You finished trimming the tree with white lights and various and sundry old ornaments (a story always behind each one), and there, staring you in the face, is the silent game table, with four chairs. It sits in the living room, unobtrusively, waiting for a game, you suppose. Your favorite Scrabble, or your kids’ favorite, Risk. Occasionally we sit at the game table with a tray dinner and watch a movie. But tonight, it hits you like a thunderbolt:
This table was your Dad’s wrapping table.
This table sat back in their bedroom, and you have a sudden flashback.
On Christmas Eve eighteen years ago, your daughter was five and your son was a toddler. Your Dad sat in his master bedroom–cream carpet, rice-planter’s bed–watching the news out of a painted armoire. It is three-thirty in the afternoon. He was seated at the game table surrounded by rolls of tape, ribbon, and a pair of old metal black scissors, and the ever-present ‘Stewart-plaid’ paper, which is our family’s signature wrap. There was a towering stack of boxes, packages and books on the floor next him.
You poked your head in. “Hey Dad–time to go to the Lovefeast,” you say. Your husband was dressing the baby in his Christmas sweater outfit, and your daughter had on a smocked dress with a red bow. You had on a tea-length dress and heels. The “Lovefeast” is the Moravian tradition, and it is your favorite childhood Christmas memory. It is held every Christmas Eve in a tiny charming church; if you don’t get there by four o’clock you won’t fit into the sanctuary.
He shook his head, always the Type A. “Way too much left to do, you all go ahead,” he bowed his gray-white head back towards the wrapping. Your mother hunted down every single gift for her five children, five in-laws, twelve grandchildren and four great-grands; your father wrapped every last single one of them.
You walked over, took his hand and pulled him away from the table.
“I’ll help you wrap later, I promise. We’ve got to go.” He shook his head again, but finally sighed and gave in. This happened so few times in the history of the world, that you can count them on one hand. He gathered his long black cashmere coat, and then followed the rest of the family into the hall, and out into the night.
In the Little Church on the Lane, we sang, “Morning Star,” “Away in a Manger” and “Silent Night.” You glanced over at him and see tears in his eyes. This is the only time you ever saw your father cry. You asked him about it once when you were little, and he told you that the service brought back childhood memories for him, and reminded him of his parents who had passed away. He grew up as Moravian in historic Old Salem, North Carolina.
Soon the women of the church in long dresses and aprons stopped by each pew with a wooden tray holding white mugs of hot chocolate, then men followed with baskets of yeast rolls–all part of the Moravian communion. As we sang “Joy to the World,” and left the double-doors of the church, we were handed lit beeswax candles wrapped in red ribbon. You and your family held them aloft to shine in the wintry night.
That was your father’s last Lovefeast; he died suddenly the next summer after a family reunion. You will always be thankful that you took the time during the busiest season, to take your father. You will always treasure the tradition that he passed on to you. Cheers to your warm Christmas memories.
(photo courtesy of Salem Academy)