‘Tis the season


I took a very informal poll. I asked ‘What is your favorite Christmas memory?’.

So I’d like you to share.

I’ve heard about the favorite toy – the one that meant as much as a BB gun meant to Ralphie.

I’ve heard about how a child learned that there is no Santa Claus – several different versions.

I’ve heard about food, a bit. But people always talk to me about food.

I’ve heard from people who don’t celebrate Christmas, but still have stories.

In the spirit of sharing, here are some of my memories.

Back in the ’50s, we could decorate our tree with plastic icicles – the kind that you exposed to sunlight, and then they glowed all night. I don’t know how those were made, but fear they were something we’d never allow now. The gentle blue glow was something, though, and I’m sure they were more reliable than electric lights or candles (both of which adorned our tree in different years).

One year, sometime before I was 9, the teacher in my class (or was it my brother’s?) gave us the class tree – unadorned, but still, our own Christmas tree. Some years my parents hadn’t gotten around to putting up a tree much before Christmas Eve, so this was a treat. We kept this tree in our bedroom (all of us were young enough to share a bedroom – something pretty unheard of, now). I don’t remember the tree my parents chose, but I do remember lying in bed, looking at the tree in our bedroom.

Everyone in my family sang – some sang very well. My eldest brother had perfect pitch; my second brother’s voice was true; my father was a lyric tenor and my mother a mezzo soprano. By the time my brothers’ voices changed, we all had out parts down – mine was alto. We’d go Christmas shopping, and we’d sing in the car all the carols we knew – and some we were learning.

We took that musical desire further. The scout troupe to which my brothers belonged would go caroling at ‘the old people’s home’. We don’t have such things now – preferring assisted living and nursing homes – but I remember that we never practiced, and that the people in wheel chairs and beds always seemed so happy to have children making noise.

Christmas is – for me – more about giving than getting. We made presents for our grandmother; we baked and gave away plates of cookies and candies. The making of things was my reward; I never wondered, as a child, whether the gifts would be welcome.

By the time I was 10, we were living in a different house, and each of us had a bedroom. My eldest brother was most excited about Christmas, and he started us ‘training’ for Christmas by helping us stay up all night for weeks in advance. He marked the stairs with chalk, so we could learn which parts of the treads squeaked. The goal was to get to the tree early.

And yes, my parents knew, and yes, they told us to go to sleep and refused to get up at 1 minute past midnight so we could open our presents. (I think they didn’t always have them wrapped much before midnight, anyway.)

In the spirit of giving, close your eyes, find a good memory, relive it and then share it. With a friend, a family member, or the world. Whether you think about the smell of cinnamon, the taste of anise, the sound of the bells, or the feeling of inclusion – or being different – those memories are gifts you can give.

I wish you all a merry and happy day.

Sometimes I close my eyes, and hear my father’s voice soar through a solo of ‘O Holy Night’.

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