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A: The air around me is cool as ice, pushed by a stiff breeze that carries with it the promise of snow, that sharp smell that fills the nostrils and lets you know that winter is coming.
I walk along the pavement bathed in streetlights, wrapped in thick winter clothes against the cold, although my cheeks a red from the wind and my fingers shilled even when snug in my gloves. All around me people ebb and flow, a river of faces wrapped in hats and coats, all set on their destinations, either home or to the shops, to find that perfect gift or card for their friends and loved ones late on this Christmas eve.
I revel in the activity, the hustle and bustle of life as I pass one after another, their trappings against the cold so varied and colourful it can make one giddy if you are not careful. The sights and the smells, the laughter of children and chatter of adults, all wash over me as I walk the crowded street, seeking that last gift and completing my list for the holiday.
I turn to look through the window beside me, into the store still open at this late hour. The window mists for a moment, the breath from my mouth rolling over the glass and becoming condensation on the cold glass. Through the window the light shining out is haloed in my breath, a little rainbow against the sparkling fairy lights that adorn the windows. Beyond stands a vast array of objects, books, toys and games of many kinds all guarded by that still red giant, that plastic Santa Clause, his smiling bearded face keeping watch over the kiddies gifts as they romped around the stores interior, pulling down the toys they wanted and causing general chaos wherever they went.
I turn from the window and continue on, the lights and joy falling behind me and fade into the blur of city life. I turn a corner, and find myself in a brightly lit square, the whole place filled with a winter market, cantered around a gigantic Christmas tree.
The Square is filled with the hum of people, the pulse of life in the darkness of the night time. There are Children and adults, young and old, all coming together to browse the wears and be with one another on the holiday season.
I walk from stall to stall, sometimes touching the things for sale, a decoration, a piece of cloth, a child’s toy, and feeling their shapes and textures, their weight in my hands. It all feels real, but a touch other worldly, the slightly surreal feeling that this time of year brought.
As I walk closer to the great tree at the market’s centre a song reaches my ears. I follow the sound until I see a small group huddled around a conductor, who is leading them all in carols. The oldest is older that my grandmother, the youngest only just old enough to be reading the song-sheet before them, but they sang none the less. And through their efforts on this cold night a sweet sound emerged that touched us all, every one listening to their singing, the melodies of the past, of the childhood, of when Christmas was a magical time and Santa would bring gifts for the good (and not so good) boys and girls.
I fish a few coins out of my pocket to throw in their bucket, just shrapnel more than anything, but the conductor gives me a quick smile as I move on.
The threatening snow finally breaks over the rooftops. A great gust of it blows in, flying on the wind like petals from trees. After a moment the wind dies down, but the snow still falls, and its soft yet cold caress is both a joy and pleasure, for it brings the full feeling of the year to this bright mad night.
And now I am by the tree. Its ornaments and decorations glint in the artificial lights around it whilst all the while its own fairy lights twinkle faintly, little specks of light on the Trees green bulk. There it sits, silent as all the others, a picture of the holidays, a symbol of the years end and the celebration of that fact. I feel a quiet comfort from the big tree, the sense that all this has happened before, and will continue on for a long time. And that brings me peace of mind at least.
Now, to find that gift…
B: Dear Lord:
As I kneel down to pray this Christmas Eve, I know You have gifted me with so many blessings to my life. I look at all I have and am humbled by it, knowing I do not deserve it. I have a roof over my head, food in the pantry, and clothes on my back. I have a ranch to sustain me, animals that remain healthy and fields that are full and tended. I have eyes to see, ears to hear, and knees with which to kneel before You.
You have given me the other half of my soul to live life beside me, my high school sweetheart who loves me more than all else. “Born to be your husband, babe,” he tells me, and with that look in his eyes that says I am the only woman he sees in this world, I know his words are true. Sometimes our marriage falters, Lord, and we fight against each other as though both Heaven and Hell depended on it, but You have given us the love we need to say we’re sorry when we’re wrong, and the foresight to say it anyway when we know we’re right. You have given me strength in him, Lord, and I will praise You always for this.
Through my children, Lord, You have given me back the innocence that was lost so long ago. I see the wonderment with which they perceive the world, and I am awed by it. I see Your creations anew through them, pointed out with observations that hold far more sense than those that come from many adults I’ve met.
They are beautiful, smart, and healthy, Lord, and safely asleep in their beds. Tomorrow, they will tear into gifts that came from ‘Santa’, but they will pray The Lord’s Prayer before they sit to eat the feast that will be laid out before them.
I have a mother who has been married to the same man for forty-five years, and a father who looks upon his wife with a worship that comes second only to You. They have been the touchstone for their children’s happiness, and each of us has found it in our own spouses.
You’ve given me seven older brothers who have watched out for me since the day I was born, helping to chase away childhood nightmares and monsters under the bed with bubblegum scented water for as long as I can remember. They work the ranch with my husband and pour blood, sweat, and tears into the land and livestock, struggling to provide for a conglomeration of a family that numbers twenty-six strong, including their own wives and children, our parents, and my family. It is not an easy job, Lord, and I pray for the strength and faith it takes for them to continue on.
All these things I have to be grateful for, Lord, and with all my soul I thank You for them.
But there is one thing, Father, that I pray for above all this Christmas. One brother and sister-in-law will not be attending the family gathering this year. Eric and Jessica are far away from us now, fighting in Afghanistan on their second tour. Keep them safe, Lord. Bring them home to us in one piece. Let them know the pride we feel for the fight they fight, and how very much we miss them. Let their children, left to my care, have peace tonight. Let their dreams revolve around sugar plums and the surprises held in store for them tomorrow. Let their fears and loneliness fade. Let their mother and father return to them in flesh and blood, not hailed by a 21 gun salute and a gently folded flag.
Thank you, Lord, for hearing my prayers. Thank You for the answers you give, and whatever they might be, give me the strength to bear them. Thank You for sending Your Son, and giving hope to the hopeless and rest to the weary.
In Your Son’s holy name I pray,
"If he asks me what day of the week it is, I'll be sorely tempted to answer 'orange'." ~Chang WuFei, The Arrangement.