In less than a week, Christmas will be here. I love Christmas, but lately it has become a difficult holiday to celebrate. My children are scattered all over the United States. Some are married and have their spouse’s family to consider for the holidays. It just becomes ever so difficult to get together.
I think about Christmas when I was a kid. Maybe my parents and grandparents had some of these challenges, but as a child, Christmas was magical. We first had to get birthdays out of way. My mom and dad had their birthdays in November, with my sister and I having our birthdays in December with mine being the last before Christmas hit. My other sister, had her birthday in early January, actually on the day of Epiphany, so we covered all the end of the year holidays along with our birthdays, and then waiting for what seemed are very long time until our birthdays and Christmas would come rolling around again.
Today I put up the tree around Thanksgiving. That is not what happened at my house as a child. Dad was not a fan of any kind of work or fanfare around the holiday, but Mom understood our need for the magic that the holidays brought. We had Christmas LP’s playing on the stereo. There was the Johnny Mathis Christmas album, which was probably our favorite, but we also had the Boston Pops, and many other albums of mostly instrumental and religious Christmas music. We would stack the records on the spindle, and push the little lever that told our stereo to lift the arm, feel the size of the record (45’s were small, and 33’s big), and then one record would drop down, and the needle would start on the edge of the record as it spun until the needle came all the way to the middle, producing festive Christmas music with every groove the needle encountered. When it hit the middle, it lifted and moved out, and once again moved to find the size of the record. If there were no longer records on the stack on the spindle, the arm would move all the way in, detect there were no further records, and move back to its original position, and the stereo would turn itself off. It was high technology for its time.
Our church used to go Christmas caroling. We often did caroling for the St. Louis Christmas Carol Association. We would sign up with them, and they would assign us a local neighborhood to carol. One person wore the provided little red cape and carried a red money tube, so that those we caroled to could make a donation. The money from caroling went to local children’s charities across the St. Louis area. We would go out one evening before Christmas, sing our hearts out (and we were not great singers), and people would stand in their doorways and listen to us sing. They would go find some change or a dollar or two to put in the canister. When our caroling was over, we took our freezing selves to one of the homes of someone from church for hot chocolate and refreshments. I loved the caroling night. It made me feel so festive.
Our little church also had an annual Sunday School Christmas program. My mother would get books of Christmas poems, for all ages, and she assigned each child a poem about the Christmas story. Of course the little ones might just have a couples lines, and as we got older, the more lines we had to recite. Some of us sang Christmas carols. One year, I along with two other little girls from Sunday School sang “We Three Kings.” I cannot imagine we sounded very good, but we sang our hearts out, and our parents sat in the pew smiling proudly at us. We always received a box of candy for our performances.
My dad was not into the hubbub of Christmas decorating. We could beg until we were blue in the face, but he never put Christmas lights on the outside of our house. My mom would drive us three girls around, to look at all the pretty lights on other people’s houses. She helped us be in the Christmas spirit. My dad also wanted nothing to do with Christmas trees, so about mid-December, my mom would take us girls to a Christmas tree lot to select our tree. When I was small, my dad begrudgingly strung the lights—those big colored bulbs along with the bubble lights. I loved the bubble lights. They were magical. When we got older, one of my sisters became adept at hanging lights, much to my dad’s delight. We would carefully hang the glass bulbs on the tree. Once the bulbs and lights were on the tree, it was time for the tinsel. Small thin strands of silver glistened in the lights. Originally, tinsel was made of silver, but tarnished with the heat of lights, so then in the 1950s & 60s, tinsel was manufactured from lead. Yeah, in the early 70s, they realized that was unsafe, and now tinsel, if you can even find it, is plastic with a shiny silver surface. I thought these trees were absolutely beautiful, even though the branches were sparse. We had to water the tree daily to keep the needles from drying out. Also, the lights could only be turned on if we were there—we did not want a fire hazard.
One of our big things was to go into downtown St. Louis to the Famous-Barr department store. This store was their flagship store and it was a block big and eleven stories high. The store windows were decorated with animated figures, and one large window was a village and trains. We would walk around the outside of the store along with hundreds of others marveling at the animated Christmas scenes. Inside the store was decorated, and Christmas music was playing throughout the store. We would take the escalators (some were even wooden) to the floor where they had made a “Winter Wonderland.” We walked through the many Christmas displays which ended with our visit to none other, but Santa Claus.
As the years moved on, my Christmas trees began to take on a life of their own. My early married years, I had a real tree, with its spindly branches, and would decorate it with candy, popcorn, cranberries, and pretzels. I didn’t have a lot of money but I would look for crafty creative ways to decorate. I moved to artificial trees, and experimented with types of decorations, but in the end, my tree is filled with memories. I have some of my mom’s Hallmark Keepsake ornaments from the early 70’s. I like unique and funky, and that’s how my tree is—it reflects who I am over the years.
There are just heart-warming feelings when I think about my childhood Christmases. I think of aunts, uncles, and cousins having dinner with us. I think about lying in bed unable to sleep on Christmas Eve, so excited with the anticipation of Santa’s arrival. I think of the time I woke up in the early dawn, and quietly crept into the living room to see all the gifts under the tree, and my new child-size china cabinet and doll basinet that were too large to wrap, and quietly going back to my room happy and excited, but ready to sleep a little longer. We didn’t bake Christmas cookies—that was not a tradition from my European family. I am sure we had pies, and other baked goodies. I think of the times I would go through the toy section of mail order catalogs, and dream of the dolls with all the clothes and accessories any little girl would be thrilled to own. I would write Santa letters of all the things I wanted, practically copying from the catalog, and one year, I asked Santa for a baby brother. That’s one Christmas gift he never delivered—I remained the youngest child!
I am not sure if there is magic in Christmas today, like there was back then. The magic for me is to see my children and their children, and to know they are well. My magic is to entertain friends and family with a nice meal, and Christmas carols playing in the background. My magic is to be forever thankful that we live in a country we can celebrate Christ’s birth, and to worship him freely, and for others who wish to worship differently. My magic is to read Christmas cards from friends and family, and know they thought of me, even if it’s for only long enough to sign the card and address the envelope. My magic is the gratefulness that I have been given another year, and that my health is good.
I hope my reminiscing of my past Christmases has brought back fond memories of your own. I hope you have peace, joy, and contentment this holiday season as we celebrate the birth of our Savior. May you know the peace he provides.