Paul often reads to me while I cook. With holiday preparations underway for Christmas 2016 Eve supper there was ample time for this week’s headline story in our small town newspaper of childhood Christmas traditions recalled. That led inevitably to stories from our own childhoods.
Sugar Plums first and then the Christmas tree
When we were young trees were decorated and packages arranged only after children were asleep in their beds presumably with visions of sugar plums dancing in their heads. Children were expected to wait to be called or at least past a certain early morning hour before Christmas could begin.
Bells in the family
We’ve always had bells in the family, not the thin metal, cheap ones but real harness bells, weighty and resonant. My parents prized a strand of five woven into a red rope that hung from a hook on the back door. On Christmas morning they were rung to signal me and three siblings that it was time to come downstairs accompanied by Santa’s deep-throated gravely, “Ho-ho-ho, Merry Christmas!” Our mother’s voice was never recognized in any hint of tone or timbre. Our father was by nature too guarded and serious to be so playful. Long after I knew their secret, it remains a special memory and a phrase like music that I can recall perfectly. Whether I say the words aloud or not, tomorrow morning the memory will connect me once again to Mother.
Who Santa really is
I was the eldest of four, each of us born five years apart. My parents grew concerned as I neared age seven that I might learn and tell the larger truth about Santa to the youngest. That Christmas Eve as they tucked me into bed, they revealed who Santa really is: the season’s love and generosity openly expressed and shared in gifts and greetings among cherished family and treasured friends. Parents, they said, are the real elves, surrogates who do the magic work themselves. They invited me to join with them for the sake of my siblings. The words were gentle and honest, words I emulated with my own children as they too began to participate in Christmas magic. But that night I closed my eyes and held my breath until my parents tiptoed away. And then I cried myself to sleep at the loss of reindeer who could fly and a red-suited stranger who visited all the world’s children in the night.
Guilty sled runner tracks in the carpet
Paul recalled a Christmas in Bronxville when his older brother waked him early on Christmas morning, “Wake up! Don’t you want to go down stairs to see what’s under the tree?” Paul was very young but savvy enough to see darkness outside and mistrust that it was past seven o’clock. “Just come look at my clock then!” which big brother had slyly set forward. So both boys navigated the wide staircase and flipped the switch to light the tree in a vision of sparkling light and color. That’s a strong, visual memory that Paul carries today. At long ago Christmases the children’s gifts weren’t wrapped but arranged openly beneath the tree. That year a train and a sled demanded immediate play. Tired after a while of their too early adventures, they went back to sleepy beds where their parents found them and when guilty sled runner tracks in the carpet’s deep pile gave them away.
Wishing you joy and peace and kindred souls
However you enjoy these wintry days, take time, as will we, to remember those who taught us by their example to love, respect, and be generous of spirit. Home is wherever and with whomever you rest your heart. May you be blessed with joy and peace and kindred souls. Merry Christmas to all!