My Christmas Story

This was originally published in the Decatur Navigator but I thought I’d bring it back on this Christmas Eve.  Merry Christmas!

I can’t remember a single present I asked for as a kid.  You’d think there would have been something I wanted with a fierce passion but I was more consumed with quantity of gifts over the actual quality.  As long as I calculated that my brothers and I had the same value in our cache, peace on earth was found under our Christmas tree.

I’d like to say that I was one of those kids who collected mittens for the needy or volunteered in a soup kitchen but nope, I was greedy and it’s on 8-track cassette for eternal proof.  My tiny voice asking, “That’s all?” after opening a dozen or two presents.

There’s a special glow to my memories of Christmas.  It was the glow of sunset.  We always opened our gifts on Christmas Eve, mainly because my parents didn’t want to be jarred out of a deep sleep at 4 am by impatient kids.

The only problem, for us kids with that arrangement, was that we had to be awake for those long hours of daylight before darkness came.  We’d try to sleep but yeah that worked.  We played board games with as much attention as an eight year old would give to CSPAN. It was horrible but our hearts would flicker with excitement as the sun sunk below Mr. Schmidt’s house, our neighbor to the west.

There was always one last obstacle between us and our treasure trove of toys awaiting us: Christmas Eve dinner that my mom had been working on for three hours.  The smell of turkey cooking as I watched the sun inch lower in the sky is one of my most vivid memories of Christmas.  It always smelled wonderful but my stomach ached with anticipation of gift opening. I could hardly swallow anything.

My brothers didn’t fare much better.  Our plates were never cleaned off on Christmas Eve, to the dismay of starving children in Africa.  I can still remember the smiles my parents gave to each other as they ate slowly.  They knew they were torturing us and they enjoyed it.

Then the magical moment would finally arrive and my dad would place an 8-track tape into the recorder.  I think I enjoy listening to the sounds of Christmas more than I would had they been video taped.  The sounds bring back a flood of memories, not just of Christmas but just of a much younger family. It’s nice to know those sounds are still going forward in an infinite universe.

But as greedy, selfish and competitive as I was, the best time was lying down in bed after placing all my wonderful new toys, gadgets and stuffed animals in my bedroom.  My parents weren’t religious people.  We didn’t go to church but it was always understood that we believed in God.  We just didn’t parade around with a banner proclaiming it.

I’d lie and think about the story of Christmas – not the Santa Claus Christmas but the Jesus Christmas.  Maybe it was the images of the nativity on the Christmas cards I saw, (I miss getting Christmas cards), but somehow I had a wonderful image in my mind of a cool, starry night with a light shining down on a baby in a stable.  I was thankful.  I really was though I never said so on an 8-track cassette.

The only presents I remember getting were a stuffed animal my great-grandmother made me, a stuffed panda bear that I loved, a doll that scared me and albums of movies.  Before the VCR, kids movies were put onto albums to listen to. I loved listening to them in the dark.

And now as an adult, Christmas isn’t nearly as magical.  The fact that Christmas begins in September cheapens the whole thing.  It not only kills Christmas but Labor Day, Halloween and Thanksgiving too.  It’s not only too commercial but has become desperate.  Before long we’ll be dropping coins into the buckets of big box retail stores rather than the Salvation Army.

Still I cling to the hope that the magic of Christmas hasn’t been totally killed off by desperate capitalism. I still see the magic in my son’s eyes.  He still believes and that’s the best gift I’ll get this year.

Merry Christmas everyone!

Our Christmas tree – 1975.