Welcome Christmas

Posted by on Dec 12, 2010 in Holidays | 3 comments

I waited in line at the Beaver Dam Deposit Bank for what seemed like hours to get my few minutes sitting on the lap of a suspicious looking man in a red suit and fake whiskers. He gave me a candy cane and asked me if I had been a good little girl all year. I had been full of conversation at the beginning of the line, but I became more and more anxious and hushed as my turn approached. I mentally scanned back through the past year, like the dead approaching the seat of judgment. It would do no good to lie, since he “knew when I was sleeping, and he knew when I was awake”. Faltering for an eternity in his flannel lap, I could not utter one word in my defense. I tentatively nodded my head in the affirmative at his question, hoping he had been looking at some other child when I stole the spoonful of icing from the bowl in the refrigerator, or stuffed toys under my bed instead of putting them away where they belonged. Clutching my peppermint tightly, I headed back to our Pontiac with a guilty conscious, wondering if some other family member, perhaps my older sister, who was behind me in line, had spilled the beans. She acted nonchalant, but I wasn’t sure, so I resolved to be as good as gold for the 10 remaining days before December 25, just in case she had said something, and he was checking for himself. Little did I know she had her own guilty secrets, one of which included finding the hiding place for Santa’s private stash, high up in the living room closet.

That Saturday afternoon we decorated the house with golden electric lights in the windows, and a pungent sweet cedar tree that arrived like magic from somewhere, perhaps my Grandfather’s farm in Echols. My Dad and brother were in charge of making it stand straight and sturdy in the window, right beside our front door. I don’t remember which year Kurt had tried to even up the branches, cutting first from the front, then the back, till they had to wire limbs back on the tree to make it presentable. Mom told the story so often it has passed into the lore of Christmas. My brother was responsible for the electrical aspects of the tree in those pre female liberation days, when work was divided by gender. He went carefully through the bubble lights to make sure each bulb in the series was working, removing them one at a time and working down the string till it came to life. Mother was the decorator, positioning the lights evenly around the tree, and nestling the glass ornaments carefully on the strongest branches. My sister an I were allowed to add the icicles, one at a time, till the plain green shrub was transformed into a fairyland tree. It was my job to hang the efficiently abbreviated “Merry Xmas” wreath from the front door, till several years later when Mother read an article stating that the shortened greeting “took the Christ out of Christmas”. Since none of us were schooled in ancient Greek, it languished in the attic ever after, less anyone mistake us for a nest of unbelievers.

My mother had a simple and unfailing faith that sustained her, and all of her family during her lifetime. A child of the depression who lived through the Great War, she totally embraced both the spiritual and material side of the Christmas season, with a combination of faith and patriotism. In my mind Santa and Jesus often converged into one concept, an all seeing, all knowing, and loving father figure, who rewarded good and punished evil. On one Christmas morning, long before dawn, my brother, sister, and I tiptoed through the house, knowing it was too soon to disturb Mom and Dad. Standing in the still dark kitchen, my brother noticed the beautiful night sky outside the window and pointed out a brilliant star that was high in the sky. Awestruck, we all agreed that it had to be the same Star of Bethlehem that foretold the birth of Jesus. I found no inconsistency in believing it was now shining to guide Santa on his way. My faith in Santa transitioned seamlessly into a belief in God, just as my parents planned. I remember the Christmas when I asked my Mom if there really was a Santa. I was about 6 and she was hanging ornaments on the tree. She had her answer ready, but was unprepared to give up the Santa fantasy for her last child. “There is a spirit of Christmas”, she replied, unable to meet my eyes. I took it quite manner of fact, pleased that I had been let into the adult’s inner circle. I still pretended belief for a while, just like my youngest child did years later, sitting out the milk and cookies, with a carrot for the reindeer, hedging our bets on the chance that he was real.

Even though I was youngest, and the last to let go of the fabric of fantasy, we were still always awake at dawn, probably only hours after our parents had finished putting the last tab A into opening C1, C2 and C3. We were allowed to tiptoe through the dark living room and see dimly what Santa had left, but only to pick up our stockings from the mantle and scurry back to our beds. Stockings were candy, nuts and citrus fruit, and an occasional tiny toy, just enough to entice us for the frenzy of unwrapping, and the amazing Christmas breakfast that followed. My parents always strained their budgets in those early years to make sure we had an abundance of everything. We were oblivious to their struggle, because money was not an open topic of discussion in our home. Our gifts were not expensive, but they were chosen with love and care. In that pre-electronic age, it was easy to believe that they came straight from Santa’s workshop. My little set of metal dishes looked like they could have been made by elves, and my doll house with the printed wallpaper and doors, and hard melamine furniture, obviously came straight from the north pole. My gifts were stylized, tiny ironing boards, stoves, dust mops and nurse’s kits, while my brother got chemistry sets, wood burning tools, and cars. One memorable year my parents caved in to my constant begging and gave me a train set with an engine that puffed real smoke. My Dad and I played with it for hours, but oddly enough I have no memory of what my brother or sister did during that time.

Back years and miles away from those childhood memories, I plan for my adult children’s holiday homecoming. Many of the same traditions I have established with them came from the treasured early days of my life. None of them have had the experience of becoming Santa, but someday I hope for them that they take that most humbling, exhausting, and rewarding journey. I know they will take the best of their childhood, like I did, and make their own traditions. My newest daughter told me that she got a little tree for their Seattle apartment and waited for my son to find time to trim it with her. After days passed with no help forthcoming, he finally told her he was waiting for the cookies and eggnog that you have to have to put the ornaments on the tree. She succumbed and searched the internet for recipes for elf drops and peppermint sandwiches, thus sealing her fate as a future keeper of the Christmas torch. I hope he will be just as accommodating when she honors her own family’s traditions. We all have our nostalgia about childhood memories and some are certainly worth keeping like the Christmas tree trimming party, but I am happy with the modern holiday that is less guilt ridden than the 1950’s. I would not wish for any child to lie awake wondering if their stocking will be filled with lumps of coal, because of some normal childish mischief. If you go seeking the true meaning of Christmas, I wish you luck. I for one will content myself with the spirit of Christmas I have come to believe. A jolly elf all clothed in red is a delightful part of childhood fantasy, and if Christians wish to intersperse the birth of Christ with the winter solstice, I will hold my tongue and ignore the guilt trip they try to impose. As anyone who has read Dr Susse knows, the true joy of the season is in family, sharing, and spending time together. All the Whos in Whoville were right; no Grinch can steal the Christmas you keep in your heart.

3 Comments

  1. oh, thank you, thank you. This season I’ve found myself feeling that the holiday is no longer mine, now that belief has waned. but it CAN still be for me, can’t it? thank you…

  2. You say the sweetest things and yes, we can make it our own, even if we no longer believe in uh, Santa.

  3. truly a wonderful Christmas selection taking me back and holding me in the present. thank you for wanting to speak to the world through your wrting, it almost seems effortless but we all know there is great effort.

    Merry and Happy

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