Like the old grey mare, Christmas “ain’t what it used to be.”
I’ve been thinking about that a lot recently.
Christmas, when I was a child…and remember that was 90 some years ago… was full of Magic. And Joy. And Music. And – well – almost any good emotion you’ve ever experienced.
I think I was about four when Christmas became recognizably special in my world because, by then I was old enough to be taken to see Santa Claus.He showed up at Wanamaker’s Department Store in downtown Philadelphia about three weeks before Christmas and the whole family, mother, father sister and I, went to visit him so we could tell him what wonders we hoped to find under the Christmas tree.
Two very important things I knew. The Santa who showed up at Wanamaker’s was the real, true Santa, and the one at Lit Brother’s was only an elf pretending to be Santa because there could only be ONE Santa but lots of kids couldn’t get to Wanamaker’s so he sent out make-believe, magic men to pretend so nobody would get left out.
On the walk to Santa’s throne in the Wanamaker Court,, there were wonderful scenes of snow-covered cottages in small villages…where people of all ages skated on frozen ponds. Most of the little people skater were VERY good skaters, but every once in a while someone of them would fall down and the boys and girls in line would laugh.
But it was a kind laugh because we really knew no one ever got hurt waiting to talk to Santa.
When it was my turn to tell Santa what I wanted, and this is something my mother told me because I don’t have a big memory of the occasion, I had trouble climbing up on Santa’s lap, and the kids close to me laughed. But it didn’t sound like a kind laugh like the ones for the pretend skaters, so apparently I cried a bit and Santa pulled out a big red handkerchief to dry my eyes and he whispered to me not to worry about the laugh.
As a matter of fact, my mother told me later that Santa whispered to her that he would give me an extra present for being a brave girl. I ask her to tell that story every Christmas for the next several. And bless her motherly heart, the story got better, and I got braver, every year.
I loved those years, where Santa and Mrs. Claus showed up and bestowed great gifts on everyone we knew. And we put out homemade cookies for him, which was easy because Santa’s favorite cookies were Mom’s special Butter Cookies that Dad loved best in the whole world.
When the magic of Santa was no longer an option, I still had the story of the baby Jesus and his mother traveling around on a mule to find a place to live. We always had a live tree. I’m not even sure there was such a thing as artificial trees at the time. And we had a special “family night” for decorating. My sister, Jackie and I got to arrange the special spot under the tree for the stable in Bethlehem according to the Steck Sisters. Somehow or other the crèche magically became more wonderful after we went to bed. By the time we woke on Christmas, every last figure, from the baby lamb, the three kings, something called oxen (which look like camels as I remember them)…everything was in perfect position. And that was the miracle of Christmas for a very long time.
But the biggest thing of all was the way everyone we knew or cared about was happy that day. There was no worry about much of anything.We had no word for what we felt but we figured it out much later in our lives.
There was love all around us. Every gift was bought with great care. And much attention was paid to hints we had broadly provided during pre- holiday time.
Of course, our idea of “great gifts” was very limited. I have to remember that we didn’t have television to show us what was available that Santa couldn’t afford to give us. And, of course, gift cards were unheard of. Mommy and Daddy dutifully wore or happily celebrated, whatever fantastic surprises we chose to buy them with our carefully saved up five cents a week allowance.There is no thrill in watching your mother open her Target gift card that can match the joy of watching her go out for an evening, all dressed up, and sporting a horrendous $1.50 ring that my sister and I pooled our money to buy her one year.Oh lord, it was ugly. Huge, and pink and the gold band turned her hand green. But she wore it, and swore she loved it.
And so the circle was complete. It was all about love. And if you’ve got that, a $1.50 ring can be the most beautiful jewelry in the whole big world. She said it was her favoirtie gift of all time.
All these years later, i still believe her.
Maybe more than ever.
Time has changed a lot about Christmas, but I’ve been lucky to have shared memories not only with my parents and sister, but my children and their children. Christmas has evolved. It’s now “the holiday season” – which is fine. The more the merrier.
But if you’re lucky – which I am – it’s still all about love. Even if it is often tucked inside a gift card.
Have a love-filled Christmas. And if Christmas isn’t you cup of eggnog, pour yourself whatever your doctor says you can drink.