I love, love, love this time of year. Underneath all the last-minute Christmas-shopping frenzy that pits Mom against Grandma going fist-to-cuff over that last Cabbage Patch Kid on the shelf (Whoa, got lost in the 80s there, sorry.) lies a blanket of peace sprinkled with the magic of childlike wonder.
As I’m thinking about everything I want to do with my boys before Christmas arrives, I can’t help but relive some Christmas memories of my own.
The Christmas tree has always held a special fascination with me. The day after Thanksgiving we’d beg Mom to let us drag out the dilapidated boxes from the back of the closet, and we were always answered with “After you help me get this house picked up!” Talk about motivation! My two sisters and I would have the place slicked up in no time. (I’m sure Mom wondered why we weren’t that efficient the other 364 days of the year.) When it was time to drag (and I mean, literally drag) out the boxes, we’d put on our go-to Christmas music: Johnny Mathis. And not the CD, you young’uns, or even an 8-track. The record. Yeah, we’re talking vinyl, baby!
I could’ve done without the next part, though: actually putting together the artificial tree. It wasn’t like the trees today that seem to practically put up themselves, lights and all. No, it was a jumble of branches that seemed to fit everywhere and nowhere at the same time. It never went together right on the first try, and sometimes I think some minor swearing may have been involved. But when it was finally up and looked at least somewhat symmetrical, it was—the lights and garland. Which involved plugging in a billion different strings of lights just to find that none of them worked, OR winding a long string around and around and around the tree and finding that only half of the string lights up. Then we’d have to take those little teensy-weensy light bulbs and try Every. Single. Light. until we found the one that was burned out. It was a true test of patience, that’s for sure!
Next, the moment we had been waiting for—the ornaments! The glorious
incredibly expensive and exquisitequite cheap and somewhat tacky—but dear to us—ornaments. My favorite was always this little one I made when I was 4 at my grandparents’ church. It was made out of one “cup” of an egg carton and was filled with cotton and a deer. I’m not really sure, thinking back, why we had a deer and not a reindeer or even baby Jesus, but it was still my special treasure. Then there were the other “lovelies” made by us girls, along with the various ornaments that had been given to my mom over the years from her fourth-grade students. Yeah, there were some beauties, but we had to hang them on the tree nonetheless. Because if we weren’t going to give them a loving home, who would?
After the tree and the ornaments were up, Mom would carefully put out our Nativity scene that she had made in her “ceramics” class. (How late 70s is that?!) We loved to see it on the mantle in all its glazed glory. I used to spend time just gazing at it and acting out the scene, sometimes, I’m sure, adding in a Strawberry Shortcake doll or Wonder Woman.
Then it was on to the stockings. Every year, right before I’d hang mine on its trusted nail, i’d stick my arm all the way in and feel clear down to the toe, hoping to find something that I had missed last year. Unfortunately, it never happened. I was always too thorough in my stocking-dumping.
After all the decorations were up, I loved being in my house at night. When all the lights were shut off and only the colorful lights on the tree filled the room. I remember lying under the tree on more than one occasion, and looking up through the branches at all the decorations. Sometimes I’d even play under there, pretending Barbie or one of my Weeble Wobbles (but they don’t fall down) lived in the branches and visited the bird or the toy soldier or the gingerbread man who lived nearby. I think I even asked Mom if I could sleep under the tree. Can you say—obsessed?
Christmas Eve was always about more than my anxiety-riddled little mind could handle! Who could go to sleep knowing that SANTA was going to arrive and bring all kinds of fabulous gifts?! I mean, really! Inevitably, my sisters and I would all end up in one room about 3:45 AM, and we’d lie in bed together, making shadow puppets on the wall and talking about what we thought Santa would bring. And we would stalk the clock like—like—well, like stalkers, I guess, until 6:00, when we could FINALLY run in Mom and Dad’s room, jump on their bed, and shriek them out of their sweet slumber.
But for me, and for my sisters too, I believe, it wasn’t about the gifts. It was about the tradition and the togetherness and the magic. Dragging out the present opening by waiting our turn and savoring each gift. Seeing the look on Mom’s face when Dad said, every year, “Wait, I think there’s ONE MORE GIFT out on the porch…” and he’d bring in something for Mom like a new vacuum cleaner or a rocking chair or some weird harp/keyboard-like instrument that I never quite understood…
It was about being in a warm house on a snowy day with no agenda or expectations except just being together.
It’s what I want for my boys.