The above picture is my brother and I caught digging through the loot under the tree in the mid 50’s.
Christmas was always the final show for the year. I think my parents must have saved up all year to get all this stuff. On the lean years, us boys would get paper toys and on the good years we would get the big things. This looked like a pretty good year with a giant record player, a portable television and a set of drums. Mom always got some big gift like a fur coat, golf clubs, electric organ, or car.
Dad was satisfied in watching us enjoy the process of unwrapping the stuff. Don’t have any recollection of his childhood or how the season was celebrated or not in his house, but watching us overindulge seemed to make his Christmas day.
The tradition was carried over to my little apartment and even with a meager salary there was always a tree and decorations and a few poorly wrapped presents. With a larger house the tree became larger with hand-me-down decorations. With garland wrapped up the staircase and lots of candles, the season became another reason to break out the wine and play music.
Moving to a smaller house, the cards were still mailed and a few presents exchanged until another was part of the picture. Then the Christmas season became my father’s dreams. Christmas became trips to a quaint tourist town, diners under waterfalls by candlelight, shopping sprees that would shake the Rockefellers, suites in plush 5-star hotels, and even a wedding (can’t put that under a tree).
As the family filled with furry critters that didn’t understand pine trees and dangling sparkly balls and flashing lights, the decorations became limited. Having to work on the holiday toned down the early morning festivities to make it just another day.
There were a few surprises. For several years I was asked for a diamond ring. Years before the jewelry did not have to have such value, but it became apparent that a ring with a diamond was desired, even obsessed.
So as the usual boxes sat in a chair and after coffee the handmade cards were read and the colorful paper torn apart to reveal the contents. Since there was no heat many scarves and warm socks and gloves were traded back and forth.
Yet one glove had a special surprise inside. The look of surprise and anticipation was amazing as she reached inside the gray wool glove to find a small black box.
Then I found out what my dad spent all year only to delight in the final presentation.
Christmas day is different than all the other 364 days. All the stores are closed, buses run limited routes, churches have quiet services, and those who have to work would rather be home.
Now I won’t get into the Christmas I dressed up as Santa to deliver presents to a sick boy at home or when I left my family, food and presents to help a friend move.
Instead I will tell you of another special Christmas day. Let me preface this Christmas with a history. At work, the job had changed. The office had changed. The building had changed. A new department, a new title, and overwhelming requirements took over. Days of working 16 to 18 hours became the norm. Fires burnt bright everywhere one turned so there was no thought of Christmas. There was no time for shopping. There was no clue of anything but work.
Christmas eve arrived and I knew I would still be down here tomorrow with a short staff and the same workload. Luckily I was able to sneak out early enough to do a little shopping.
Most stores were already closed so I took the last bus out of downtown and stopped on the way home at a drug store just as it was closing. Now drug stores are not the pharmacies of old. They are mini box stores carrying everything from medicines to toys to soap to those weird things they advertise on television infomercials.
So I grab whatever looked seasonal; some perfume, a sparkly jewelry thing, a watch, some gloves and scarf combination, and a stuffed bear toy. A couple of rolls of wrapping paper and tape and I was on the way home.
Still exhausted from the day, I went into “Mansland” and roughly wrapped the presents for tomorrow. It was more of a chore than a wonderful experience.
The next morning we woke a little earlier to unwrap before I had to go to work. Hot coffee, television and furry critters rustling through the unwrapped papers we opened out limited Christmas pile. She smiled as if each tacky gift was the best but I knew it wasn’t.
Looking back, Christmas was a big day, but almost everyday was Christmas. Themes of cooking and plants and animals and crafts and art and books and videos…. the list goes on and on, were always provided for. Dad would have been proud. I tried to be Santa everyday.
So now as I walk pass all the appliances and books and seasonal delights that I would get a request for, I just smile at the panic on everyone else’s faces. I won’t even purchase a present for myself this year. For Christmas is a different kind of day.
The wassailing to family and friends or playing carols to veterans who didn’t appreciate the effort or Christmas eve deliveries of bird seed to all the neighborhood or hand made cards have faded into history.
Now I get what I always get.
I’ll just follow my usual tradition with a quiet walk in the cold sunshine and bask in the joy of filling hungry faces.