Christmas – do you remember your first Christmas?
Likely you don’t.
But you certainly remember an early-life Christmas.
Think back: carols were being played in elevators and in stores; store windows were replete with twinkling lights; mannequins were dressed in red and green; in one window, there was a little model train running around; you asked your mum or dad for a dollar bill to put in the kettle swinging on a tripod outside the store door; you stood in the cold (in Canada) watching a parade of decorated cars and majorettes twirling batons, all the while waiting excitedly for Santa to arrive in a sleigh pulled by horses; you couldn’t wait for Christmas Day to arrive when you knew Santa will have left presents under the tree. Oh, yes, but before that, the whole family drove out to a Christmas tree farm and much discussion – and sometimes sibling argument – ensued concerning the merits of this tree versus that tree. Jenny preferred this tree, as it was definitely bigger than Shar’s tree, which was very symmetrical, whereas Darryl’s looked like a Charlie Brown tree and Tanis was shouting for us to come and look at her tree. Tara sat in the stroller wondering what all the commotion was.
The great day was still so far away, it was impossible to wait for such a long time. Kindergarten stopped, so that meant you didn’t have to go to Kindergarten and that meant Santa would slink in one night, just a couple of days and nights away.
Christmas Eve came and off to church to sing carols and thank Jesus for coming at last – golly, it was a long wait, but now it was His birthday and then…….
………. mum and dad took us all home and said, it’s time to go to bed. You had to get to sleep early or Santa wouldn’t come. That was a real threat.
But first and last, set a glass of milk , an orange and and some little snack beside the Christmas tree for Santa needed refreshment with all his travelling. Then bed.
Early in the morning when it was still dark, you snuck your hand out from under the sheets and felt around above your head. YES!!!! The empty stocking felt full!!! Oh, what joy!
Although it was dark and maybe getting light, it was allowable to dig into the stocking and find out what Santa had left. All sorts of little things and always some chocolate or other sweet and the very last thing in the toe was an orange. Every year, an orange: why did Santa eat the orange left for him, yet gave one back in the stocking. Weird.
As dawn changed to day, you charged into mum and dad’s bedroom and woke them up, imploring them to hurry up so we could all go to the Christmas tree, under which would be a great big pile of presents. But they took their time. Much time.
Opening presents was such fun, but some Christmases after everyone had opened presents labelled to them, there was no BIG present – until you were told to go and look in the garage (the attached one, not the free-standing one). There might be a new toboggan or a new tricycle, hastily and very arduously put together with some sound effects of nasty words by a dad, who was losing his temper over discovering the wheel should have been put on before the brakes; but you didn’t know that.
By now, there was Christmas wrapping paper all over the place and while mum made the absolutely mandatory eggs Benedict, you had to clean the place up.
The next few hours were occupied by playing with new toys, urging dad to accompany you to the ice rink across the street with your new skates, playing the new board game with dad – mum was busy preparing the Christmas dinner, which was always very sumptuous comprising at least three courses, starting maybe, if you were lucky, with escargots, then goose – never turkey – with roast parsnips and potatoes, peas , broccoli and luscious gravy and, of course, don’t forget those Christmas crackers pulled with a bang, supposedly containing a paper hat, a joke and a little toy. Supposedly, because you might have felt cheated as one of the items was missing – not really, it had just got lost under the table when the cracker was pulled. Then there was dessert, customarily Christmas plum pudding with custard or ice cream. Somewhere after dessert there could have been some Christmas cake or chocolates.
Somewhere, also, after all of the excitement of Christmas Day, including watching a TV show, you started to feel a little sleepy, but trying hard not to let mum or dad see your eyes closing and suddenly popping wide open. Nevertheless, bed beckoned and even though you protested you were not tired, it was off to say prayers and sleep. The sleep of the innocent child.
Christmases haven’t changed much in our house or in our children’s houses, except the whole family cannot get together these days and share the excitement and joy of Christmas. For even as an adult, I still feel the essence of the Christmas season, only wishing they didn’t start filling the stores with Christmas items even before Halloween and playing Christmas carols in the stores as soon as Halloween is over. While there were always Christmas cards strung over the fireplace or propped up on the piano, as I write this, there is one lonely one hung on a string on a beam. Nowadays, particularly with a postal strike which meant thousands of parcels and letters and cards were held up and no-one knew when the strike would end – the Government legislated a temporary end to it – fewer and fewer people are sending cards. We haven’t sent any this year. I’m thinking of sending a message some time before Easter, just to say, I’m not dead, I’m alive and well.
For My Beloved and me, Christmas is still a religious Holy Day, not a holiday. We are still in the church choir, so we sing at a service on Christmas Eve. We rejoice that Christ Jesus was born to save us all from our sins.
Christmas Day, though, remains the same as I have recalled above, this year being celebrated by our eldest daughter and her husband coming from Montreal to join us. She’s the one who’s talking retirement in three years – the one who did not need dad all those years ago to accompany her as she waddled across the street to the rink with her very first pair of skates on and took to the ice by herself as if born to it. We will have our stockings, though not by the bed as of old, but down by the fireplace. And we will have presents under the tree – but not, definitely not, a big pile of them – and we’ll open them while drinking eggnog. With spirit in it, not virgin. And we’ll have those eggs Benedict. And we’ll have a lovely goose for dinner with roast potatoes and parsnips and peas and broccoli, but nowhere near the portions we would have eaten so many years ago. It is possible ur bellies may be super-satiated, so we may have to leave dessert for a few hours. And we’ll say grace and thank God for all the blessings of this life and how we are so fortunate to be able to celebrate Christ’s birthday in total freedom.
So, Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays and a Jolly Good New Year!