Christmases in my childhood were pretty much non events. Yes, I got the toys I wanted and never received a lump of coal. Though it should be said that one or two lumps were probably merited. I realize that I am, in my own way, far more fortunate than many. This is not whining. It is about unanswered and answered prayers. Everything comes to us in it’s own perfect time and place.
Basically, on Christmas morning, we opened the presents and that was that. We all retreated to our respective corners; Dad poured the first in a long series of scotches, and the television came on. Not Scrooge per se. Just not the Norman Rockwell painting that we all were taught to buy into as part of the Christmas myth. I personally believe that Mr. Rockwell did us a great disservice. I realize that there are families out there that have experienced those holiday moments he depicted. The bar was unrealistically high for the majority of us. I also think those families depicted in the painting are fewer in number and there are far more who watch Aunt Hattie nip at the scuppernong wine while Uncle Fred pretends to doze because he won’t have to listen to Aunt Edna’s description of her most recent hemorrhoid surgery.
When my brother married and left the house, his wife took over the Christmas “festivities”. She did this, in part, over outrage that we would have people who “weren’t family” join us for Christmas Day. When I became engaged to my husband, I told him that I would only ask him to experience that particular edition of Christmas once. This gathering at my brother’s house was quite orchestrated. It was a step up from those experiences of my childhood. But it was a very small one.
“How bad can it be?” he asked.
I only smiled.
When we arrived at my brother’s house, an instantaneous ritual occured. We were always led into the living room, while her (comparatively) large Italian family flopped on the couches in the den, having been authorized to arrive two to three hours earlier. They had had “their” Christmas.
We opened our presents and then joined the other “floppies” glued to the television. (There is some continuity here.) At one point, my then fiance tried to engage everyone in conversation by bringing up what a blessing that the Berlin Wall had been torn down and the world was a freer place to be.
They looked at him like he was from Mars.
Time for dinner. THE Christmas dinner. Mr. Rockwell’s scenario was nowhere to be found.
Instead, we would be served the remains of the leftover turkey from the night before, when her family celebrated not only Christmas Eve, but her brother’s birthday of the same day.
My fiance walked out of that situation practically foaming at the mouth like the “old man” cursing Bumpus’ dogs in the movie “A Christmas Story”. (Probably a more common description of the yule season than one would suspect.)
That was that.
Within two years of our marriage, we had our daughter and the hopes of more. Referencing the “old man” in “A Christmas Story”, we developed a routine of swearing the Christmas tree into it’s glory. I made egg nog. Friends would stop by for a bit of cheer and to watch the God damniting up the Christmas tree.
I came to understand that Christmas was about these traditions we created; not the manufactured expectations fed to us by a commercial spoon. I came to love our version of Christmas. Especially Santa.
We came to be good friends with Chuck and Maureen. Their sons were grown and out in the world and Chuck chose to be Santa every year. We would put a pillow case of presents outside and leave the door unlocked. Sitting in the living room and reading to our kids, Santa would suddenly appear from the vicinity of our kitchen. “Caught” again. We came to share this with our kids friends and Chuck did this every year until we moved away. He did this even after his son suddenly died three months before.
When we moved, my twins were eight years old. One of them was particularly anxious at yuletide that year. Would Santa find us? Would we catch him as we always had?
I explained that Santa had to cover the eastern and central time zone first and we would most likely be in bed by the time he got to mountain standard time. His Christmas list that year had one glaring request: “Santa, please prove to me that you are real.”
But since there are no coincidences, Trevor’s third grade teacher stepped in. She is an incredibly generous, kind and uplifting person and happened to have a friend who lived in North Pole, Alaska. If I could draft a letter from Santa, she would see that it was postmarked from there. I share it here with you:
Master Trevor Sigmond
Spearfish, South Dakota 57783
My Dear Trevor:
As you know, it is a very hectic time of year for me. I got your Christmas wish list as well as Chelsea’s and Connor’s. I know that you have been a very good boy. You always are. You work hard at school and are kind to your friends and always do what your mom and dad ask you to do. You have made a great improvement in getting organized too!! I am proud of you.
You are getting this letter because it was one of your Christmas wishes. Thank you for still believing in me. When boys and girls get to a certain age, they start thinking too much, instead of listening with their hearts. This, unfortunately, is part of the process of becoming a grown up. It doesn’t have to be; there are plenty of grown ups out there who trust in the miracles that come around every day – in all shapes and sizes.
There is more magic in this world than people know. Because they can’t see it, they think it doesn’t exist. Be one of the special ones who will continue to believe in all the magic that the world has to offer. You were lucky to catch me each Christmas Eve when you and your family lived in Illinois. South Dakota is later on my route. But, just because you don’t see me doesn’t mean I don’t exist. And my spirit will always be in your heart. Keep the spirit alive.
Don’t fret if you do stop believing for a while. I will always believe in you. One of the gifts I give a lot of lucky grownups is the miracle of children. It helps them remember me and believe all over again. That is some of the magic that you, Connor and Chelsea have given to your mom and dad.
Merry Christmas, Trevor. And it is signed by Santa. (No, not in mom’s handwriting.)
He still cherishes (though secretly now) the “BELIEVE” ornament that came with the letter.
Whenever I feel too stressed about “creating” Christmas, I go back and read those words. If I never write anything else, I am proud of that. It keeps me grounded in the fact that Christmas is about gathering, connecting, loving. Even Aunt Edna. It is not about glitz and Black Fridays and stressing in anyway.
So this year, the family is getting “experiences” that will become memories to cherish. It beats the heck out of yet another Nerf gun….
The Christmas card will wait until my daughter can get home and we can have, yet another, family portrait.
Blessings of the season to you all.