Friday, December 9, 2011

Christmas Past and Present

My Father would be over 100 years old this Christmas, if he were still living.  102 to be exact.  When I was little, he and Mom would put us to bed every night with "three songs or three stories".  I loved my Dad's stories about growing up on the prairie in the early part of the last century.  He lived in a world of horses and wagons, one room schools, and of general stores.  My grandmother ran a boarding house.  The family lived in what would have been the servant's quarters behind the kitchen.

My father's father was a Lutheran minister.  At Christmas he would leave his home carrying a bag of toys and fruit and visit the homes of his parishioners with children.  He would meet the children in the parlor where there would usually be a Christmas tree, lit with candles.  In this parlor, dressed in their very best clothes, the children would say bible verses for him, and if they had done well they were rewarded with fruit and a small toy (provided by their parents) said to come from Kristkindl (the Christ Child).  When my father told this story his eyes would light up and I would get a hug that was just a little extra tight.  I never knew my Grandfather.  He died long before my mother ever met my father, but his legacy lives on in  my enjoyment of all of the trappings of Christmas.  The enjoyment that I inherited from my father.
My father loved Christmas and all of it's 1950's trappings.  He loved going to cut down the Christmas Tree even though he would complain mightily about how long it took "his girls" to settle on the perfect one.  He loved playing Santa, dipping his snow boots in the fireplace ash so that "Santa's" footprints would be on the living room carpet on Christmas morning.  I would dearly love to know how he convinced my mother to allow ash footprints on her fancy wool rug.  When we were very little and VERY excited, he made us wait an AWFULLY long time before allowing us to come downstairs - enough time for him to attach the floodlights to the old Kodak movie camera so that he could record the finding of the footprints and the unpacking of the stockings.  He loved it all.  I think that I "believed" for a couple of extra years so that I wouldn't spoil his fun.

He loved cookies and carolling and church services hushed and candle lit. He loved the shopping and the giving (even though most of the presents were things that we needed anyway, just now wrapped in colorful paper).  He didn't even complain much about my mother's insistance on smoothing out and saving the larger pieces of gift wrap for the next year.  He loved throwing a holiday party with sledding, hot chocolate and cookies for his 6th grade Sunday school class. 

Every year I try to recapture the innocence and excitement that Dad so enjoyed.  And I often fail at it.  As my son has gotten older he takes less and less interest in the holiday preparations.  We call The Bearded One "the Grinch".  It is never as perfect as I remember or as I want it to be.  There are many reasons: In Southern California we don't get snow and to me, cars "wearing" artificial wreaths and shoppers wearing reindeer antler head bands just don't fill  the void.   The Christmas decorations and music are out in the stores practically before Halloween and that is just plain wrong.  I HATE the incessant TV advertising that pushes the giving of material things as a seasonal necessity.
This Christmas I resolve not to worry about what I cannot do and cannot relive:  Instead, I will celebrate in my own way.  I am tired of people telling me that I shouldn't get excited about what is after all, no matter what the merchants and advertisers think, a religious holiday.  I have NO Puritanical leanings and believe that I should be able to celebrate and feel joy and hope and not be somber.  I will decorate the house and enjoy every minute of it.  I will buy and wrap new socks and PJs because getting those things wrapped and under a Christmas tree IS more special than just being handed a plastic shopping bag...I will bake cookies for all of my neighbors, Christian or not, because I like them and don't want to eat dozens of cookies myself.  I will do what I can to spread joy around me.  Because it is Christmas and My Dad expects it of me.

Happy Holidays Everybody:  Happy Channukah, Kwanza, Solstice, whatever you celebrate.  Just enjoy it and your family and make the season joyful with a capital "J".
My Dad expects it of you.

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