Tuesday, December 6, 2011


Unrest and pillaging filled most days back there during the Russian Revolution when my grandparents tried to raise ten children. Christmas Eve, they prayed and hoped, would still allow them a quiet, intimate time for family and worship.

     Tradition established a pattern of gathering around a freshly cut evergreen tree, decorated simply but beautifully with real candles flickering. The very special feature, however, was the Christmas tree stand, which turned and played Silent Night.

     They all gathered round their tree, a fire blazing and crackling in the big brick stove. The music played and no one spoke and when they did, the occasion required hushed tones. Such a holy night deserved and demanded respect. The Bible story of Jesus’ birth probably was read, and perhaps a few soft carols sung. Everyone savored the moment of peace and beauty.

     They cherished those moments only briefly and then the door flew open and a gang with guns plowed into the room where the family all sat stunned and petrified. Many stories circulated in the village of such intrusions, of pantries being emptied and ravaged, horses stolen, women raped, and men being kidnapped never to be seen again. Terror replaced the tranquility and beauty instantaneously.

     Then something amazing happened. The marauders stopped in their tracks when they saw the family scene. The yelling and barking orders stopped as though a switch had been turned. Without a word, they backed towards the door they had entered, left and did not return.

     The evening remained forever fixed in the minds of the entire family. When they migrated to Canada a few years later, the one item they all agreed had to come with them was the Christmas tree stand that plays Silent Night. So it could not be snatched by greedy officers on the train, they tied the stand under the train car until they crossed the border to Latvia. The delightful tree stand still plays Silent Night in a great grandson’s home every Christmas.

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