I’m struggling to find the holiday spirit today. I suppose it could be because it’s 60 degrees outside, and my world is showing no sign of slowing down. I usually love this time of year. In fact, some of my favorite childhood memories are of Christmas. Of course, these are my memories. My siblings may have a totally different take on things. And it would be an understatement to say that my dad was not a fan of the holiday season. But my mother “believed” enough for both of them, and she made everything magical.
Decorating the tree, for example, was a very big deal at our house. After dinner around the third week of December, we would put on our pajamas and the Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer sound track and one-by-one hang our favorite ornaments on a tree cut from our friend’s farm in Madison. I especially loved the sheer glass diamond-shaped red ones with swooping silver doodle-like designs.
With four excited kids and forty fingers, you can just imagine how many of these treasures made it to the trash rather than the tree. But Mom didn’t get upset or angry. She always had the broom and dustpan close at hand for the clean-up and then patiently helped us reach the taller branches. Fortunately, each year we collected or created a few new decorations to make up for the ones we broke. Believe it or not, I still have a few of these on my tree today.
Over the week leading up to Christmas, the energy in our house would begin to shift. On one hand, there was excitement in the air – a feeling that something special was coming. But there was also a sense of stillness and calm that was very different from the usual chaos. Side-by-side, we made Christmas cookies with Mom, laughing and complimenting one another’s creations. Using the same cookie cutters year after year – putting as much icing in our mouths as we put on the cookies -- we decorated Santa in his sleigh, reindeer, Frosty the Snowman, gingerbread girls and boys, bells and stars. Mom also made Russian Teacakes, fudge, and Divinity -- a mostly sugar and shortening holiday concoction that my oldest brother Scott always helped her with because 1) he loved it, and 2) it required several hours of stirring over the stove.
As Christmas grew closer, ugly remarks and elbows to the ribs were replaced by small yet genuine signs of affection. By the time December 24th arrived, you would have thought someone had sprinkled fairy dust over our house. Our father wasn’t bah-humbugging under his breath about the ridiculousness of the season, but rather humming along to holiday favorites spinning on the turntable. And my brothers and sister and I were being kind to one another. Magically, for the next twenty-four hours, it remained this way.
On Christmas Eve, we always had a fabulous holiday dinner that Mom had spent days preparing. Afterwards, all fat and happy, we would gather in the living room beside the tree to exchange gifts and, while our parents sipped on cocktails, gobble down the sweets we had made days earlier. Since there were four of us, my brothers and sister and I drew names. Earlier in the day, we had each headed off in different directions to wrap the presents we had chosen for one another. We always put far more time and thought into our gifts than money. And this, for me, was the best part.
I loved sitting there in the low-lit room with my family and the Christmas lights; everybody laughing and happy, taking turns exchanging gifts. It was our tradition to open presents one at a time so that the moment would not be lost and the thought would be appreciated. In my mind, time stood still on Christmas Eve. And I loved it that way -- I wanted the night to last forever. Except save for the fact that Santa was still coming.
We weren’t allowed to rush downstairs on our own on Christmas morning. Instead, we were to wake our parents and wait as they put on their robes and my father gathered his camera and gear. (Oh, it took forever!) Then together the six of us would make our way to the tree – four of us moving as fast as we could down the stairs (“No running!”) and the other two, I’m sure, desperate for coffee. It was the best feeling! Not just because of the toys and treats we hoped were waiting for us – though I did truly love my Go-Go boots and the Barbie camper equipped with two beds, an orange kitchenette, and a fold-out tent. For me, it was the magic of togetherness; twenty-four hours of light and love.
As I read this, it’s clear that I have probably selected only my favorite memories from the holidays. Sounds more like a Hallmark special, really. (My brother Scott always did lament the fact that we weren’t like the Waltons.) But that’s O.K. It works for me. In my heart, this is what the season is about – be it real or make believe. And this is the message my husband Dwayne and I have passed along to our son, and why I still love the holidays.
So, I’m going to turn off the computer now and stop answering business calls. My son and I are going to decorate cookies with our neighbors and wait for Dwayne to come home. Then we’ll head to Page’s field in Batesville for the annual caroling around the bonfire.
Ah, I can feel the holiday spirit now…I just had to look a little harder this year. Whatever you like best about the season, I hope you find it, too. If not, I hope it finds you.