“And she shall bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.” Matthew 1:21 NKJV
Every family has its own Christmas traditions. Some families have matching festive pajamas, others watch certain movies, and some may even love fruit cake (although I have never met this particular family). The Collins are no exception to traditions. We bake Dishpan Cookies, watch the movie “Holiday Inn”, and listen to “The Cinnamon Bear”, an old radio show. We have one tradition that I am confident no other family shares, on a biannual basis we would read, as a family, Whirligig House, a children’s book written by Anna Maria Rose Wright.
I can say this with confidence for multiple of reasons. First, the book was published in 1951 and it is no longer in print. It also hasn’t won any awards and I’ve never seen it on a list of books every child must read. It only has two reviews on Amazon, one of which is from my husband. Yet, despite its lackluster reputation, this old beige book is a treasure in our home. It sits in our blue library cabinet protected by glass doors. It is the one material possession of ours that both my children want, which is why I hope someday to procure a second copy.
Terry was the first person to discover this book as a library page in Junior high. Opening the pages, he grew fascinated with the family of five children and their adventures. The story starts near Christmas Eve, with the children learning that their mother is seriously ill with tuberculosis. She is sent to a sanatorium for a year, and the kids learn to pull together and self-govern themselves to avoid their dreaded Aunt Tatty’s schemes to divide the family. The book ends with a Christmas scene of the mother returning that rivals the final scene of “It’s A Wonderful Life!”
Terry told me about the book shortly after we started dating. I could tell that this book would make an amazing present, so I began to hunt for the book in antique and bookstores. This was before eBay was popular, or Amazon had Prime, when dial-up was the only way to connect to the web. I searched for months for the book, even calling his old school to see if they would be willing to sell the book. Despite these obstacles, I finally managed to purchase a copy of the book for his birthday in December our first year of marriage. As he unwrapped the book, the look of joy he had on his face has only been surpassed with the birth of our children and grandson. We started reading the book together as a couple that year and have since shared the love of this book with our children. About six years ago, we read it aloud with our kids one last time during the Christmas season, realizing that this era as a family was ending. Hopefully, we will pick up the book again with our grandchildren, sharing the delight of the Christmas Eve feast, Buster joining the choir, and envisioning what a licorice bed looked like!
If you looked in our house, you would find other items that appear with more glitter or look more valuable. You would likely miss Whirligig House on the shelf, surrounded by beautiful copies of Pilgrim’s Progress and Les Misérables. Yet, of all the books in our home, next to the Bible, this book is probably at the top of everyone’s list. It’s worn, beige with simple lettering, and plain. Nothing about it indicates the value it holds for our family.
But isn’t that the same with the story of Christmas, nothing about the circumstances of Jesus’ birth seem valuable or special. He was born in a stable with animals instead of a palace and had shepherds as visitors instead of a royal procession. The only hints that there was something extraordinary about this birth were the angelic visits and gifts from the wise men. Yet, this tiny baby held the hope for the whole world. His chubby little fingers would later perform miracles for the masses. His tiny little mouth would speak words of encouragement, teach principles, and fulfill prophesies. His little feet would walk many miles to meet with sinners and the broken-hearted, and later walk to his own death. His little body would grow to healthy adulthood only to be broken on the cross, not because of his own actions, but because of my sinful actions. And three days later, his resurrected body would give me a hope that someday my broken life would be fully restored.
We all have traditions, and our family traditions become more valuable to us at Christmas. They unify and define us. They might be wrapped up and put away to open year after year, or like mine, they might sit in a bookshelf all year. But as much as I value Whirligig House, the birth of Jesus grows more precious to me year after year. I echo C.S. Lewis: “Once in our world, a stable had something in it that was bigger than our whole world.” And I believe what John wrote: “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” Yes, Jesus’ birth may have seemed “less than” to those around him, but, to me, this baby being born in a stable is more precious to me than any mere possession!