It’s funny how what Christmas “is” has changed me as I get older. Like most others, Christmas as a kid for me was about Christmas morning. It was about what I was going to get. It was about that big box with the Millennium Falcon, or those smaller boxed with that year’s Mario Brothers game. It’s funny, though, looking back at all those years when I was a kid, I don’t exactly remember all the presents I got, except for those few.
Here are a few of the things I do remember, though, which I think will illustrate what Christmas is to me now:
Christmas Eve (night) service at our little Methodist church in my hometown. Average attendance on a random Sunday morning was in the eighties or nineties (I know this because my best friend’s grandfather Emil used to count parishioners each Sunday). On Christmas Eve, though, they had to open the double doors that separated the sanctuary from one of the Sunday School classrooms. This was the church version of “standing room only”.
I remember getting dressed in the new Christmas outfit (most likely a fetching silk shirt in those days), feeling like George Clooney must feel every day. I was a lady killer, I tell ya. In church at least, though I never did get a date out of it. The ladies were most likely too shy, I’m sure.
Christmas night after church was always special. My parents always had a cool treat waiting for us to eat, home made cheeseball and crackers, or some peanut bark and some meltaways. We’d stay up a bit and watch television, us kids knowing Christmas was only a slumber away, and also knowing this slumber would be nearly impossible due to the excitement.
My sister and I would sleep in the same room, partly because it was TRADITION(!) and partly so one would know exactly when the other was awake so we could formulate our gameplan in getting the parents to wake. It was the strict rule in our household that no presents could be opened until the entire family was around the tree. This rule was, in fact, never broken.
I used to make “comic books” to read to my sister on Christmas Eve night. I’d compile comics from the comics page of the local newspaper, selecting only the best and Garfield, Peanuts, and Calvin and Hobbes comics for my book. I’d glue them to construction paper and then staple them into a booklet. This was also TRADITION, and I did it for many years, possibly well past the time she really wanted me to do this. Still, TRADITION(!).
Christmas morning was CHRISTMAS MORNING, thanks to the generosity of my parents. This requires a whole other post. I will note here that the most agonizing Christmas mornings were the ones where the big day fell on Sunday. This was rough because we’d open our gifts then immediately have to get ready for church. Church on those days was the longest 45 minutes of a kid’s life, because you’d sit there thinking about all the cool new stuff you got but couldn’t play with because you were in church!
I remember Christmas lunch at my great Aunt Sandy’s house. Looking back, I took these most for granted. I mean look, it was a huge feast, for free, with all my family, my Grandma was still alive, and we got to exchange more gifts after everybody was done eating. One of the bits I underestimated the most was Cookie-ocolypse in the downtime between meals. Each family would make several different types of cookies and bring them to my aunt’s house. Then they’d put them on the table and swap. It’s no exaggeration when I say there had to be a thousand cookies there. All homemade. It was TRADITION.
The next day, or a couple days later we’d always drive out to see my other Grandma and my aunts and uncles and cousins out near Pittsburgh. I’d always hate to leave home because we were leaving our new gifts behind and also because it was a 4 hour car ride. Of course when it was time to come home from my Grandma’s house I’d always be in tears when we were leaving because I knew I’d miss everyone.
I remember how when we would get to my Grandma’s house she’d always give me a hug and tell me how handsome I was. Her eyesight was failing, but I believed her just the same. I’m sure it embarrassed me at the time but boy do I miss this.
I remember how she used to never herself sit at the table to eat until the rest of use were done eating our “bowties” and chicken and broccoli (boiled and sprinkled with lemon). No wonder she’d fall asleep in her chair, watching television with us at night.
I could go on and on with the things I remember about Christmas. Maybe I will some other day. Those of you who have made it this far in this post, I commend you. And I ask of you this:
Have a Merry Christmas. Why don’t you, for me, give all your loved ones a little bit longer squeeze when you give them a hug. Just because you can. I know I will mine.