Thursday, December 27, 2007

The Program

No, not prograham. It’s pronounced progruhm, just like my Grandpa Raaum used to say.

Growing up, our family always celebrated on Christmas Eve. The tradition of The Program started, I’m sure, when my mother (in the days way before children's videos, computer or video games) was beside herself trying to keep three of us kids constructively occupied while she tried to get the house ready and make the turkey dinner before grandparents arrived.

She sent us all off to another room - far from the kitchen - to plan it. My big brother Eric always managed to be the self-appointed Emcee, and we all conspired to plan the shortest possible a family-style Christmas program that would take place before we got to open presents. Mom helped locate the Advent scriptures, but we picked the order of the carols, with the grand finale being Dad or Grandpa Raaum reading the Christmas story from Luke 2.

Some years we had a written-out program, complete with hymn page numbers (Eric always was a detail guy). As we got older we winged it a bit more, but each year's Program had the same essential elements that brought us together on Christmas Eve.

Each year, my mom made it somehow seem like it was our idea. When we were little, we worked on The Program with unbridled enthusiasm, practicing our verses and carols and arguing over who got to do a solo.

Here are some pics from one of the first, and certainly the most famous, of all our family Programs (this is Rachel Anne and Eric, always in charge, what with that butterscotch shirt and all).

This is the one in which this candle, unfortunately placed on a wobbly tablecloth-covered stool, fell over. Here's me, around age four, before the microphone (note it next to the candle!) recorded forever what is now a well-loved phrase in our family: "Whoops! Wuh-oh!"

And later in the evening, after opening presents. My smile belies my true thoughts: Why did Rachel get the Skipper doll and go-go boots, and I just got a baby?

This year’s program (though not on Christmas Eve, but the Sunday before, with my side of the family) was spearheaded by Em, Rachel Anne’s 19-year-old daughter, so we enjoyed a solo from her, a little violin from Aunt Janna, and even Neal (13) was reluctantly convinced to accompany on guitar. The rest of us joined in the carols with the words we could remember.

For the past few weeks, our little girls have been practicing the words to Away in a Manger and Joy to the World. Next year (after hearing the big girls sing) I'm sure they’ll be ready for their own duet (here shown with some cousins).

My favorite memory of the evening was taking Ruthie (4) to the bathroom. While waiting for the inevitable on the potty, she sang Joy to the World (obviously it took a while). When she finally got to the end of the song, she finished it, Texas-style:

And heaven and nature theeen,
And heaven and nature theeen,
And heaven and heaven and nature theeen - WAHOO!

When we were little, there was a mixture of excitement and dread at the prospect of getting ready for The Program. Why can't we just skip straight to the presents?

Now that I'm the mom, I realize how much work it was for my own mother to keep The Program alive, especially as we got into the eye-rolling years (in which I find a few of my children). To her credit, Mom trudged on through those years. She kept some semblance of The Program, year after year, supplying, as my sister Rachel Anne so aptly calls it, the "memory of consistency." Sometimes things went well. Sometimes we endured it. But the repetition of it is what made it Family Tradition.

I watched history repeat itself as my older kids suppressed a bit of a sigh when handed their "parts." They don't get to see their cousins all that often, and they would have rather been playing or just hanging out with them. I could read their scarcely hidden thoughts: Do we have to?

The little ones were squirmy, sometimes silly, and found Aunt Rachel's spiral staircase completely irresistible throughout the entire Program. I'm sure they had no clue of the importance of the words they sang in the carols (I mean really, WAHOO?!).

But I'm not worried about that, because next year we'll do it again. And next year, and the next year after that.

And then one day, probably when they're parents, they'll look back on the tradition - the memory of consistency - of their childhood Programs with a mixture of fondness and deep indebtedness.

Maybe some day they'll be able to say the words by heart along with Grandpa as he reads Luke 2. Maybe they'll know the second and third verses of the carols, and maybe they'll even appreciate the words.

And some day - when they realize the beauty and simplicity of God's plan to redeem mankind by sending His Only Son as a baby - maybe then, they'll even thank their mom for making them participate in The Program.

Thank you, Mom. I love you!
Joy to the World , the Lord is come!
Let earth receive her King;
Let every heart prepare Him room,
And Heaven and nature sing,
And Heaven and nature sing,
And Heaven, and Heaven, and nature sing.

Words by Isaac Watts, 1719
Music by George Frederick Handel



Family O'Foxes said...

I love the pictures! Those were great! Wow, you and your siblings hair was so shiny platinum. I'm jealous! :)

What a great tradition. Makes me want to do this with my 3 kids. Can we go back a couple of days and redo Christmas so I can do this?! :)

Merry Christmas,
P.S. glad to see you are posting and inspiring us all.

Jen said...

I think Ruthie resembles you as a child....I'm so glad you are back. I have missed talking to you. I love the tradition and yes they will appreciate it one day...they really will. Happy new Year.

Susanne said...

What a great tradition! And I just know the eyeball rollers will be doing it when they are parents. It's wonderful.

We were treated to an inpromptu Christmas Carol concert by some of the kids and it was wonderful!

fAiThFuL cHiCk said...

What a great memory. Glad you're back.

Andrea said...

My grandmother always made us plan the "program". I love those memories.
What a wonderful perspective you have on this memory making thing: it's not about it being perfect, but consistent. And everyone doesn't have to *like* it. :)
Great post. So I guess this means you are coming back? Wonderful, I'm glad that's settled. ;)

Anonymous said...

What fun memories! And to see the next generation carry it on is so touching! Thanks for sharing! Glad to see you back! Have a blessed and happy 2008!


Rachel Anne said...

That WAS fun! The kids did so great with their impromptu progrum. I'm with will be great to see what they come up with next year, with a little more advance warning!

Love the pictures of us as kids...I don't think I have those! I'll just cut and paste them from your blog into my albums.......

Brenda said...

You are right--it's doing it every year that makes it special. And your mom probably did start it (in part) to keep you all busy!

What a neat tradition!

Elspeth said...

Beautiful photos. Iy seems your family indeed enjoyed a Blessed holiday season. Have a Happy New Year.

Anonymous said...

Loved hearing about your program, just when I needed a little bit of encouragement . . . we had our own very first, very wobbly program this Christmas Eve after a so-stressed-out day finishing every last minute thing for the Big Day. My little boys thought that singing "hey, hey, hey" to the tune of Jingle Bells was cause for a standing ovation! But for a brief moment we all felt that sweet togetherness and focus. Here's to many, many more programs!

Happy New Year!
Roslyn said...

Well, that is an AWESOME tradition! Very sweet.

Queen to my 3 Boys said...

That's fabulous!

Unknown said...

That is such an awesome tradition and legacy that you're leaving.

Glad to see you posting again!

The First Lady said...

I'm writing through tears...This was a lovely post.
What a blessing !

Happy Holiday !

Kiki said...

My husbands family had the tradition of The Program. In fact, the first year, I celebrated with them, I played Mary. Did I mention we weren't even engaged yet? I still remember it so fondly. Can you hear the sarcasm? But, someday, maybe we will make our kids carry on tradition.