My cherished Christmas memories
So many decades on this earth. So much has changed. Yet so many emotions stay the same. This is…My Merry Memoir…
Christmas has always been one of my most favorite times of the year. The furthest back I can remember, circa age four, the local mall had, of course, Santa Claus, but also…TWO REINDEER. Not live reindeer. But to me, they may as well have been. I can still envision their smiling, plushy faces with heads that turned, welcoming eyes that blinked, and mouths that moved and…spoke! Yes, I repeat: SPOKE! And not only did they speak, but either through my excessive visits or magic or perhaps through a little birdie, they knew my name! Every. Time. And I knew theirs. A boy and a girl. What were those marvelous monikers, you ask? I cannot remember. But it doesn’t even matter. The impression they left upon me is priceless and timeless.
The Christmas Party
Then there was the annual Christmas party at “the union hall” for my dad’s employer. He was an IBEW (International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers) electrician, and each year, his “local” would hold a Christmas party for all the electricians’ families. Santa would make a visit to the party and deliver one gift to each child. I had a house full of toys, yet I always got butterflies from the excited anticipation of unwrapping and unveiling what special gift I would receive that year at that party. Eventually, when I grew up, no longer was I attending the parties, but I was joining my father in going on the annual shopping trip to Kmart to buy and later wrap all the gifts for the new generations of electricians’ children and grandchildren. Dad is now retired, and all the grandchildren are grown. The tree platform is still one he made by hand, but much smaller, and now home to a pre-lit artificial tree.
And the yearly trip with Gram P. to see the local production of “The Nutcracker.” We would get all dressed up in our fancy clothes. It was majestic. Until it wasn’t, and one year, in the infinite ignorance of a child, either I or one of my young relatives brashly blurted out, “Again?!” To which my Gram angrily replied, “Well if you don’t want to go, we won’t!” Little did we know that what was starting to feel like a dreaded task was really a gift. A gift well beyond the four corners of a show ticket. And eventually, long after we outgrew the wanderlust, history would repeat itself, and as an adult, I would go back to see that same production of “The Nutcracker” at the same college theater again and again. It was a gift of a LifeBook. These days, I have an all-time bucket list, and you can bet your ballerina that seeing “The Nutcracker” at Lincoln Center in New York City is on that list. Gram is 99 now.
Each year, The Wish Book would come out from Sears: “The original holiday books were thick — easily more than 400 pages.” I would spend hours and hours poring over every page, carefully flipping to and fro, back and forth, as I meticulously wrote out my Christmas list for family members such as my paternal grandmother, Gram S., as well as for Santa. Pages and pages. So many items. So many sheets of paper. Written and rewritten, edited and redone, obsessively working to make sure I didn’t miss one detail and that it was just perfect. So much so that Mom casually asked me if I could mark my favorites, a request I was only happy to honor, as I’m never short on words and feedback…and still a perpetual editor to this day. Gram S. passed away when I was in college.
When we were little, we would go out to the tree farm each December and tag our tree. Weeks later, when it was finally time, we would cut down the tree ourselves and put it up into a tree stand that was custom-made by an ironworker friend of Dad. The gigantic tree would sit, adorned only with unlit lights, atop the bare platform Dad had made by hand. I can remember coming down the steps each year and being absolutely dumbfounded at the miracle in front of me. You see, at our house, for Christmas, Santa not only delivered gifts to us but somehow, he also decorated the entire tree and platform. The dark and naked tree was transformed, now glowing with lights, ornaments, and more tinsel than you ever saw in your whole life. The barren platform was now blanketed with an entire snowy miniature village, complete with an electric train that circled the village–five cars in total, just like the number of people in our family; the engine even blew smoke and had a whistle.
Never did we realize that we received Christmas gifts from our cousins, grandparents, and friends, but never from our parents. Never did the meaning of “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus” ever dawn on me until well into adulthood. Never did we hear even the tiniest peep of fatigue from either our parents. Mom, who worked the 3pm-11pm shift as an ICU (Intensive Care Unit) nurse, is also retired, but still volunteers as a nurse at the local free clinic.
As we grew older and wiser to Santa’s secrets, traditions would change, and we would often attend Christmas Midnight Mass. The sovereign sound of the choir could be felt in your heart and literally, through your body. Song Of The Stable still brings tears to my eyes. Gram S. was in that choir, and while, no doubt, she has some effects of dementia, still belts out every word to every Christmas carol each year at the holiday party at the nursing home where she resides.
It is quite the storybook life, right? No one has a perfect autobiography. Yes, there were arguments and tough times and hard feelings and losses and missed opportunities. But mine is a lucky life, no doubt. And my story has many chapters yet to unfold and be told.
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