Saturday, December 28, 2019

Children, Christmas and China

For most of us, Christmas 2019 has already passed.

However if your family is like ours, you may still be planning.  Many of you know we've celebrated the birth of our Savior as early as December 15th and as late as January 10th.  This year, it was December 21st.  The DATE matters precious little.  It's the people and the food and the laughter that make Christmas the most wonderful time of the year.

With that in mind,  you may find my post shocking or even a bit hypocritical unless you read to the very end.  This is the picture I put on Facebook the morning we were to celebrate.  I entitled it, "Calm Before the Party!"  Once our troop rolls in, the noise level increases greatly.  Frank and I try to be intentional about sitting quietly a moment or two before the first family arrives.  It seems to help the entire visit go more smoothly if Papa and Noni can operate from a place of calm soul.

A couple of weeks before our Christmas Day, Kristin had called with the all important question of tableware.  (I highly value her decorating skills.  She's one of those people who can turn a plastic milk jug and twine into a lovely centerpiece others rave over for years.  I, on the other hand, do not have those skills.)

It was Kristin's suggestion that we might want to use paper plates this year as the babies are still so little and also so mobile.  Breakage of finer tableware would almost be a guarantee.

Let me give you some background information.  The dinner table was always important during my growing up years.  We carried that into our own little family as Frank and I assigned great significance to our time sitting around our dinner table.  (Studies show this is a key element for any strong family.  Communication happens in an unrushed, non-threatening way and children pick up important life skills.)

We didn't own any china until after our first visit to England where you can buy seconds at a fraction of the cost for china here in the U.S.  Over the years, I've managed to collect enough Country Roses to feed our entire tribe and the "someday" spouses of nine grandchildren.  I also have a more limited collection of Christmas china.  These dishes just make my heart smile.

I chose this pattern because, in my humble opinion, they work just as nicely for a winter table.  So between the two patterns, one could potentially enjoy the beauty of dining from fine china year round.  Bear in mind, I've waited decades to obtain these porcelain pretties.  Needless to say, they have a rather special place in my heart.

Can you imagine my shock when I received this photo suggestion from Kristin?  Because she knows me, she included this message:  "Mom what would you think of using paper plates for our dinner this Christmas?  It would make things so much easier . . . and safer.  I think these are pretty."

Well, they WERE pretty.  In fact, I liked them very much.  And it was true they would make things much easier.  Also, no grandchild has ever been cut by shards of a paper plate.

But they weren't CHINA!  I had waited all year to get out my lovely pattern with the rich colors of the cardinal and winter bluebird.  So, I did what every grandmother knows I did . . . I stomped my foot, got a whine in my voice, explained my reasoning and Resisted.  (Bet you didn't see that coming.)

The week before our special day, the menu was all set.  Side dishes were assigned and my portion of Christmas was already tucked safely in the freezer.  Still the issue of which dishes we would use had not yet been settled.  One evening, Joy (our middle daughter) called on her way home from class.

"Mom,  let's talk about dinner."  I knew what was coming and braced to give her my argument.  "We all understand why you enjoy serving us on china; it really is lovely.  But you always say for us to tell you the truth.  Here it is, eating on paper plates would make the meal far less stressful for me."  

She spoke with genuine tenderness in her voice knowing the conflict going on in the heart of her Southern mama.  Joy went on to describe how she and her sisters knew that if a dish broke it wouldn't matter to me (they're seconds) but it would matter to them.  She ended with asking me to please consider it.

Wow, who knew tableware could rank so high on the "take a stand" scale of discussion?  Yet, there I was, feeling frustrated and disappointed and even a bit irritated.

After all, everyone was coming to MY house, weren't they?  Wasn't it MY right to set the table in the way that made ME most happy? Didn't MY feelings count in this scenario?  And that's when it hit me . . . the plates didn't matter - the People did!

At least they were all coming to my house.  At least they cared what would make me happy, too.  At least they were expressing their concerns in kind tones trying to avoid hurting my feelings.  "Besides," I thought, "when did this become all about ME anyway?"

Now before you jump to judgement about my selfish attitude, may I ask you a question?  Have you found yourself falling to this temptation at some point during the Christmas season?  It's easy to do, isn't it?  It's very easy to feel like everyone around is only focused on their own interests while you're expected to give; Give; GIVE.

Be careful, friend.  Personal preference on plates helped me discover once again just what a slippery slope self-focus can be.  Scripture says ugly selfishness is in us all.  We must daily chose to keep our hearts open to God and His goodness. In the end, that's the only way to stay loving and content.

So, I went out the next day and bought paper plates.  Lovely, Christmas plates that echoed the decorations through out our home.  Special napkins and smaller dessert plates substituted for the china and linens languishing in my cabinets.  Kristin and Meagan looked a bit stunned when they arrived.

There will be a time when we'll all enjoy the Christmas china Noni so meticulously collected.  But that time isn't right now.

An hour or so later, we all sang "Happy Birthday, Jesus" and Papa read from Luke chapter 2.  The older children led us in a couple of carols while the younger ones were repeatedly told not to touch the packages spilling out from under the tree.  We prayed together thanking God for the gift of sending his only son to earth for our salvation.  We also asked that the blessing of the Father would rest on each person present.

We relished every minute of distributing and opening the gifts so carefully chosen.  We watched one another's faces with delight.  When I opened my final gift, the waterworks threatened to breech the dam.  I found this picture.  The girls and their precious husbands had spent an entire Saturday morning trying to capture the nativity I wanted using all our own little angels and wisemen.  (Andrew was able to fit in the make-shift manger.)

They also recorded a cd of all my favorite Christmas carols.  (The girls sang harmonies, John played keys, Nathan played drums, Cody covered the editing.)  The final element of the package was a video clip of the bigger children singing their songs from various Christmas programs.  My heart was ready to burst with joy.

From left to right: Zach - 4; Madi - 4; Abby - 7; Spencer - 8 1/2; Andrew - 4m; Ava - 2; Noah - 6; Parker - 18m and our Star of Bethlehem was played by Grayson - 17m.  (I definitely hope you're able to zoom in and see their precious faces.)  It was the most amazing Christmas gift any Noni could hope for.

As I've looked back on that picture a hundred times already, I've reminded myself how silly it would have been to "stand my ground" about anything so insignificant as dishes.  These sweet faces are the stuff of eternity.  The hearts of my girls and "sons" are the only things that will matter once this life is over.

Maybe a tear has slipped from your eye while reading of my dilemma.  Perhaps you experienced a similar moment of selfishness this season.  Don't waste a single minute, dear friend.  Reach out to the one you love and let them know you missed it.  Tell them they matter so much more to you than any selfish desire of your own.

Take it from a converted person of self-centeredness. Christmas is ultimately about relationships; some just built and some being restored.  Join me in practicing the line of thinking presented in a quote I love, "Will it matter a hundred years from now?  If not, it's probably not that important after all."

Blessings on us all as we live with Eternity in Mind!

We'd all love to hear your thoughts.  Or perhaps you have a suggestion that can become a new tradition for some of us.  Please stop by the comment section below . . .

This picture didn't fit with the narrative, but it was just too cute not to share.  Call it a bonus.

Madi and Noah helping decorate


  1. Beautiful story; valuable lesson.

    We went through the same discussion at Steve's parent's house Saturday. Antique wheat china or sturdy paper plates? Yep, the paper plates won out. :-)

    I love your transparency in your writing as you pull back the curtain on the whole thought process. We can ALL relate.

    OUR grandchildren are having a great time emptying a particular kitchen cupboard and making drums out of all the containers. Good times!


    1. Thanks, Sweet Friend. Squeeze those babies and sing with the drum solo. LOL

  2. Your family's Christmas sounds great no matter the date. I love the Christmas carols sung with the family band, along with your nativity of grandchildren. Christmas memories they will carry in their hearts forever. The grandchildren won't remember the year or few years they used paper plates, but your daughters will remember how easy it was to clean up following dinner. No cleaning dishes off or loading the dishwasher. Happy New Year.