014.

By Bruce Stambaugh

I love to read to children.

As an elementary student, I feared being called on to read. I was in my glory when the instructions were to read silently. I had my immature reasons, most of which were cemented in fear of reading aloud, mispronouncing words and the ensuing public chastisement.

I got over it, but I still don’t like to read out loud in front of groups. There was an exception, however. When I became an elementary teacher, I enjoyed reading to my own students because they respectfully listened.

Often times I read right after the noon recess. Intermediate school children played hard. I wanted them to be ready for the afternoon lessons. I found reading timely, age-appropriate stories perfect for getting the students calmed and cooled down.

All they had to do was listen, even with their heads on their desks. Reading allowed me to refocus, too.

reading to children, reading

Reading to my granddaughter.

This time of year, I always read Charles Dickens “A Christmas Carol.” I still read it to myself every year. It’s one of my Yuletide traditions.

The book is a classic with a timeless story of a changed heart and helping the poor. Set in 19th century London, Dickens beautifully played out the true meaning of Christmas through the tension he created between Ebenezer Scrooge and the other main characters in the book, mainly his nephew, Fred, and Scrooge’s desk clerk, Bob Cratchit.

I marveled at how well the students paid attention. After I finished reading for 10 or 15 minutes, the students always begged me to read on. Most wanted to hear what happened next. Some, of course, just wanted a further delay in doing the afternoon lessons.

I read and continue to read “A Christmas Carol” because it is incredible literature, very well written, and a commentary on the societal situations at the time. I also enjoy the spirit that the book imbibes. It clearly reflects the true meaning of Christmas.

reading, reading to grandkids

Reading to grandkids. © Bruce Stambaugh 2014.

In the opening scene, the stage is set. Two men enter Dickens’ accounting office to ask for a monetary donation to help the poor. Scrooge asks them if the poor houses and the workhouses have disappeared, knowing they have not.

Scrooge shoos the men out, and in the process lets in his happy-go-lucky nephew, Fred. He promptly invites Scrooge to a Christmas party, to which Scrooge imparts his legendary “Bah Humbug” retort. Fred leaves, disappointed but not discouraged.

Dickens’ classic still rings true today. As technologically advanced as we are today, as quickly as we can communicate with others, as good as we have it in our North American society, the poor are still among us.

I am thankful for all of the organizations, churches, businesses and individuals that give freely of their time and money to provide food, clothing, and shelter for the less fortunate at Christmastime.

These kind and generous acts exemplify the Christmas spirit in action, much the way Dickens’ fabled tale does. Because I have read the story so many times, I know what’s coming. But because the story is so well written, still apropos, I keep reading “A Christmas Carol.” Its message to help the poor is intended to reach far beyond the holiday season.

If you haven’t ever read “A Christmas Carol,” I won’t spoil it for you. Read it. Your Christmas will be brighter for it, and maybe, just maybe, someone else’s life will be richer because you did.

food delivery, helping the poor

Helping the poor anytime of year any way possible is always appreciated. © Bruce Stambau gh 2014.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2014

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