Tuesday, January 12, 2010

2009 Christmas Memories

Henke Family Christmas Memories - 2009

The 2009 Henke family Christmas gathering in Hallettsville, Texas was obviously only one of the countless gatherings of families who celebrated the great Feast of Christmas. And no doubt, people everywhere are just as proud of their family as we are of ours. Our family members are as varied and different as night and day. However, when Christmas comes, most everyone makes a special effort to come to “Henke Hill” as we like to call it and celebrate Christmas and the Gift of Jesus, as well as the gift of family.

It all began with Henry & Elizabeth Henke who spent most of their married lives on “Henke Hill.” Even though they have gone to their eternal reward years ago, the fruits of their love and labors live on. Their family of eight children has grown to include 19 grandchildren and 30 great-grandchildren, plus all the in-laws for a total of 81 family members.

They began to arrive about mid-morning on Christmas Day. The quiet, serene country setting at Barbara & Robert’s home (which is a part of “Henke Hill”) soon turned into a lively bustle of activities as one by one family members began to arrive.

They all came – the young and not so young – ranging in age from the eldest of the eight children (in his 70’s) to the youngest new additions to the family (who are a mere few weeks old). They came bringing food, gifts and games as well as a few pet dogs! We also welcomed several guests who were “family members for the day!”

They came from near (just over the hill!) and far (some traveled several hundred miles!). As they arrived, all exchanged “Merry Christmas” hugs, which means a lot of hugs! These greetings seem to set the stage for the day as a special time of celebrating that “Christmas feeling” that is hard to put into words.

They came with food in abundance for the dinner, refreshments of all sorts as well as snacks for all day munching. The variety of menu items was unbelievable as well as delicious and scrumptious! Shortly after mid-day, most had arrived to enjoy a meal together.

Before the dinner, everyone gathered in prayer to give thanks for God’s many blessings, and especially the Gift of Jesus. The younger family members, with their enthusiastic voices, led the singing of “Happy Birthday, Jesus, as all gathered around a cake lit with one large single candle.

The camaraderie and merriment continued throughout the day. While many chose to stay close to the warmth of the fireplace or wood heaters on the inside, several couldn’t resist the challenge of a game of washers, a toss of the football, or other outdoor games.

The challenge of table games, especially dominoes and cards, and a Chinese gift exchange resulted in much friendly competition as well as fun and laughter among the adults. The children were wound up as they tore open their Christmas wrapped packages. With prior arrangement of the parents, they took part in a “book gift exchange” and it certainly is great to see kids excited about new books … especially the younger ones who seem to never tire of getting new books to have read to them. The lively voices of children who ran and played inside as well as outside could be heard everywhere, with many braving the cold winter day that it was at least for a spell. Many of the youngsters could be seen enjoying their newly received hi-tech games or other traditional kid games.

To preserve memories of a day, nothing seems to beat a photo session or two, even if it is sometimes a challenge to gather everyone for this purpose. The photos that accompany these reflections are a result of more than a few moans and groans on the part of a few reluctant bodies. However, the results are worth it!

It’s hard to sum up the special feelings connected with Christmas celebrations, especially those of a family as large as ours. Everyone just seems to have a little more love and joy. I read a couple of quotes recently that sum up some of my thoughts:

“Would that it lasted all year! For on Christmas Eve, and Christmas Day, all the world is a better place, and men and women are more loveable. Love itself seeps into every heart, and miracles happen!” Peter Marshall

“Christmas is the one day of the year that carries real hope and promise for all mankind.” Edgar Guest

I couldn’t agree more – “Would that it lasted all year!” I don’t even claim to know the authors of these quotes, but they give us food for thought. And I find myself wondering just how can we make it last longer? Mother Teresa gives us a suggestion in one of her famous quotes:

“It is Christmas every time you let God love others through you. Yes, it is Christmas every time you smile at your brother [or sister] and offer them your hand.” Mother Teresa

Oh, if we could only do that! The joy and love that is shared at Christmas is not easily described by words! Some emotions don’t need words to describe them or feel them – and the Christmas sentiment is one of them!

Yes, the 2009 Henke Christmas celebration was a grand one! Henry & Elizabeth would have been proud of this gathering of their offspring. And I know they are looking down from above and smiling with approval as there were few things that brought more joy to their hearts as when their family came together for family celebrations.

These gatherings always make me more appreciative of the gift of “family.” It really makes me wonder how those who have no family manage and it makes me even prouder of my family roots. Our family is no more perfect than any other family. However, I think we each realize that when the road of the journey of life is not as smooth as we’d like, we know we can call on one another to extend a helping hand or words of encouragement, wherever and whenever that may be.

It is my hope and prayer that whatever family one belongs to, whether it is large or small, we each do our part to make the spirit of Christmas live in each individual family, as well as those we meet, throughout the year.

May God bless one and all as we give thanks for the blessings of 2009 and begin this New Year of 2010!