Politics & Policy

Treasured Christmas Memories

Friends of NRO reflect on the season.

National Review Online asked friends and contributors to share treasured Christmas memories. Merry Christmas from all of us to you and your family.

Hunter Baker

I have been blessed to enjoy many wonderful Christmases, but one of my favorite memories happened this year. My children attend a small, bootstrap Christian classical school (Augustine School in Jackson, Tenn.). They put on a small Christmas recital with songs and poetry. I didn’t realize until the performance that my son’s seventh-grade class was going to perform selected scenes from John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress. I was moved to see the young people reciting lines from a Christian classic hundreds of years old. How could I be so blessed to have my children in a school that values this book? I shed happy tears.

Oh, and the third graders? My daughter stood with them last year and sang out the stanzas of “Christmas Bells” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. A new crop performed the poem this year. It includes these memorable lines:

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:

“God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;

The Wrong shall fail,

The Right prevail,

With peace on earth, good-will to men.”

Merry Christmas, all.

Hunter Baker is a professor at Union University and the author of The System Has a Soul.


Lee Edwards

My wife Anne and I are blessed to receive a special gift each year when our grandchildren decorate our Christmas tree, with Stephen stringing the lights; Zachary, Christopher, Magdaline, and Catherine hanging the ornaments; Genevieve arranging the crèche, and Joseph placing the angel on the tiptop of our tree, all of them smiling and laughing and bringing the spirit of Christmas into our hearts.   

 Lee Edwards is distinguished fellow in conservative thought at the Heritage Foundation.

John Ondrasik

Since my baby boy was born, every Christmas we wrap him snuggly in Christmas paper while snapping pictures under our tree. There is no better gift! The fact that at 15 he still grudgingly allows our annual tradition speaks to Johnny being more nice than naughty.

For me, Christmas exudes gratitude and humility. How fortunate we are to live in these times, in this free nation. Whatever our problems, we are the lucky ones. Merry Christmas to all!

John Ondrasik is a singer and songwriter.

Kelly Monroe Kullberg

Each December, a few hundred Harvard students and friends pack into the Dunster House dining hall and sing Handel’s “Messiah,” together. We push aside the heavy tables, rearrange chairs, and grab a songbook as we enter. Some students unpack violins and trumpets likely untouched since high school. The dining hall smells of cider and doughnuts. The conductor corrales, cajoles and sometimes stops and restarts a song until we find our places and voices.

It delighted me to see the diversity of students gathered, most of whom did not normally come to Christian events. Some are Jewish. Some are secular. Some are Christian. And we’d sing:

All we like sheep have gone astray. We have turned every one to his own way. And the Lord hath laid on Him the iniquity of us all. (Isaiah 53:6)

As a rule, people do not likely spend a few hours singing aloud unmeant words, the week before exams no less. Beyond cider, doughnuts and an experience of culture, something about this moment seemed too good  . . . to be false. Something about the music simply rings true. It is true to the Messiah for whom Harvard College was founded in 1636,  In Christi Gloriam. It is true to the return of the same King, before whom every knee will bow.

The kingdom of this world; is becomethe kingdom of our Lord,
and of His Christ,
and of His Christ. And He shall reign for ever and ever.

Kelly Monroe Kullberg is founder of  the Veritas Forum and the America Conservancy. She is a co-author of Finding God at Harvard.


Ed Morrissey

In one sense, I feel blessed because I have so many treasured Christmas memories. We had great Christmases as kids, and even as adults we never really lost that sense of joy. The best Christmases, though, have come from having our granddaughters with us. It is terribly prosaic to say, but the closest to having that sense of child-like joy for myself on Christmas is experiencing the joy of our granddaughters. So, every Christmas we get to spend with them becomes our most treasured Christmas.

Ed Morrissey is senior editor at Hot Air.

Michael R. Strain

Four days before I was married my wife’s family and mine were in a pub in the south of England having a thoroughly enjoyable dinner. There was good food – and not just by British standards! — plenty of drink, and the once-in-my-lifetime excitement of watching my soon-to-be bride’s family come together with me and mine. Come together, and explore each other’s cultures; there were people from four continents gathered around those tables. It was wonderful, and it was Christmas Eve.

Three days after Christmas I stood in an ancient church — parts of which are over a thousand years old — and watched my wife walk up the aisle, on her father’s arm, Christmas decorations all around.

I didn’t have low expectations for this moment, but even so I was stunned by its force. I remain as such. Minutes later, “What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.”

What is my most treasured Christmas memory? My redeemer bringing me and my wife together, creating a new family.

On Christmas night, over 2,000 years ago, a bright flash of light brought hope to a weary, broken world. That miracle replays itself every day, perhaps especially on Christmas. It was vivid for me during my Christmas wedding.

Michael R. Strain is resident scholar and deputy director of economic policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute.


Terry Polakovic

It has been over 20 years, but for as long as I live, it will always be my most memorable Christmas. At the time, I was the associate director for a homeless shelter that served single women and families. I was married with two children, ages three and five. Our family always enjoyed working at the shelter on Christmas.

That year, I arrived at the shelter early, knowing that my family would soon follow. Shortly after I arrived, the doorbell rang. Upon opening the door, I found a man in his mid-thirties standing before me. He asked to come in.

My mind started racing. He was a stranger, a single man, alone on Christmas morning. I must have stared at him for what seemed like an eternity because he finally said, “I am an alcoholic, and I cannot be alone.”

With that, I opened the door, invited him in, and offered him a cup of coffee. For the next several hours, he entertained the children with an unlimited number of card tricks. Then suddenly he arose, thanked me for the hospitality, and left.

On that day, I saw Jesus Christ, in the flesh.

— Terry Polakovic is president of Endow.


James Lileks

Can’t think of a bad Christmas. If there was one that made a bid for . . . memorable, it was the year I had to assemble some pink plastic thing for Daughter. A Hello Kitty castle, I think. Before you could put it together you had to get it out of the packaging, which had been assembled with strenuous cruelty by Chinese robots. The idea that Dad might be required to liberate the constituent elements of The Happiest Pinkest Cutest Palace Ever! at 7:00 a.m. while he was unshaven, unwashed, insufficiently caffeinated, and facing a long day that would contain a parade of relatives and the inevitable kitchen calamity when wife and her sister disagreed over gravy or something — well. It convinced you no dad was involved in the creation of this box, because it not only had screws holding the parts together in the box, but they were glued screws. If you walked into the kitchen and decided to Irish up your coffee, your wife might ask what you were doing.

“Glued screws,” you’d say. “Glued. Screws.”

It’s gone now — Goodwill first and landfill later, along with all the other pink plastic knock-out marquee toys. Daughter wants sensible things and art supplies.

But a few days before Christmas this year there was nothing under the tree. For one thing, we have a new dog. He is a fine sensible hound, but he has a pup’s curiosity, particularly about things that exist on his plane. For another thing, Christmas was something happening elsewhere to other people. Maybe for us; depended. We’ll see how things go.

Depended on how it went after the tubes came out.

Father-in-law called a few weeks ago, asked how things were, and said by the way, seems I had a heart attack, and I’m in the hospital. They cracked him open a day later and augured out the accumulation of fine living. The operation went well. He had a stroke. Electronic scans of his brain showed a map of a vast and unpopulated terrain. The children all made plane reservations; the children assembled. Bedside vigils.

Behind the scenes his brain went to work. You know how it is when your phone app tells you the road’s closed, and suggests alternate routes? While the machines beeped and the ventilator worked like a bellows on a guttering fire, the electricity beneath the bone paved new routes. A few days ago he smiled at a picture of his beloved little dog; then he counted to ten; then he formed a word. Then he recognized speech. Then he told a child he loved her. He’s in there. He’s climbing out.

There are presents under the tree now.

One more note: My father-in-law was greatly pleased when I started writing for National Review. Your daughter marries a writer, you never know how that’s going to turn out. But I’d been steadily employed in my trade, and perhaps he unclenched after ten or fifteen years. National Review, though, that meant something. He was a subscriber. Ever since he bought an issue and thought this was something he wanted to support.

The first issue. He’s been with us ever since.

— James Lileks is a columnist for National Review Online.


Matthew Mehan

I recall the placement of the Christ-child on Christmas Eve. My mom and dad, with all the children, would sing “Silent Night,” place the baby Jesus in the crèche as we harmonized together, and then eggnog and homemade cookies and more singing. When that little baby Jesus was finally laid in our little manger scene, Christmas had finally begun!

Matthew Mehan is a high-school teacher in Northern Virginia.

John Stonestreet

Just last Christmas, my grandfather, 93 years old and failing in health to the point that he could barely get out of his chair, pulled himself up to the piano and played carols for my three daughters one final time. He was a brilliant musician who would play for us every year, but this particular year is indelibly imprinted in my memory. Three months later, he passed away.

John Stonestreet is a speaker and fellow at the Chuck Colson Center for Christian Worldview and senior content advisor at Summit Ministries.


Hans von Spakovsky

My most treasured Christmas memories are of the traditional Christmas Eve dinners we had in my family’s childhood home. It was a crowded table with my two brothers, two sisters, and my grandmother, who lived with us the whole time I was growing up. And it grew more crowded as the years went by and we started bringing our girlfriends, boyfriends, wives, husbands, and eventually grandchildren to the table.

Those dinners were full of love, companionship, warmth, laughs, and discussions about history, politics, art, science, culture, and the reasons we were celebrating a very special holiday. The table was filled to overflowing with all of the traditional foods and dishes from the German and Russian backgrounds of my mother and father, something I have tried to recreate in my own home. My grandmother, my mother, and my father are now all gone from this life, but I look back on those days with great fondness  – and I look forward to the day when we will once again all be gathered around another table in a better place, laughing, talking, and celebrating Christmas together again.

 Hans von Spakovsky is manager of the Election Law Reform Initiative and senior legal Fellow at the Heritage Foundation.


David French

Diyala Province, Iraq, Christmas Day 2008.

I was blessed to grow up in a home that was more loving than the most blissful Norman Rockwell painting, so my Christmas memories are of one joyful season after another, with all the best elements of the season: Christmas Eve services, excited Christmas mornings, and time with grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins.

I treasure all those memories, and I treasure my parents — whose love and faith built such a happy home and whose love and faith I’ve always sought to imitate when I became a husband and father.

But my most treasured Christmas memory came far away, during the toughest year of my life — deployed with Second Squadron, “Sabre Squadron,” Third Armored Cavalry Regiment.

It’s hard to describe the loneliness of a Christmas deployed. If you’re lucky you can hear your family’s voices for only a few moments, and Christmas Day — and every day — is uncertain, nerve-wracking, and occasionally terrifying (at least for this lawyer).

But it’s also hard to describe the brotherhood, the bond with the men around you. (I was deployed with a combat unit, so it was all-male.) I will always remember Christmas night, in the dining facility at Forward Operating Base Caldwell, surrounded by my new brothers. We didn’t reflect much on Christmas, and we didn’t talk much about the mission. We did what we always did: laughed.

We laughed at each other, at the absurdities we encountered on a daily basis, and even at our own miseries.

It might sound strange, but I often think about those times, and I miss them. I miss those moments, and I miss those guys — the best men I’ve ever known.

Merry Christmas, and to the men of Sabre Squadron – Brave Rifles!

— David French is an attorney and a veteran of the Iraq War.


Lila Rose

Attending midnight Mass for the first time with my family. Many in my family (including myself) are converts, and about five years ago we all attended the midnight Mass together for the first time as Catholics. The church was Our Lady of Peace in Santa Clara, and it was packed past capacity — standing room only. Being with my most loved ones, at the holiest time of year, being able to receive the Eucharist together, and celebrate the birth of Jesus in the first and earliest hours of Christmas Day, was an incredible joy. I am so happy to be with them again this year!

— Lila Rose is president of Live Action.

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