It’s just a cup of apple cider. Swirled with apple and cranberry juice and spiced with cinnamon, cloves, and Red Hot candies, the scent of my mom’s candy apple cider is the key that unlocks my childhood memories of Christmas. When I hear the cider simmering in her old fashioned percolator during our family’s celebration, I am suddenly ten years old and remembering when my parents wheeled a ten-speed bicycle into the living room on Christmas morning. The sweet burn of Red Hots on my tongue moves me to the Christmas Eve in 1989 when the power went out in a rainstorm and we opened gifts in the dark with candles that lit the room enough for a perfectly captured memory to uncurl and plant itself deep in the catalog of my childhood. I was eight that Christmas and got a white stuffed dog that sat perched on my bed until I left for college.
It’s impossible to think of Christmas without remembering the warm, sugary December mornings of my childhood, the early holidays of my marriage, the first one with a baby in the house. Christmas is a time for remembering; it can soften the edges of a year gone bad. The end of the year gives us the perfect opportunity to pause and view all that has happened with a warmth born of anticipation for something better. In the settling of our thoughts on Jesus’ birth comes the hope that is attached to His coming, because His coming was much longed for and would mean that long-awaited salvation had finally come to earth.
I find myself full of longing at Christmas, yearning for what I’ve missed and for what comes next. There have been years when I’ve wanted to hold tightly to the last days of December, finding comfort in all the joy that has transpired and filled up our days. And there have been years where I could hardly wait to tear the calendar from the wall and empty my mouth of the bad taste of a year of crushed hopes. Either way, I wake up on Christmas morning remembering. I’m remembering the things I can recall with the fragrance of a cup of apple cider, the things that hover at the barest edge of my memory, and the things written down deep on my heart that I long to fully know when Jesus comes next time as a warrior instead of a helpless baby.
I often make my mother’s candy apple cider during the winter months, and though I know the recipe, it’s never as good as when I’m sitting in my parents’ living room with my siblings, their eyes glinting with the glow of candlelight and shared memories of our growing-up years. The first sip burns my tongue with spice and heat, and I remember to drink it slow, take it in deeply, because I’ll want to hold on to the moment of both remembering and longing. Remembering what’s past and longing for what’s to come. I don’t want to hurry the years away; they speed by me at a frightening pace already. But when my heart that is sometimes too squarely rooted in my corner of the earth finds occasion to long for a better country where I’m more of a citizen than I know, I want to linger in that longing, let it saturate my heart with the knowledge that a lifetime of memories on earth can’t compare to the kingdom that Jesus has created for His people. I want to soak in the opportunity that Christmas provides for this kind of internal centering.
It’s why we yearn for traditions and Advent celebrations, yearly commemorations and memory-making plans: we long to remember so that we remember to long.