A Christmas Scrapbook. When readers responded to our invitation to tell us about their Christmas traditions, we found we couldn't represent the range of deeply moving stories in one issue. So here is a continuation of yesterday's scrapbook - a sampling of activities that carries the Christmas spirit from an English living room to a San Francisco soup kitchen.
`A Christmas Dream' Would that I could see at Christmas Forests green and heaven's star Through an atmosphere that's lucid That no smogs or fogs can mar. Know that wildlife is protected And baby seals are never slain All our oceans not polluted No fallout from acid rain No prejudice - no homeless poor No war, no gore, a cancer cure Politicians who do good A world at peace, no lack of food If we can overcome man's folly 'Twill be the season to be jolly. Lillian Krugman, Teaneck, N.J. Several years ago I resolved to ease the frantic pace that propelled me through the Christmas season - to spend time in reflection instead of exhaustion. To foster this wish, the nature of gift giving to our extended family and friends changed. Now, each Christmas, a donation is given to the charity or cause of our choice in our friends' and relatives' names. I design a letter that announces, ``To celebrate Christ's birth and the spirit of the season, a donation has been given in your name to...,'' and describes the work of the cause or charity.
In envelope or fancy wrap, these ``gifts'' are given with love. Sarah Gibbs, Gays Mills, Wis.
Christmas gifts aren't very important in my country, because Christmas is first and foremost a religious festival, and what matters is to be happy and to feel weel: Nobody is allowed to remain alone during this festival! During that week, everybody unites to form a family. And I think that is much more important than a mere gift. Annick Orer, College student from Guadeloupe studying in Lyons, France
Every Christmas time our family brings out this Christmas carousel my mum and dad handcrafted 25 years ago. We light the candles and watch the carved figures of kings, shepherds, and sheep circle the miniature Nativity scene. Then, accompanied by guitar, recorder, banjo, and violin, our family of 12 sings many Christmas carols, old and new, to celebrate this special snowy season. Felix Maedel, Eighth Grade, Pleasant View School, (Hutterian Community), Ulster Park, N.Y.
At some point in the Christmas festivities we gather up our musical instruments and take the family orchestra out to play. The custom was begun by my husband's father, a double-bass player, who volunteered his services as a physician each week at a local center offering a meal, and a place to go, to the homeless. At first we would play for the center's annual Christmas dinner; later we started playing at nearby nursing homes. The staff and residents always seem pleased as we rove through the corridors playing Christmas favorites.
Our tradition will change this year. My husband's father is now a resident of a nursing home himself. We will gather up our instruments, including his bass, and play our carols for his companions. We know our little orchestra will bring to him and the others a small measure of Christmas joy. Sheila S. Wells, Wethersfield, Conn.
THE year I was 11 was especially difficult for our family. The youngest of six children had been born. Dad had been out of work for nine months, and we had lost our home. In September, Dad found a job driving a truck, towing mobile homes cross-country. We rented a house in a strange neighborhood and started making new friends. Dad was away much of the fall, and in early December he left on another long trip across country. Each day we watched the weather forecast on the TV and hoped that clear weather would allow him to make good enough time to be home for Christmas. As the children in our neighborhood talked of the gifts they wanted for Christmas, we, too, not realizing the financial constraints, asked for new bikes, train sets, a full-size play kitchen, and other gifts.
Mom, being alone with six children, and having no financial support until Dad returned to collect his paycheck, could be heard working late into the night. While we were in school she gathered orange crates from the local supermarket and stove burners, kinobs, and dials from the junkyard, off discarded appliances. She painted the crates, glued on knobs, dials, and burners, turning another's junk into our play kitchen. A sheet of plywood became a miniature town for my brothers, with painted train tracks, twigs glued on for trees, and cardboard houses for neighborhoods and stores. Cardboard boxes with wooden wheels were painted and strung together to make a train. Slowly her garage became a Santa's workshop, and her treasure bag grew.
While she prepared for Christmas in her way, we prepared for Dad's arrival. Each of us in school had learned a Christmas song that we shared with our younger brothers and sisters. That, coupled with my new ballet/tap skills, turned us into a song-and-dance troupe that would ``wow'' Dad on Christmas Eve. But as Christmas grew near, weather conditions on the other coast became hazardous. Financial constraints prohibited phone calls, so each day we watched and waited, practiced and built.
But no matter how resourceful Mom was at the junkyard, she couldn't come up with the two new full-size two-wheeler bikes for my sister and me.
On Christmas Eve, my sister and I vowed that we would not go to sleep until we knew that Dad had made it home, but somewhere between Bing Crosby crooning ``The Little Drummer Boy'' and ``Chestnuts roasting on an open fire,'' we dozed off. The next morning we woke up and quickly ran down the hall to gather the rest of our brothers and sisters. We ran into the front room, and there on the sofa, still in his work clothes, was Dad, with Mom asleep with her head on his knee. The Christmas tree had presents under it, but none were as important to us as the picture of our parents sleeping. When they awoke, we performed our Christmas songs and dances, to great applause from our parents.
We opened our gifts, and each one drew breathless surprise. Soon we were bustled off to the kitchen for breakfast. Mom asked me to get the milk from the refrigerator, but there was none to be found. With feigned surprise she said she must have left it on the back porch. I headed for the back door - but instead of finding a gallon of milk, there were two beautiful new bicycles.
No one was more surprised than our Dad. He just stared at Mom's glowing face. I don't think I had even seen her look so happy or so beautiful as that day, sitting at the kitchen table with chin in her hands and her eyes on us.
It took years before I noticed that her engagement and wedding rings were missing from her hand. Rings she had cherished had been sold so she could cherish us. I couldn't understand why it had made her so happy to give up something she loved and that had been given to her by someone she loved.
Not until my 16th Christmas. It was the first time I had held a full-time job, and I had saved up enough money to buy a beautiful dress for the Christmas ball. I had seen it in the shop window for three months, and after receiving my paycheck, I could finally go and pick it up.
On the way, with my every penny in hand, I passed the jewelers. Suddenly, the wedding bands sparkling from the shop window were more beautiful to me than anything I had ever seen. I walked in and picked out a very modest gold band for Mom. That Christmas I sat with my chin in my hands and watched - and understood. Suesan K. Oyer, Plymouth, Mass.
We have an olive wood cr`eche that we open little by little every Christmas season. Starting with the first Sunday in December, certain pieces are unwrapped and the pertinent verses from the Bible are read as the pieces are put in place:
The first Sunday, Joseph and Mary - Matthew 1:18-23.
The second Sunday, the Wisemen - Matthew 2:1-10.
The third Sunday, the Shepherds and sheep - Luke 2:8-14.
The fourth Sunday, Baby Jesus - Luke 2:15-20, 40. Caryl W. Krueger, Escondido, Calif.
The best Christmas tree I ever saw was in Berlin, on Neuruppiner Strasse. The street runs parallel to the Berlin Wall, in the American sector of West Berlin. On the south side of the street the backyard fence is the Berlin Wall.
We were living in the US Army family housing area nearby, and I would jog along the little-traveled streets near the wall. As I ran along Neuruppiner in the early evening, I saw the tree. It was a 40-foot-tall fir, covered with hundreds of lights. I hurried home to get my wife and our daughter, and we all drove back to look at the tree.
It was the best Christmas tree I ever saw, not because it was so big and had so many lights, although it certainly was impressive. What made this Christmas tree so magnificent was the fact that it was in the backyard of a house on the south side of Neuruppiner Strasse - a bright and shining beacon of hope towering over the Wall of Shame. Capt. David K. Taggart, Fort Benning, Ga.
`Boston to Manhattan - Christmas'
My father used to buy the tallest tree of all those leaning so the tip would brush the ceiling of our brick home built a century ago on the corner of Hereford and Beacon.
This year I'll salvage a two-foot sapling. Set it in the window - all lit and bright - for the woman across the street who leans out the project window and throws the forgotten sweat shirt, keys, lunch wrapped in plastic bags twelve stories down to the girl yelling: ``MAAAA!'' Amy Brooks Thornton, New York
In my parents' hogan [a Navajo home of earth and timbers], there was a Christmas tree decorated with ornaments and icicles and a star on top. There weren't any Christmas lights, because there was no electricity in the hogan. All my relatives that had come were sitting in the hogan. The food was put in the middle, and my father made a speech thanking my relatives for coming. He also said a prayer before we started serving the food. After we ate, some of the kids sang Christmas songs. Two of my aunts gave out the presents. We were happy and thanking one another. It was just like a large family. Lucinda John, 12th grade, Many Farms (Ariz.) High School, on the Navajo Reservation
When I was a youngster, my elementary choir performed Christmas carols at Heritage House Nursing Home. During and after our program, many of the people who lived at this nursing home were crying and hugging us. At the time, I did not understand why they were so sad during this joyful holiday. Also, I did not realize then that this event would have a major bearing on my future. During my years in high school, I worked with elderly patients doing private care in different homes. While dealing with these people, I observed that they are sometimes ignored and mistreated. This helped me to understand the loneliness and sadness felt by the elderly during the Christmas season and throughout the year. I am currently a freshman nursing major in college with a desire to specialize in geriatrics. And I still sing Christmas carols at nursing homes and other places that house the elderly. LaTonya Brown, Morris Brown College, Atlanta
On Christmas Day, after turkey and pudding, we settle down to watch the Queen on television make her Christmas broadcast to the nation. In this, she carries on a tradition begun by her grandfather, King George V. This is a part of my Christmas, like listening to a performance of ``Messiah,'' or the joy expressed in carol singing. As Christmaslike as an old-fashioned pantomime, or mince pies warming in the oven. It all seems to add up to Christmas: a time of sharing; of joy and happiness; and being with one's family and friends. But not forgetting the ``founder of the feast'' in trying to express some of the finer qualities of life. Dennis Benson, Sheffield, England
Each year we ``adopt'' a family and buy food and gifts for them. One year, an older couple living in a garage welcomed us in, and, seeing that we had our baby daughter with us, the man pulled out a worn wallet and took out the only thing that was in it - one dollar bill - and gave it to her with a heavily accented ``Merry Christmas. For the baby.'' Each year is a different experience, but we always receive much more than we bring. Katie, Steve, and Amanda Knox, Fort Collins, Colo.
The line outside the soup kitchen in the heart of the Tenderloin of San Francisco was already around the block when I arrived. I got off the bus with my friend Michelle, and as we walked past the line the stench of urine, sour wine, and cheap tobacco overpowered the air, making my eyes water. I realized as I looked around me that at the age of 16 I had more than most of these people ever had, or ever will have. Suddenly, guilt overpowered me. I wished I could trade all that I had to help these people.
I walked through the door and was handed a starched white apron and a ladle. Despite the odor outside, the air in the hall was filled with cooked turkey, rolls, gravy, and chocolate brownies.
I was put in charge of dishing out the large tub of gravy. I stuck my ladle in the muddy water they called gravy and looked around. The man next to me stood close to 6 feet, 5. His face was covered with a poorly manicured beard and mustache. His clothes consisted of a baggy shirt and baggy pants, both a dingy gray, making them look more like a uniform. As I looked down, I noticed that a pair of handcuffs held his hands together, making his veins bulge underneath his many tattoos. Quickly I looked up at his face, feeling the same guilt as I had when I walked by the line outside. His large black eyes caught mine and he gave me a huge, toothless smile.
``Kinda a drag,'' he said, holding up his cuffed hands. ``Atleas I'm out for a day, ya know.'' He was still smiling.
Johnny and I stood, slopping food on trays and talking. He told me of stabbing his [drug] dealer four years ago, and of prison life. ``But now I's found the God Almighty 'n he's gonna save my soul.'' As he talked, he looked up at the water-stained ceiling. The large stainless-steel cross around his neck hung just above his heart.
Finally, everyone was fed, and all but four of the 20 turkeys were gone. The guard that had been watching Johnny all day began to walk toward us. Johnny turned to me, facing me for the first time. Quickly, he grabbed my hand, looking me in the eyes.
``I'll pray for you, Jill. Take care of youselve.'' He squeezed my small hand in his and walked away, closely followed by the guard.
I got back on the bus. The smells that at first I found repulsive now saturated my clothes. Johnny's words swirled in my head: ``I'll pray for you, Jill.'' I knew if Johnny did pray for me, I would be all right and so would he. Jill Keown, Seattle (Wash.) Central, Community College