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Away in a Manger

One great story calls for many others

Editor’s note: I write out of my Christian tradition on December 21, which is the Winter Solstice as well as, this year, the first day of the eight-day Jewish celebration of Chanukah. Whatever tradition we come from — Jewish, pagan or Christian — this time of year we celebrate, and tell our stories about, the coming of light into our world.

    The Christmas story reported by Luke and Matthew a couple of thousand years ago is so compelling that its retelling in words and pictures, sculpture and song are as many as the stars in the sky. For Christians, it’s the narrative that makes sense of — and gives hope to — human history. It’s a sacred story, the word of God.
    Who, no surprise, is an almighty storyteller.
    Promise and hope, comfort and joy, the tenderness of mother and child, the proclamation that miracles happen in human time and place — these are themes that resonate in our deepest places.
    Their annual retelling brings them alive again, planting the seed of transformation in our lives. Christmas begins with the story.
    Which sets us the example.
    In this most nostalgic time of the year, our own stories are begging to be told. It’s their scratching that inspires our consumption of Hallmark sentiments and ceramic Christmas villages. We hear them at the doors of our hearts and, perhaps not knowing how to let them out, try to buy release ready-made.
    Winsome though such trappings of Christmas are, savoring your own stories is way more satisfying.
    For me, that satisfaction starts with the unpacking of the Christmas boxes. The pine cone Christmas tree that adorned my mother’s holiday side table … the illuminated ceramic tree made by my father-in law … the linoleum print block cut by my oldest friend’s father for his family Christmas card in 1961 … the Styrofoam ornaments made by my husband and sons in their first years in school … pictures of us with Santa over three generations: Each one demands its story be retold, starting with remember when.
    It’s the same with Christmas cards. Every name in my address book evokes memories. Writing their message and addressing their cards set those stories free, and all over again I know that these friends are the people with whom I made history. We may be far away in time or space, but we are together. This little ritual renews our link.
    So each of the cards we get is a lovely reminder that we still live in the hearts of distant friends. Handwriting, messages and photos make the connection all the stronger.
    At our house we count Bay Weekly as a weekly letter to friends, so we don’t do a Christmas letter (though we do make photo cards in tribute to each year’s significant events). But we love each letter we get for bridging the distance old friends have traveled apart. Old Illinois friend Doug Kamholz, whose stories you’ve read once or twice in these pages, writes the definitive Christmas letter, sitting down to compose it on Thanksgiving morning. When it reaches our home in early December, the holiday season begins.
    Heart-warming as are the stories we tell ourselves in memory, stories exchanged build a bigger fire.
    Best of all in my book (dear reader, this will come as no surprise) is the story we write. Taking your memories in hand so they flow through your fingers, shaping the episodes, defining the characters, pacing the tempo rising to the climax: Those crafts make a memory into a legend. Write your story and you’ll know its place in your life.
    Each Christmas, I ask a writer in the Bay Weekly family to write and share a story. This year, Elisavietta Ritchie spins a generational story that covers many miles and more than one species.
    No one else could tell this story, yet its themes — comfort and hope — are yours and mine across traditions and experiences as much as they are Elisavietta’s.
    I bring it to you with two hopes. First, I hope her variant on our common theme enriches your holiday. Second, I hope it calls your story forth, into memories, into words, even into type and perhaps my hands.

    -Sandra Olivetti Martin
      Editor and publisher; [email protected]