Christmas Past, Christmas Present and a hope for a better future
Christmas Eve is almost here. That means I can now relax and focus on what the season is supposed to be about. For the last two weeks, I became more aware of how Christmas has become to so many. The time of year that has always been associated with peace and harmony has become a rushed and stressful time of year filled with shopping, cleaning, decorating and entertaining and ending with an empty wallet and maxed out credit cards. Not exactly my idea of peace on earth. But Christmas Eve is always different from those days leading up to it. All the shopping is done, the decorations are up, the house is clean and I am able to actually sit down and relax for more than five minutes. The only thing I have to worry about this Christmas Eve is whether Air Canada will get my mother here on time and with all her luggage intact. Considering the airlines track record, not bloody likely of both of those things happening simultaneously! In the meantime, work is done until after New Year’s, all my household duties are done and I have the house to myself for a few rare days. While waiting for Air Canada to deliver mom, I will sit back with a glass of wine and watch my two favorite movies; Shrek and Forrest Gump. Somehow, over the years since I have been on my own, watching these two movies has become a Christmas tradition. I’m not sure why, neither one of them have remotely anything to do with Christmas.
Something else happened since I grew up and moved out on my own. Christmas started to loose it’s meaning for me. I think it all started in the year 1999, a couple of months before I moved away from home. My Grandfather passed away on Christmas Day of that year and a few days later on New Year’s Day, my Grandmother passed away. That’ll take the Christmas out of anyone. After spending two weeks at the funeral home, Christmas pretty much didn’t happen that year for us and for good reason and every year since, it has just not been the same as it was when I was a kid. My generation may very well have been the last to experience anything even remotely what Christmas is supposed to be about. Back than, it was not just about the gifts, it was about family, fighting over the turkey wishbone, piling too many people in a car too small to drive around looking at the Christmas lights around town, skating in the moonlight on the pond across the street and a little boy who shoots his eye out with the BB gun his parents bought him for Christmas. Ah, the good ‘ol days!
Thinking about Christmas back in those days brings back happy memories of a time that will never be again except in those memories. I almost feel sad that the children of today and of the future will not experience Christmas the way their parents and Grandparents did back in the days when Christmas actually meant something more than what is under the tree. Of course there were gifts, there were decorations and there was a lot of food! But there was also that magical atmosphere that only came that time of year when family and friends from far and near stopped by for a visit, Boney M’s Christmas Album played on the record player, the smell or turkey filled the air and if we were extremely lucky, it snowed!
A few weeks before Christmas, the preparations began. The 12-foot tree would go up in the Big Room. I still have my special ornament that always went at the front of the tree for all to see. It is of snoopy in a parachute and he spins around! Other decorations included pre-school arts and craft attempts and homemade decorations. Back than, it wasn’t about decorating according to a certain style or even making it look as good as can be. It was about displaying Christmas memories from the past for all to see. But no matter what we put on our tree or how not “in vogue” it was, I still have not seen a tree that comes close to any of the ones my family had when I was growing up. Once the decorations were up, we were ready for the stream of holiday visitors that would trickle in during the season. One of my fondest memories of Christmas was when my dad’s sister and her family would come over because her daughters were around the age as me and it was a break to be able to hang out with kids my own age instead of listening to the boring conversations the adults were having. If there was snow on the ground, we went sleighing in the front yard or at the apple orchard. If it was cold enough, we skated at the pond. Because it was a “special” time of year and school was out for a couple of weeks, I was allowed to stay up later than I usually would. The late evenings after dinner were spent watching the numerous Christmas specials on TV. A Christmas Story, it’s a Wonderful life, The Muppets Christmas and of course the cartoons like A Charlie Brown Christmas, Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer and The Grinch Who Stole Christmas.
On Christmas Eve, my grandparents came to our place for dinner. Early that evening, kids would line the roads of my rural community waiting for a fire engine with Santa Clause on the back. We waited for what seemed like forever to get a couple of candy canes. After dinner, we all piled in the car for our annual family drive to look at all the decorated houses. At 11:00, we got dressed in our Sunday best and headed to midnight mass at Mount Carmel. I was never one for church, but for some reason, the service on Christmas Eve was one I always enjoyed. Before bed, I was allowed to open one gift from under the tree than it was off to bed in anticipation for Santa’s visit and Christmas morning! My mom had an ongoing trick that she played on me until I was old enough to know better. She would put out a plate of cookies for Santa and instead of placing an empty plate on the table the next morning to make me think Santa had ate the cookies, she took the plate and hid it so I would think that Santa had also taken our plate. Of course this made sense to me because I never found any trace of the missing plate and year after year, the plate from the year before would pop up the next year! I caught on when I noticed that Mom’s writing was eerily the same as Santa’s!
Christmas Day, I awoke early, woke up my parents and darted for the tree with breakfast in hand. The toys back than were so much simpler but, in my opinion ten times better than what the kids get today. The internet had not even been invented yet so Ipods and other assorted web-based electronics were things out of a science fiction movie. Clothing and necessities like socks and underwear were a given but I also got Barbie Dolls, VHS movies, Nintendo games and other classic toys that offered hours of fun unlike the toys of today that do all the work for you! After the presents were opened, we headed to my grandparent’s house for Christmas dinner. The evening was spent relaxing at home watching Christmas movies and recovering from the massive amounts of turkey we ingested!
Those days are long gone now but they are cherished memories that I will never forget as long as I live. Now, on my own, Christmas does not stir up the same feelings in me anymore. The only thing that holds me close to the season is thinking back to those wonderful days of my childhood. I’m not sure if it is the times that are changing or me changing. I suspect it is probably a combination of both. When I was a child, I didn’t have the stress that adults associate with this time of year. I still carry on with some of the traditions I grew up and have developed some of my own but it just isn’t the same and every year, Christmas seems to be loosing more and more of it’s meaning. And more and more, I realize it is not just me who thinks this way. We have lost our way when it comes to the Holiday that was once meant to celebrate the birth of a king. Now it is about spending ridiculous amounts of money on gifts, trying to outdo each other when no one ever really likes what they get anyway. No one seems to know what Christmas is about anymore and the people who do know, just go with the flow. This year, my thoughts turned to more important things. I still bought gifts for the usual suspects that expect something every year but my mind was on something more important. Every glimpse of the news brought new violence, more war and more heartache and despair. Here I am in my developed war-free nation with plenty of food on my table, a roof over my head, a job that provides the security to pay for those things and freedom while so many are suffering due to lack of even the basic necessities of life. This Christmas I felt guilty when I thought about this and the little things I worry about on a daily basis and I wondered why it seemed no one else felt guilty as they went on with their holiday “cheer”. I do like some of the simpler things related to Christmas such as the decorations and the family dinners but the realization that some won’t even have that this season made me take a vow I promise to fulfill next year. Starting now, I will no longer be purchasing Christmas gifts for anyone, including the ones who expect it. It has nothing to do with money or the lack thereof, it’s the principal. Most of the people I buy presents for have jobs and can afford to buy their own stuff. If I spend any money by now on at Christmas, it will be on the ones who don’t have much and don’t have the means to get the things they need. Maybe I will make a generous donation to my favorite charity or volunteer at a shelter or soup kitchen. If I change one person’s attitude towards Christmas with this post, than it was worth it. If I change many people’s minds, imagine the people who will benefit from the generosity. So next Christmas, instead of buying people superficial presents that they will only throw out or re-gift anyway, spread this message and remind everyone you know about the people who don’t have anything. If you must give gifts, make a donation in someone’s name or just sit back and enjoy the season in a peaceful way with the ones you love count and your blessings. Forget about the material things, they are getting us nowhere! When I look at Christmas when I was a child, I cannot remember any of the gifts I received. I do, however, remember the time I spent with loved ones and the fun we had during those times. How about you? What do you remember most about the holidays of your past. Is it the gifts you received or is it something else that you hold near and dear to your heart?
Here are some links for some of those Christmas Classics you watched as a child to get you started with the family time!
And here are my two favorite Christmas songs of all time from the Classic Boney M Christmas Album....these two songs are always guaranteed to get me in the Holiday Spirit!