The tree is lit and laden with treasured ornaments. The cookies are baked, their delicious aroma wafting through the house. The gifts are wrapped and ribboned. It’s beginning to look a lot like –
Uh, sorry, but no. At least, not yet. Perhaps by the time you read this I will have everything under control. It seems there are a million things to do, tiny but important details to take care of in preparation for the Big Day, the celebration of the birth of Jesus. It was so much simpler when we were children, wasn’t it?
When I look back upon my childhood I tend to focus on what was best. I grew up in a blue-collar neighborhood in Brockton, Massachusetts, specifically Campello. My father was a cabinet maker and my mother was a data entry operator. I am the eldest of their four children. Christmas was important to us because we were Catholics and my parents raised us in the faith. Each year they made sure to give us a memorable holiday, and my recollections of these special times taught me how to create memorable holidays for my own child. Our Christmas memories are a reflection of our past and a blueprint for our future.
I remember Christmas as a magical time, full of wonder and delight, dreams and wishes. My parents did everything for us, and made sure we had all the fixings of the holiday: the fresh-cut pine tree glittering with lights, tinsel and garland, surrounded by piles of gifts wrapped in shiny paper and bedecked with pretty bows, a feast of roast turkey or ham with all the accompaniments, lasagna, meatballs, and desserts to last a week.
Each holiday was special, filled with love and laughter, the door open to friends and family who shared the holiday with us. We made memories, fuel for the future for when we grew up and spread apart due to marriage and jobs. These memories also helped to buffer the loss of too many of our loved ones who departed this world, including my precious dad. So many of these memories warm my heart, and bring my family closer to me in spirit. I’ll share a few.
Back in the 70’s we didn’t have Black Friday but there were nights when the department stores stayed open until 11 pm. I remember my parents going out late at night to take advantage of sales and bargains. I’d pretend to be asleep when they came home and tried to overhear their conversations about what they bought. They were skillful, though, at hiding presents – my father stored and wrapped them all in his woodworking workshop in the basement.
My brothers and I would be in a frenzy of excitement for weeks, wondering what Santa would bring us, drafting wish lists pages long, watching the old classics Rudolf the Red Nosed Reindeer, Frosty the Snowman, and A Charlie Brown Christmas. One year my brother Vic and I stayed up to watch A Christmas Carol. We were scared to death! But it was so much fun.
There was always snow at Christmas, lots of snow, which was terrific because we needed it to test drive our new sleds. And the swamp at the end of our street kindly froze over enough so we could try out our new skates.
It seemed the holiday break from school was endless, that week between Christmas and New Year’s stretched out as if it would never end while we played with our new games and toys and spent hours outdoors building snow forts, snowmen, and snow angels. But of course it did end, and we returned to school in our new jackets and boots, distracted by thoughts of our Christmas gifts waiting for us at home.
Yes, Christmas was a wonderful, magical time, each precious memory more special as the years go on. That’s why it’s important to build a mountain of memories to sustain ourselves during difficult times or periods of separation. Sometimes our memories are all we have.
May this Christmas be a time of joy, peace and memory making for you and your loved ones!