Opinion: A veteran’s thoughts about Christmas Eve

As I sit now in my living room, listening to Christmas songs, my mind drifts back many years as I recall our practices on Christmas Eve.

In our denomination we didn’t eat meat on Christmas Eve before church services. My mother usually made fish cakes using Gorton’s shredded cod in a can. She added mashed potatoes, onion, celery and various spices and then made patties and fried them. My father loved the fish cakes with canned Franco American spaghetti. The rest of us had either baked beans, baked lima beans or macaroni and cheese with our fish cakes.

After the meal we went to church.

Our church service was simple. We sang some Christmas hymns. Then the pastor read the Christmas story from the scripture and then finally the lights dimmed and the little candles we held in our hands were lit to the strains of “Silent Night.” Our Prince of Peace had arrived.

We went home from church to a feast of ham and other meats, salads and a dizzying display of baked goods

Some Christmas Eves later would find me sitting in a fox hole outpost or listening post. All I had was a field telephone to warn the machine gun nest 100 yards behind me if the enemy was infiltrating or approaching.

This night was cold and clear. There was no activity.

The night was dark and the sky was clear. Periodically a meteorite would streak across the sky. I thought I saw a sled being pulled by reindeer and  constellation with a star headed to Bethlehem. Of course these were figments of my imagination.

Then, around midnight, I was enveloped by a comforting warmth. In later years that warmth would visit me when my children or grandchildren snuggled next to me. I know now it is the comforter, promised by our God.

Yes, there are no atheists in a foxhole.

Richard A. Pender is senior vice commander of North Brunswick American Legion Post 459. He writes the occasional historical column for Newspaper Media Group. He can be reached at rapender@netzero.net