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Robert St. John: The Currency of Christmas

Robert St. John receiving a chess set on Christmas as a child

Everyone has a favorite holiday. Many of my friends are partial to Halloween. They have fond memories of trick-or-treating through the neighborhoods of their youth and still dress in costume every time October 31 rolls around. Several people I know are fond of Thanksgiving, mostly because hunting season is cranking up and the deer camp is seated and ready. I certainly know a fair share of Fourth of July enthusiasts who look forward to their annual weeklong beach trip. I also have friends who look forward to blowing it out on New Year’s Eve, ones who wait all year long for spring break, and others who live for Easter.

Me personally, I love Christmas.

December 25 is my favorite holiday and it’s not even close. It’s always been my favorite and no other holiday has matched it for 62 years. As a kid, I’m sure I liked Christmas because of the toys I received that morning. But what I didn’t realize as I was dreaming of bicycles and new stereo systems — and opening GI Joes and Legos — was that the memories that were being forged in my subconscious had nothing to do with material things.

It was all about family.

My brother and I grew up in a home with a single mom. It is just now hitting me — as I type this sentence — that we were the only family in the neighborhood with a family dynamic such as that. It’s funny that I’ve never thought of it before, but it’s true. My neighborhood was full of the typical mom, dad, two kids, and a dog. It’s not that I just now realized everyone I knew came from an archetypal home dynamic; it’s that my childhood was so memorable and filled with love that I never felt our situation was unlike any others because we lived in an environment that contained a key element in childhood security and happiness — community.

It has been said that it takes a village to raise a child. I am living proof of that adage, and whereas there were a few years in my late teens when the community had its hands full and was probably ready to kick me out of the tribe, I was able to come out on the other end in one piece, largely due to the love and support from my family and that community.

My mother was widowed in her early thirties. My brother was 10. I was six. As monumental as the death of a parent is, it had little effect on me, emotionally. We lacked the material things my friends had — and that may have bothered me at the time, but I don’t remember ever feeling that way — but the relational aspects of life were so much richer and fuller for my brother and me because of my parent’s friends and their children.

In the mid-sixties, my father and many of his childhood friends and contemporaries purchased lots together in a new neighborhood that was being developed on the west end of my hometown of Hattiesburg. My parents were in the middle of finalizing the architectural drawings for the home when he passed away. Instead of playing it safe financially and staying in the house we were living in, my mother scaled down the footprint and moved into the neighborhood as planned. It turned out to be the single wisest decision she ever made.

That neighborhood, at that time, was a magical, wholesome, and happy place for a young boy. I didn’t have a father in the house, but I had a dozen others in homes nearby. My grandparents and other extended family members were also a huge influence, and I’m sure they gave my mother substantial financial support.

The drill on Christmas morning was always the same. The day started early. The only kids who woke up earlier than us were the Hemeter boys who lived next door, and whose father was the architect who helped my mom with the house. My brother and I were allowed to go into the den where the stockings were hung, but we had to wait until the grandparents and an aunt or two got there before we were allowed in the living room where the tree and presents were held.

Christmas was a big deal for us because toys weren’t gifted throughout the year. Birthdays and Christmas were the only times a new toy was going to show up at our house. Funny, I can only remember a couple of the toys I received over the years, but I can remember almost all the Christmas Eve meals, Christmas breakfasts, and time spent with my loved ones in that house and theirs.

My mom was a public school art teacher. We didn’t have much money. But as a 62-year-old man, I can see how rich we truly were. We had family and friends, and it’s family and friends that make the season, not the stuff. It’s family and friends that lead to a fuller life. It’s family and friends that make Christmas my favorite holiday.

Many don’t have a family to spend time with this Christmas. Let’s all be ever mindful of that and stay connected. Connection is the key. The season is hard on many for various reasons. Let’s do what we can to share our blessings, but mostly let’s share our time, our love, and our support. Give a friend a call. Share a meal with a neighbor who lives alone. Run errands. Cook food. Being present is the present. That is the true currency of Christmas.

May God bless you and yours this holiday season.

Onward.

Orange Country Ham
  • 2 Tbl               Unsalted Butter
  • 1 1/2 lbs.       Country Ham, sliced 1/8-1/4” thick
  • 1/4 cup          Orange Juice, freshly squeezed
  • 2 Tbl               Orange Marmalade
  • 1/4 cup          Pure Maple Syrup
  • 1 1/2 tsp        Black Pepper, freshly ground

Place a large heavy-duty skillet over medium-high heat. Melt half of the butter and just as it begins to brown, place the ham slices in the skillet. Brown each side and place the ham on a baking sheet. Repeat this process to brown the remaining ham.

Lower the heat and place the orange juice, marmalade, and maple syrup in the ham skillet. Cook for 4-5 minutes, stirring often to prevent burning. Add the ham back into the skillet along with the black pepper. Use a pair of tongs to move the ham and coat each slice with the glaze. When the ham is coated and hot, remove from the heat and serve immediately.

Yield: 6-8 servings

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