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Christmas Memories

Phantom Tollbooth decided this year to talk to some of your favorite Christian singers and songwriters to find out how they have spent Christmas in the past, if there are any traditions they have carried forth and to take a peek at how they will be spending Christmas this year. We hope that their comments bless you as much as they have blessed us. To all of you who shared your memories with us from the family at Phantom Tollbooth we wish you a very Merry Christmas.

What memories to you have of Christmases past?

Ben Wolaver (Annie Moses Band): Some of my best memories of Christmas go back to the holidays we spent at our grandparents’ home in Oklahoma. Their home is deep in the Kiamichi Mountains in the southeastern corner of the state. It is heavily wooded and it is beautiful in the December snow. An assortment of aunts, uncles, cousins gathered in the big log cabin in the woods. The children would play for hours outdoors.

On Christmas Day, after a breakfast of eggs, sausage, bacon, biscuits cooked to perfection (I don't exaggerate), gravy (of a variety even I would eat), and fresh fruit salad, we would rush to the mountain of presents (I'm still not exaggerating) and wait for the adults to join us.
The opening of gifts was a tedious process that lasted until lunchtime. From that point on, games ruled the day. Word games such as Balderdash and Scrabble were a favorite along with trivia games and variations on Charades. One contest in particular was a hallmark.
When dawn broke the next day, the celebrations had ended, but the memories remain vividly with me to this day.

Todd Agnew (singer/songwriter): We would go over to my grandmother’s house on Christmas Eve where we would get to open our stockings. Looking back at it you realize that the stockings shouldn’t have been filled until Christmas Eve (he says with a hint of mischief in his voice) because Santa would be coming that day. (He laughs) but I didn’t care I just knew that we got our stockings on Christmas Eve at grandma’s house and that we got them at home the next day.  I had a small family just my mom, dad, sister and me. I had one grandmother lived in town so she came over for Christmas. My sister would wake me up and try dragging me to the Christmas tree because she was an early riser. She wanted to get started with the presents.  We would recite the Christmas story and spend some time in prayer just thinking that Jesus is really the reason why all of this happened. It was about Jesus and it was about family for us. 

Chonda Pierce (Comedian):  There were four kids in our small southern parsonage so our Christmases were always surrounded with Church activity. As soon as our duties were completed we would make the long drive from South Carolina to Kentucky to see my maternal grandparents, Nanny and Papaw. It was very old fashion and very wonderful!

Lucas Parry (singer/songwriter):  All of my Christmases were spent at home in Sydney (Australia) with my parents, brothers and sisters. I had my first real ‘white Christmas’ when I moved to the USA in 2002. It was funny because even in Australia when Christmas is hot (summer) we all sang the classic Christmas carols about snow and reindeer.

Some of my most special memories are waking up on Christmas morning with a piece of string tied to my big toe or the end of my bed. I would have to follow the string to find my presents. My parents called this ‘The Santa String’. I would eagerly follow the string all around the house, as it crisscrossed with other colored strings that belonged to my brother and sisters. It would go behind closed doors and cupboards (eventually leading to) my neatly wrapped treasures. We would make our way to my parents’ bed, presents in tow where we would open them.

Are there any special family traditions that you have carried forward with you?

Carolyn Arends (singer/songwriter):  One thing that we always do is go to my mom and dad’s. We have a carol sing and somebody reads from this enormous Bible (this particular Bible) only gets opened on Christmas Eve. I have memories from when I was very young of a nice carol sing but as I have gotten older everybody makes the carols sound as horrible as possible. I don’t know how this came into being, especially since I have two younger brothers who are professional musicians. Now (she says laughing) it is a very treasured part of our tradition. We all come together and sing these carols horribly. I think my kids have come to look forward to that although they think their uncles are tone deaf they don’t realize that they can actually sing. After that we have a serious reading out of the enormous family Bible. 

Alex Wolaver (Annie Moses Band): One important tradition practiced by my family every year is that of telling one another what God has taught them in the past year. Each time, emotions flow freely and always mark our Christmases with a spiritual bond that lasts long after the gifts are forgotten.

Chonda Pierce:  We bake a cake every Christmas Eve for Jesus’ birthday. Come to think of it, it’s still a very selfish tradition, isn’t it? Ha! We adopt a needy family or a few angel kids each year. My kids love shopping for the list of gifts. We enjoy wrapping them and sneaking them over to someone’s house. It is always the highlight of our Christmas

Annie Wolaver (Annie Moses Band): Another ceremony is our family Communion service on Christmas Eve. My family has always observed Christmas Eve at home so it has become a very personal time for us where we can connect with the Savior.

Anthony Evans (singer):  My family always sat together for devotions and a big breakfast before opening presents. When I was a kid it made me feel like I was going to have an anxiety attack because I wanted to open my presents so badly, but now I see how it got us focused as kids. I’ll carry that one on with me.

Lucas Parry:    On Christmas day my extended family would get together for lunch. We’d cook a ham, roast pork with the crackling, crispy fat, potato salad, green salad and veggies. Then we would all eat around a huge table. We’d have Christmas carols playing in the background. After lunch someone would dress up as Santa and hand out all the presents from each family member. We still do the Christmas lunch and I love being Santa!  A somewhat new tradition that my wife and I have adopted from my sister and brother-in-law is we give each other a new pair of flannel pajamas on Christmas Eve. We must wear them to bed and wake the next morning to open the presents. It’s always hard to fall asleep because the new pajamas mean the presents are only hours away! 

What are your first memories of linking Christmas to Christ?

Annie Wolaver (Annie Moses Band): Christmas for me has changed very gradually. Even when I was little, Jesus was the center of the season, not a sideline. That reality has grown more and more present as the years have rolled by.
Recently, we exchanged our Christmas tree for the Nativity scene as the destination for our presents. The change was small, but in our minds it was another re-enforcement of Jesus as the center of our celebration.

Jacob McGinnis (The Turning): I remember a few special realizations during the Christmas season, but one of the most special happened my senior year of high school. My family traveling to see relatives on Christmas day, so we got up extra early to celebrate with our immediate family. Instead of opening presents around the fire, we decided to have a more intimate and simple time together. We went down to our barn and sat on hay bales in an empty stall. We didn’t have a ceremony or even any gifts for each other, we just spent time together talking about what happened the night Christ was born. Christmas is a celebration of Christ and the freedom that we have been given.

Chonda Pierce:  I grew up in Church. Santa was much more a stranger to me than the manger. Since as far back as I can remember, the nativity was the greatest effort in the Christmas season - usually highlighted by the slow turning of a lighted color wheel glowing across the faces of those who participated in the Christmas pageantry at church! I can actually remember thinking it very odd that most people who visited the baby Jesus had on a bath robe! To be honest, the "routine" of that began to diminish as I got older and became aware of my need for a savior no matter how "Churchy" my childhood was. Since then, I have stood in Bethlehem and glanced across the Shepherd's field repenting that Christmas had become so "routine" in the life of this ex-preachers' kids.

When I had children, the tender desire to pass on the story to my children became the focus. My husband and I began writing our "child like" versions of the story for them each year. A couple of them were actually published: Tales from the Manger, Twinkle - children's books that we wrote strictly so our kids would never take the story for granted as I did.

Is there a Christmas song that holds special meaning for you?

Carolyn Arends: I think the one I most look forward to is “O Come All Ye Faithful” It has an amazing great robust theological lyric. It seems every year we break it down in church to just that one chorus ‘O Come Let Us Adore Him.’ It gets down to a cappella. It reminds me that I need to go to the manger and remember again what God has done for us and adore Jesus.

Lucas Parry:  I love them all!!!  If I must choose a personal favorite it is “The First Noel”. I start singing that every day after Thanksgiving and “Chestnuts roasting on an open fire (The Christmas Song),” even though I’ve never roasted a chestnut. I love singing it like Nat King Cole’s classic version. 

If God said to you, ‘You can have one gift or answer to prayer without limitations what would you ask for?

Jacob McGinnis (The Turning): I would give the world passion; passion to seek after Christ, to be themselves, to pursue their dreams, and to take risks. This world sucks the life out of us and only Christ can renew our spirit and give us passion.

Anthony Evans: I would want everyone to experience the true meaning of loving and being loved. I can’t imagine going through life without knowing this feeling.

Lucas Parry:  I have some very close friends, like brothers to me and family who have chosen to walk way to live the prodigal life. My prayer would be that God would open their eyes once again and they might see Him. (I pray that) He would soften their hearts so they can respond to the Holy Spirit as He calls them back home. (I pray) that this Christmas would come ‘Alive’ once again for them.

How will you spend Christmas this year?

Annie Wolaver: Probably at home with the family. Last Christmas, both sets of Grandparents came and a barrage of movies, games, food, candy, presents, and shopping ensued to the utter detriment of our health.

Todd Agnew:  My parents have moved up to Pennsylvania so we are experiencing the reality of a white Christmas which is something you don’t have in Dallas Texas. We will be unwinding after finishing this Christmas tour. 

Lucas Parry:  My wife and I love Christmastime!  It begins after Thanksgiving when we put up the tree and decorate the house inside and out. We spend hours putting up our Christmas village under the tree and hanging the lights. This year will be extra exciting as it will be our first Christmas with my son Liam who was born in October and our first Christmas as a family. I can’t wait!

Chonda Pierce:  My kids are older, so Santa is not really "all that" anymore in our house! We go to Christmas Eve services at my Church every year. We drive by the Opryland Hotel (in Nashville) to see the Christmas lights. After that we usually head out to a little hideaway cabin in the woods. We cut a tree, make decorations most of the day, relax by the fire and play scrabble until we fall asleep!

By Joe Montague, exclusive rights reserved

Joe Montague is an internationally published journalist / photographer. His ministry is dedicated to the memory of his late son Kent David Montague who went to heaven at the age of 18. All copyright and distribution rights remain the property of Joe Montague. 


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