Building Christmas Memories
About the Guest
It’s December, and time to turn your attention to the holidays! Today master storyteller Ace Collins tells the true stories behind some of our most delightful Christmas traditions. Also, hear him reminisce about the Christmases of his boyhood and learn some fun ways to make Christ the focus of your celebration.
Ace CollinsCiting his Arkansas heritage, Christy Award winning author Ace Collins defines himself as a storyteller. In that capacity, Ace has authored more than seventy books for 25 different publishers that have sold more than 2.5 million copies. His catalog includes novels, biographies, children’s works as well as books on history, culture and faith. He has also been the featured speaker at the National Archives Distinguished Lecture Series, hosted a network television special and is the play-by-play...more
It’s December, and time to turn your attention to the holidays!
Building Christmas Memories
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Tuesday, December 1st. Our host is the President of FamilyLife, Dennis Rainey and I’m Bob Lepine. We’re going to share some Christmas memories with you today, and talk about what you can do as a family to make some special, meaningful memories of your own.
Welcome to FamilyLife Today thanks for joining us on the Tuesday edition. We are going to talk about Christmas, and family, and meaningful memories today, but before we do I’ve just been sitting here thinking about one of the things that has been most meaningful for our family over the last several years is to get together at year end, and to give gifts to one another that really had nothing to do with anything we receive. But, we’ve been giving gifts in peoples names in support of ministries that are meaningful to those people.
I bring that up because we wanted to let our listeners know about an opportunity that has come our way here at FamilyLife.We’ve had some friends of the ministry who have come to us, and have offered this year to match every donation that we receive between now and the end of the year on a dollar for dollar basis up to a total of one million two hundred, and fifty thousand dollars. This is the largest matching gift opportunity we have ever been presented with, and we’re grateful to those who have stepped forward – for their generosity – we want to be able to take full advantage of this matching gift opportunity, and it’s timely for us as well – it’s been a tough year for our ministry, and for a lot of ministries Dennis.
Dennis: It has been. We’ve had to make cuts, and the last place we wanted to make any cuts was going off the air on this radio station. Listeners are hearing us today because as we chose to make cuts we didn’t cut the broadcast on this station. We made cuts in other places. We’re just coming to you today to say, “We need your help – this broadcast helps a lot of folks.”
Earlier today I got a face book posting on my wall from a listener who said, “This weeks series of broadcasts have just been outstanding.” When you give you make this broadcast possible to not only minister to you, and your marriage and family, but also to millions of others. So here at years’ end I need your help. Could you help by giving us a gift, and perhaps giving it in the name of a friend?
Bob: Again, there’s additional incentive to do that right now because of the matching gift opportunity so if you can go to FamilyLifeToday.com or call 1-800-FLTODAY, and make a generous donation that donation is going to be matched dollar for dollar again up to a total of one million two hundred, and fifty thousand dollars. We do hope to hear from you between now and the end of the year. We want to say thanks in advance for whatever you’re able to do in support of the ministry of FamilyLife Today.
Dennis: I agree!
Bob: Now, as we talk today about Christmas—you know I always get to this time of year wondering if I’m going to be in the mood. If the mood has caught. Do you know what I’m trying to say? It kind of creeps up on you!
Dennis: It does – you know it really does, and usually what has you by this point is exhaustion, and then the rest of the month is really an increasing numbness. What we don’t want to do on this broadcast today is create a bunch of things you have to go do.
Bob: Because you have plenty of those already!
Dennis: You already have a list that’s full, but we’re going to talk to a friend, Ace Collins who is known as a master storyteller. He’s written more than 60 books. Earlier I talked about him being a bionic writer who is now living in Arkadelphia, Arkansas. His wife teaches at Ouachita Baptist University – fine institution! He’s written a book called: 25 Days, 26 Ways to Make This Your Best Christmas Ever. You’ve written 60 books, and you made a statement right before we came on the air – you said, “You thought this was your best about Christmas you’ve ever done.” Why did you say that?
Ace: We’ve had three best sellers with Christmas—Stories Behind the Best-Loved Songs of Christmas, Stories Behind the Great Traditions of Christmas, More Stories Behind the Best-Loved Songs of Christmas, and all of those are wonderful. If you know the stories behind songs or traditions, I think Christmas has a much more deep meaning for you, but this is a book that calls you not to just understand the meaning, but to get involved in the holidays in a positive sense.
Because we as a church by and large – as a Christian church have almost a bah humbug attitude about Christmas. We get upset over everything. They have xmas written on their ad, they have this written – it’s too commercial – it’s too this – it’s too that. The commercialism of Christmas opens up a door of opportunity for us to spread the real spirit of Christmas each and everywhere we go. We aren’t given this opportunity at Easter – Easter’s a Christian holiday – people who aren’t Christians don’t celebrate.
I recently did a signing in Indianapolis where a lady came up and bought 23 - Stories Behind Christmas Traditions books from me. She told me she was Jewish, and told me we celebrate Christmas and we need to know what this is all about. This is what we have the opportunity to do at Christmas that we don’t have the opportunity to do at any other time. So we as Christians need to be excited at this commercial because it gives us an opportunity to go into there without any doors being blocked, and tell the story of what Christmas is all about.
Bob: The challenge of course is that we have cultural messages that are screaming at us all the time that are saying Christmas is about you. It’s about what you want. It’s about what somebody ought to give you. It really takes the holiday, and points it back and tries to lure your selfishness to engage around Christmas. I think what you’re trying to do in 25 Days, 26 Ways is say get over yourself and look at Christmas not in terms of the tasks but how you can use it to minister to folks.
Ace: You know there’s an old statement that somebody once made that he had worked forty years, and never worked a day in his life because he loved what he did. Christmas should be that to us – yes there are a lot of things to do. There’s cookies to bake, there’s presents to buy, there’s things to wrap, there’s decorations to get up but those should all be elements of joy because each one of those that were doing is sharing the real message of what happened at that first Christmas.
If you did an autopsy on Santa, they would find his DNA goes back to a man named St. Nicholas who was a cardinal, and a bishop in the church who began reaching out to the poorest children, and giving them whatever he had. This was a man who was born wealthy and gave away everything he had when he accepted his role in the church, and continued the rest of his life to convince people to give things away.
Then it goes a step further, and you mentioned off the air about a duke. There’s a duke in Bohemia, and he came to power when he was just 15 years old. What wisdom he had – he was a firm believer of Christ, and everything Christ stood for. He probably living in Eastern Europe heard about St. Nicholas his whole life and December 24th of every year this duke who would have translated into the ruler of the kingdom. He wasn’t a king that was over all of this area but he was over his area. He went out with his servants, and took firewood, clothing, food, blankets, and other things.
It was snowing, and it was cold, and he’d tramp through the snow himself to deliver these gifts to the poorest of the poor in his community. We know him today through a Christmas carol called: King Wenceslas. Think of this now – the guy that we sing about in that carol and St Nicholas –
two incredible Christian witnesses were if you can say the godfathers I guess of Santa Claus. Father Christmas – whatever you want to call him – he came out of those men, and what they did while they were on earth. So, even in that respect Santa Claus is representing in a large way a Christian heritage.
Bob: So, when you’re in the mall this year, or when you’re walking to the store, and there is a costumed Santa Claus there you can either stop and think, well, that’s not the real meaning of Christmas or you can stop and think, well, that symbolizes what ought to be a part of what’s in all of our hearts – which is giving, caring for the needs of others – right?
Dennis: Yes, and the rest of the story about this king – what took place was a large number of these peasants turned to Christ, and were converted into followers of Christ because of his model of caring for their needs and giving them gifts. That really is hopefully what Christmas is all about.
Ace: It is exactly what Christmas is all about! He was in a sense a Christmas missionary. When you think about the potential that is we have today to be that same Christmas missionary. It’s there and it’s open for us to do these kinds of things.
One of things that you see at Christmas is anger because people get so stressed out. I have been in Wal-Mart, and watched people count how many items the person had in front of them at the express line because they wanted to catch them with 21. They had 21 items – how could you let them check out here? You know, and I’ve seen people who worry about all of the stuff that doesn’t matter. Rather than talking to the person in line with them – wishing them not just a Merry Christmas, but as we say in one of the chapters, but a mighty Christmas.
Bob: Yes, when you were here before and talked about a mighty Christmas…
Dennis: We liked that!
Bob: You got all excited about a mighty Christmas!
Dennis: I did because I think in this culture Merry Christmas has become such a slang term - it doesn’t mean hardly anything. Even though today it’s not politically correct.
Bob: No, it’s now Happy Holidays. That’s what you’re supposed to say politically correct.
Dennis: Well, you know I went through the line at an airport one day, and I just decided I’d had enough of this stuff, and I said, “Merry Christmas.” Heads start popping up all over people coming through the x-ray machines, and everything. People started saying Merry Christmas, Merry Christmas, Merry Christmas to you. It was kind of like for a moment we recaptured Christmas just a few people who really care about it.
Ace: The lesson that we have in the book: 25 Days, 26 Ways in a couple of chapters is the spirit of wanting to change the mood. How do you change the mood? You change the mood with a smile, and a greeting, and that really makes an impact. We mention mighty Christmas – why mighty Christmas – God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen written five hundred years ago - everybody wants to know why did God want happy people to sleep?
Well when it was written in Old England five hundred years ago – as a kid I thought it was a plot to get kids to go to bed earlier for heaven sakes. But, when you go back to Old English language, words had different meanings than they have today. Yes, it meant happy, but when that song was written what the guy was writing more than likely was the same thing that was said when it was eat, drink, and be merry, or Robin Hood, and his merry men.
What were those forces – merry Old England, Robin and his men – mightiest people around - go back and look at the Old English definition of merry – it’s mighty!
Ace: Powerful – when they were singing God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen – rest by the way meant make or keep – it was sung God Make You Mighty Gentlemen. You have the option with your attitude to make this not just a Merry Christmas, but a mighty Christmas.
Bob: But of course if you’re going to change the temperature of the room you’re in you have to have the right temperature in your heart to begin with which means you have to start the day refocusing your own thinking. That’s why you did this as a day-by-day advent book right?
Ace: Read a chapter a day to start your day, and it’s amazing how your attitude will change because you’ll focus in on that one thing every day. I’ve done this for years. Without a book to go by but you’ll focus in on that one thing a day. Believe me if you go around with that attitude you will find something that day that will remind you of a memory from your own life. It will erase 20 or 30 or 40 years and suddenly you’re seven years old, and you’re looking up at the tree, and you’re seeing your Grandmother’s blue lights again or something.
It will remind you of something that is incredibly meaningful. Christmas is much more than any other time of the year a time machine that has the ability not just to bring into focus why we’re Christians, it has the ability also on a personal basis to erase time.
Suddenly because of the fact that we are revisiting old memories, that we are looking at decorations that are familiar to us, that we’re hearing from old friends, that we’re hearing old songs: We suddenly aren’t old anymore; we’re not middle-aged, we’re child-like, and that is the real magic of the season if we have the right attitude going into it.
Dennis: You know you speak of stories, and making memories, and you tell a story about something that took place on Shells Hill in Salem, Arkansas. I thought about getting my GPS system out Bob.
Bob: To see if you could find Shells Hill?
Dennis: To see if I could find Shells Hill in Salem, Arkansas. Where is that Ace, and what took place on Shells Hill that was so powerful?
Ace: Shells Hill is on top of a hill that overlooks Salem Arkansas - the county seat of Fulton County –up in the Northern part of the Ozark foothills. We called it Shells Hill because my Grandfather bought it, and built his house up there. His name was Tom Shell – so everybody kind of referred to this – that’s where Tom Shell lived, and eventually it became just kind of Shell’s Hill.
Every year at Christmas my Grandmother made sure that Christmas was the most special family event that you would ever have – from reading the Bible to doing something else. If there was somebody in that town that she knew was not having Christmas that year because their family wasn’t coming in, they were suddenly at our house. There were gifts for them underneath the tree.
So, she not only brought us together but one of the wonderful things about our families Christmas was there was always somebody else there – maybe somebody we didn’t even know. It may have been a widow lady, it may have been a child whose family was gone, it may have been an exchange student but it was somebody who was at our Christmas who became a part of our family, because Christmas was a time when we were all brothers and sisters because that’s what Christ came for.
Dennis: As you were telling that story I had to wonder if maybe Grandma Shell, and my Grandma – Grandma Ray were sisters because all I remember was a family getting together, and enjoying one another and laughing, and just celebrating Christmas at the most basic level because you know what they were dirt poor. They didn’t have anything. I mean there wasn’t any ability to give any present of any kind that was substantive – you know it just wasn’t there.
Ace: But I tell you what – what you just described your children need to hear and your grandchildren need to hear because by them hearing about that Christmas, and that special woman she will become alive to them. See, when you were talking about her you had gone back 50 years, and she was alive to you. Bringing back those memories - those memories that are a part of Christmas need to be treasured, they need to be shared.
One of the great things we talk about in this book is encouraging people to talk about their favorite gift. To take pictures of the gifts they got that year at Christmas so that you can bring them out in the Christmas scrapbook next year and say, “Look, hey remember when you were 15, and you got this?” Then suddenly all of those memories that had gotten foggy come back into a crystal clear image that make a mighty impact on your life, and that bond, that bridge is rebuilt.
That bridge that connects generations is sometimes the toughest thing to reconnect even at Christmas but if you bring out the photographs, if you talk about the memories, if you create that scrapbook with those photographs, and memories and everything written down in there even after you’re gone they’ll open those up, and you’ll become alive and meaningful. Your impact will be as strong then as it was when you were handing out that gift.
Bob: In our case it’s the home movies. We did it all the way up until the one-year that I got the new camera, and thought that I was videotaping and Christmas was all over, and I hadn’t pressed the start button to capture it – that was a bad year!
Ace: But you should have just rewrapped everything, and reenacted it!
Bob: We would always have and still do have the kids sit on the steps to come downstairs. I’d take the camera up, and we’d capture them marching down into the living room. Now to go back, and watch what they were opening when they were six years old, or ten years old it really does transport you back to those days.
Ace: The Lionel train that I got when I was five. I mean I can instantly be transported back, and see that.
Bob: My Schwinn two-speed back peddle bicycle for me!
Dennis: Hold it – hold it I want the Lionel train – I never got the Lionel train that I wanted. I also wanted a pony!
Ace: I tell you what, the Lionel train was done so well because it was delivered to me on Shell’s Hill. It was Christmas Eve – all the presents had been opened – I was the only grandkid yet because I was the oldest grandchild. I’m sitting there with my grandparents, and my aunts, and my Dad and Mom and suddenly there is a doorbell.
I’m sitting in the back of the room – I can barely see the door open, and there’s a man in a red suit with a beard that hands my father the Lionel train. They take it out, and I remember putting that train together and getting it all together. Then I remember being upset because my Grandfather and my Dad wouldn’t let me play with my Lionel train because they were having too much fun with it.
But, that Lionel train I still have, and that meaningful element of doing that extra stretch to have somebody dressed in a red coat, and a hat where the magic is suddenly alive.
Bob: You know it’s fun to kind of think and reminisce, and be transported back and just share memories. When those memories are saturated in the biblical message of Christmas then you’ve not just planted fun traditional ideas: The story of the Lionel train or my Schwinn bicycle. What you bring back to life is the substance of faith that was planted at an early age. That Dennis is why I think to start off the Christmas season by saying let’s be intentional to be spiritual during this time of year – that’s what makes it so important.
Dennis: It is, and Bob I just want to come alongside a beleaguered Mom or maybe an exhausted Dad at this time who may be losing heart in well doing. Galatians chapter 6 exhorts us: Don’t lose heart in well doing for in due time you will reap if you don’t quit. I think a lot of families get disappointed with Christmas, and some of the things that they try to manufacture and make. The memory isn’t quite as they’d hoped it would be, and they become cynical.
I think it’s easy to become soured about Christmas, and not truly celebrate. So I want to encourage you. Don’t stop doing what Ace has been talking about here which is continuing to bring Christ, the scriptures, the meaning of Christmas, the experience of Him in our lives, the expectation of His return to planet Earth – make all of that a part of your Christmas season.
Bob: Well, I’m just trying to find something that I can attach some spiritual significance to the subject of fudge because I’m really craving some fudge this year.
Dennis: Let me think about that!
Ace: I actually have a recipe for peanut butter fudge in the book.
Bob: Is there a spiritual connection to it?
Ace: Well, my spiritual connection is you make fudge, and you make cookies with your kids, and then you wrap those up, and you take half of those fudge, and half the cookies and take them to people who live around you and give them to those.
Dennis: There it is Bob!
Bob: Yes, but we’re going to have to make a double recipe because I want all of mine.
Ace: We do make a double recipe – yes. I have one other bit of wisdom to pass along too that will make your holidays less stressful, and that is never buy anything that says, “Some assembly required.”
Dennis: I agree! Or, batteries not included!
Bob: Well, it’s a good thing that your book doesn’t come with any assembly required, and no batteries necessary. We have copies of Ace Collins book: 25 Days, 26 Ways to Make This Your Best Christmas Ever in our FamilyLife TodayResource Center. You can order copies from us on-line at FamilyLifeToday.com – again the website FamilyLifeToday.com I think we have a few of Aces other books - the books about Christmas songs, and Christmas traditions.
Of course we have Barbara Rainey’s book called: When Christmas Came where Barbara has taken a look at John 3:16 – probably the best know verse in the Bible and helped us understand why this is a Christmas verse – a verse for us to meditate on at Christmas time. The book includes some original watercolor work by Barbara Rainey. Again it’s called: When Christmas Came and there’s information about her book, and all of these books on our website: FamilyLifeToday.com – you can order from us online if you’d like, or call 1-800-358-6329 – that’s 1-800 F as in “family L as in “life,” and then the word TODAY. We’ll make arrangements on your request to get these resources sent to you.
I wanted to let you know about something that we’re actually very excited about here at FamilyLife. We’ve had some friends of the ministry who have approached us this year, and recognizing the challenge that our ministry has experienced during 2009 they have agreed to provide some special incentive for year-end giving from FamilyLife Today listeners.
These friends have agreed to match every donation that we receive over the next 31 days on a dollar-for-dollar basis up to a total of one million, two hundred and fifty thousand dollars. This is the largest matching gift that has ever been made available to us here at FamilyLife.
We’re very humbled by their generosity, and we’re also praying because we recognize it’s going to take many of our listeners stepping forward to make a donation for us to take full advantage of this unique matching gift opportunity. So, if you can help with a year-end donation to FamilyLife. You can do that on-line at FamilyLifeToday.com of you can call 1-800-FLTODAY, and make a year-end donation over the phone.
Keep in mind your donations are being matched dollar for dollar thanks to this special matching gift opportunity. We do hope to hear from you, and we appreciate your support of this ministry, and your financial partnership with us here at FamilyLife Today.
Now, tomorrow Ace Collins is going to be back with us one more time. We’re going to talk more about how we can focus on making the Christmas season a spiritually significant season. I hope you can join us for that.
I want to thank our engineer today Keith Lynch and our entire broadcast production team on behalf of our host Dennis Rainey, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas.
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