Monday, December 03, 2007

The 12 Authors of Christmas Tour Continues with Janelle Schneider

Please greet and meet author and friend, Janelle Scheinder. While some of you may not be familiar with Janelle's name, she's been in the biz many years, first publishing in '93!

Welcome, Janelle.

My first Christmas memory is of the Christmas when I was 14. It was the first time we celebrated Christmas as a family, and I remember how much I wanted a plush animal. Mom and Dad gave me a plush beaver (not quite sure why they chose that one) who was a treasured companion for the next 20 years until I gave him to my son, who also loves plush animals.

As I was growing up, we didn't celebrate Christmas. We belonged to a very conservative Christian splinter-group which believed that Christmas was a pagan holiday and that we should "remember" Christ's birth all year long.

Unfortunately, what happened for me as a child in that environment was that I never really thought much about His birth. I loved Jesus from a very young age, but focussed mostly on His adult life and death. The wonder of His birth didn't capture me until later.

Now that I have a family of my own, the celebration of Christmas begins with Advent. We mark the passing of each week with lighting the appropriate candle on the Advent wreath. I talk with our children about what Jesus' birth means, and about the wonder of God becoming a helpless infant.

The first Christmas my husband and I were married, we were expecting our first child. As with many newlyweds, our finances were beyond tight. We had agreed that our Christmas present to one another would be the rocking chair we purchased in anticipation of our baby's arrival.

However, my husband surprised me on Christmas morning with a ceramic Nativity set he'd purchased from a friend who did lots of ceramic work. After Christmas was over, he built a custom box for the set, complete with foam insets, so that the Nativity set would survive our many moves. Now 13 years later, it's one of the main items in my decorating for the season. I set it out, minus the Baby in the manger.

Before I go to bed, Christmas Eve, I put the manger where it belongs. The children always notice it at some point in the flurry of Christmas morning.

When my daughter was about 3, she was explaining to Grandma about Santa Claus. "He comes in the night before Cwismus," she explained with her little toddler mis-pronunciation, "and brings Baby Jesus." We've since corrected her theology!

Because Christmas was so special to my sisters and me once our family started celebrating it again, we wanted to drag out the delight of opening gifts. Thus, each gift under the tree was opened one at a time, and each of us took turns opening a present. I've continued this tradition with my husband and children, giving us time to appreciate one another's gifts, as well as our own.

I remember one Christmas we spent with my husband's parents. They use the "divide and conquer" system of present opening, which meant that the children put the presents into piles, one of each person, and then everyone opened all at once. My husband and I, without any prior consultation, opened ours in turns, quietly off to one side. It was fun to continue our own tradition in spite of the flurry of the rest of the family.

My tree goes up the last week of November or the first week of December. Being Canadian, we celebrate Thanksgiving the second Monday in October, so we don't have the "holiday marker" for setting up the tree.

I do try to have at least the tree in place by the first Sunday of Advent. This year, setting up the Christmas tree was particularly enjoyable as our two children helped me. While "even distribution" of decorations is a foreign concept to them, they've learned that many of the ornaments have sentimental value. There are "baby's first Christmas" ornaments for each of them, as well as a family picture ornament for each year we've been a family.

We have an ornament in memory of our dog who died 3 years ago, and ornaments representing each place we've lived over the years. My mother passed away four years ago, and some of the ornaments are ones I inherited from her. It was so much fun discussing the important events with my children.

When we're living in a larger setting, I make a point of attending a performance of Handel's Messiah, if possible. That won't be possible for me this year, so I listen to my growing collection of Christmas music by a variety of artists ranging from the Irish Tenors to Reba McIntyre to Harry Connick Jr to Focus on the Family choir.

Christmas setting:

My husband is an engineer with the Canadian military, so we've lived a variety of places. Some years, we've had a brown Christmas, where the weather is too chilly for anything green to still be growing, but no snow has fallen yet. Other years, like this year, there are piles of snow everywhere. At the moment, we're living far enough north that it's dark outside by supper time, and not light again until around 9am. The coloured lights of Christmas are a welcome break from the darkness and starkness of winter.

Christmas Eve ... it's a day I love.

I often end up wrapping a ton of presents that night, having been too busy to get to it any earlier. When the children were very small, we saved the job until that evening, so that we wouldn't have to try to keep them out of the brightly-wrapped packages until the right time. Last year we had a puppy in the family, so we postponed presents under the tree until Christmas Eve, again to prevent premature opening. I also often bustle around on Christmas Eve doing various cleaning chores, so that the house is as clean as I can make it for the special day.

I shop in whatever means creates the least stress for me. Right now, we're living in a community that's very remote (four hours from any "real" shopping) so the Sears catalogue has been by best friend. I also tend to start buying Christmas gifts in Sept or Oct, as I see things that various family members will enjoy. Thus, most of my shopping is usually complete by December 1, enabling me to avoid the craziness of stores at this time of year.

Because I spent so many childhood years without Christmas, it never loses its meaning for me. I'm always aware that the presents are merely symbols of the Gift God gave us in Jesus, and I work very hard to keep that meaning alive for our children. This year we're working our way through an Advent booklet which provides a meditation and prayer for each day of Advent.

My decorating at the moment has a purple theme, and not just because purple is my favourite colour. In the liturgical church tradition, purple is the colour of preparation.

One thing that has bothered me about Christmas celebrations in the past has been that Christmas seems to be "over" when Christmas dinner is finished.

My reaction to that has been that Christmas afternoon, or perhaps the day after Christmas (known as Boxing Day in Canada) I change out many of the purple decorations for red and green. I keep the (artificial) Christmas tree up until Epiphany (usually the second week in January) which is the celebration of baptism of Jesus.

I know you're wondering about Boxing Day. This is a tradition we inherited from the British in which the wealthy families "boxed up" their Christmas leftovers to take to the poor. Mostly here in Canada, it just means lots of stuff goes on sale at the stores, but since I'm not a shopper by nature, I'm not about to brave the crowds on that day.

I prefer to stay at home with my family and enjoy a quiet day of basking in our togetherness, as well as the the joy of God's gift to us.

(rh: Janelle, thanks for taking the time to share! I loved your memories and testimony! Thanks, friend.)

The official word on Janelle Clare Schneider.
Janelle Clare Schneider's first novel was published in December 1993 (under her maiden name, Janelle Burnham), which made that Christmas memorable all on its own. She published five more novels and four novellas over the next nine years. Since then, the demands of parenthood and her husband's military career sidelined her writing for awhile, but she's once again at the keyboard, working on three different novels.


Kathryn Mackel said...

I am so totally on board with hanging a tree ornament to honor one's dog!

Rachel Hauck said...

Me, too!

I have two doggy and one kitty ornament. They are cartoonish, but very nicely done!


Ausjenny said...

I have read quite a few of Janelles novels and loved them all.
the opening gifts is what we do also we give on out and wait for it to be opened then the next. it helps you to see what others get and not feel the presure to open them all quick.
Im an aussie and we too have boxing day but here for me there is a international cricket test played in Melbourne every year (the boxing day test) that we love to watch. I know what you mean about christmas ending after the meal. i like to keep it going for awhile longer also.
Thanks so much for sharing. I do love this series of posts.

Virginia Smith said...

What a beatiful collection of Christmas memories and traditions! Great post, Janelle and Rachel.