The story of a tablecloth on Christmas Eve

I remember back to our third Christmas without my mom. We were having Christmas at our house, and my sister was coming over. A few days before, she handed me my mom’s Christmas tablecloth, the white one with the embroidered trees on it. All folded up neat and compact like an American flag being passed on with great reverence to the family of a deceased soldier. She asked me to use it on Christmas Eve. “Of course,” I said, and swallowed hard; and my kids asked, “Why?”

“Tradition,” she replied. And with just a word she gathered a lifetime of memories and transferred them into my arms.

I ironed the tablecloth that day. Steamed and pressed it right on the squeaky ironing board that used to be my mom’s. The one with the blue cover with green polka dots. And I wondered if there’s a lot of blue and green in heaven, because those were her favourite colours. As the hot metal slid over the white cloth, I saw the stories, forever stained right there into the fabric. The purple wax stains from the advent candles, the ones we lit every Sunday in December. And a pink candle stain, for that third week, the week of joy. I always thought it was strange that three candles were purple and only one was pink, and I found myself wondering still, even as I ironed.

Memories ingrained

Normally when I see stains on clothes that have found their way to the ironing board, I avoid them at all costs, careful not to let the heat sear the stain into the fabric and deem it irremovable. But not that time. That time I found myself purposely pressing harder where the yellowed oil stained the white, and I smiled as I thought about the sputtering oil in the fondue pots that got too hot and popped right over the edge. And how year after year we lit cans of Sterno and argued over which colour fondue sticks we got to have, and then forgot which sticks were ours. I ironed over the purple wax spots and wondered where that wreath is now, and thought about how that day we’d be so close to lighting that centre white candle.

But we’re still waiting.

But my mom, she’s right there in the middle of it all, right in the centre of the circle, where the pure white candle is always lit.

She doesn’t have to wait anymore.

A tear slips off my cheek and lands on the tablecloth, and I just iron over it, adding a salty stain to the story. And I think about what it must be like to be in a place where there are no stains, no blemishes, no wrinkles to be ironed out. This Christmas Eve, we’ll once more add to the stains and the story of the tablecloth, and we’ll light the candles, and we’ll wait. We’ll wait for the newborn King to come again and carry us home, “without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish.”

Come Lord Jesus, come.

This article first appeared at

By | 2019-11-19T12:51:49+02:00 November 17th, 2019|Celebrate|0 Comments

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