What are your best Christmas memories? Are they from your own childhood? Your years as a parent or grandparent of little ones? Were they solitary, peaceful moments, or occasions when you felt part of something much larger and more meaningful? Everyone has different memory triggers. Maybe it’s a dish your grandmother only served Christmas Day, the overwhelming scent of the forest when you cut down your own tree, falling asleep staring into the branches of a tree covered in lights and ornaments, the sound of footie pajamas running on hardwood floors early Christmas morning, or the texture of an old chenille bedspread tucked under your chin on Christmas Eve.
I was going to post about just one particular Christmas memory from my childhood, a gift from my great-grandmother to my grandfather that I’ll never forget. But then I was swamped with so many other wonderful memories I had to turn this into a list pot (hence the link to List it Tuesdays). So here are my top ten Christmas memories – chronologically, because I’m a geek like that.
I have no idea how old I was, but it was a special Christmas because my Aunt Beverly had come in for the holiday from Florida. She’d brought a friend with her, and he drove a gorgeous, brand-new, midnight-blue truck. Everyone went out and oohed and ahhed over it, and then we went back in for Christmas Eve dinner. My grandmother went totally overboard for Christmas every single year. More food than the entire neighborhood could have eaten, presents piled not just under the tree, but all around the room. Mountains of presents. When a little kid looks at their pile of gifts and thinks, “That’s way too many presents” somebody’s out of control. But it made her happy, so that’s how we did Christmas. Anyway, my great-grandmother, who always lived with my grandparents, was there in her housedress and cardigan sweater, mints and kleenex in her pockets. She was having a tiny glass of eggnog that my Aunt Beverly had spiked for her with just a splash of something. Once the chaos of present-opening was nearly over she did it. I can’t remember if she’d wrapped up the keys, or just how she told him, but she let my grandfather know that the beautiful new truck sitting outside was his. Mamaw just smiled and sipped her eggnog, but Pap-pa got so emotional he had to go outside for a few minutes and get himself together. The glow on Mamaw’s face was that of a mother giving her child what he most wanted in the world, and it didn’t matter that she was elderly and he was full-grown, she just basked in the joy of still being able to make such a difference in her son’s life.
After Christmas Eve at Granny’s we’d go home and get tucked into bed so Santa could come. There were a few years (ones that involved matchbox car tracks for my brother and Barbie stuff for me) that Mom suggested leaving Santa a beer instead of milk to go with his cookies. Not very PC, I know, but I’m sure it took many a beer to get all those things assembled, stickers placed, gifts arranged (Santa didn’t wrap) and Mom and Dad into bed before dawn. One particular year I got a Barbie pool and a Barbie camper, and since I’d come to suspect Santa was really Mom and Dad I bet they hardly got any sleep at all that night. Hopefully they got to nap while my brother and I played 😉
My parents divorced when I was twelve, but would still both come to Christmas Eve at Granny’s. It seemed perfectly normal to me at the time, but as an adult I can appreciate how incredibly stressful that must have been for both of them. You’d never have known it, though. One year Mom mentioned something in passing about the insert in our fireplace – she wondered if putting a metal bowl of water on top of it would help humidify the house a bit in the winter. That year (no idea how old I was) I bought an inexpensive copper kettle, set my alarm for the middle of the night Christmas Eve, and sat the kettle on the insert. When we got up in the morning the light though the living room windows caught the kettle just right – there was no way she could miss it. The surprise and pleasure on Mom’s face made my Christmas that year. Single moms don’t expect Christmas surprises – at least not pleasant ones.
When I was a teenager our little country church staged a live Nativity. Really, out there, it was kind of a no-brainer. Everybody had bales of hay lying around and we were lousy with farm animals. Our Sunday School class took the last shift of the night on Christmas Eve. I was the angel, with a choir robe on over my winter coat, some aluminum foil wings, and a tinsel halo. Until the wind kicked up and I went flying off the stack of hay bales I’d been perched on! That night was special, though, as people driving along that dark country road, usually heading back into town after coming out to the country for Christmas Eve, slammed on their brakes and pulled to the shoulder of the road. I’ve had a weakness for live Nativity scenes ever since.
As a matter of fact, there used to be a huge Baptist church here in town that did a “Walk Through Bethlehem”. They dumped a few inches of mulch on their gym floor, put the entire congregation in costume, and re-created Bethlehem. I loved haggling with the shopkeepers (think “Life of Brian”), arranging marriages, examining tanned hides and handmade candles and pottery, and watching the children get pulled into impromptu dances. Every now and then a Roman centurion would push through, and you might see a man leading a donkey carrying a young, tired, heavily pregnant girl. Near the end of the journey an angel would appear outside amongst the shepherds and sheep, and then everyone would huddle around the cave-like stable where Mary, Joseph and a real newborn Baby Jesus lay. It truly brought Bethlehem to life, and I wish there was something comparable near here these days – something interactive that could bring Christmas to life for adults and children alike.
Our first Christmas together Michael and I bought a real tree off a tree lot. It had been tied tight for transport, and we had no idea how big a tree we were actually buying. It touched the ceiling and nearly filled the living room of our tiny apartment. But it was beautiful. Our cat climbed it and knocked ornaments off, but thankfully he usually stuck to the stuffed fabric strawberries that were part of our “first tree” package from my sister-in-law, Marcia. She is incredibly talented and artistic – always has been. We still have many of the ornaments from that box all these years later, and hand-made ornaments from Marcia are among my favorites to place on the tree. One year she even went totally crazy and made everyone an afghan for Christmas! Ours is a red-green-white tree pattern and I keep it out all year.
Once Aaron was born, then John, we spent some Christmas Eves at Mom and Greg’s (Santa gifts carefully hidden in the trunk) and some here at home, with Mom and Greg staying over. We always put out “magic reindeer food” (oats, glitter, crushed peppermint) and, in later years, tracked Santa on Norad 🙂 When my mother-in-law was alive she and my father-in-law would be the “grandparent tour” of the grandkids in town, stopping by each house for an hour or so to be amazed at what Santa had brought, the bite Rudolph had taken out of the carrot, and what a mess Santa had made on the floor with his boot prints.
One year, long before people shopped on the internet, I complained to Michael that I was doing all the work every Christmas – that I had to plan, find, buy, and wrap every present we gave while he just sat and took credit. He (silly man) offered to do all the Christmas shopping that year. I knew that was a disaster waiting to happen, so we compromised on him shopping for three items that would make up Aaron’s big Santa gift that year. A Fisher-Price castle, a boulder launcher, and a jousting knights set. He had to enlist the help of friends, family, and co-workers, but eventually found all three. But he had to drive all over town and spent a lot of time doing it, so my point was made. And Aaron loved that boulder launcher 🙂
When I was still working my boss would host a nurses’ Christmas party every year. We ate way too much, drank too much (often having arranged for hubbies to pick us up), gossiped like crazy with the only other people on the face of the Earth that really understood our unusual jobs, and played a truly cut-throat game of Dirty Santa. Every year I’d laugh until my face hurt, and I’d remember that all the early mornings, long hours, weekends and holidays, and ridiculous demands were worth it – because I loved the people I worked with.
One special Christmas memory is from only a few years ago. It was the first Christmas after the surgeries that ended my career, and to say we were struggling financially would be an understatement. I had really good short-term and long-term disability insurance, but in September they’d decided to “review my case” and had stopped paying me while they did so. It was ugly. Then my boss and friend, Kim, came by with her husband, Joe. She had sent out an email to the people I worked with – many of them for two decades. And she came bearing VISA gift cards and certified checks. The amounts were staggering. I could only cry. Because sometimes Christmas really is a time for miracles.
OK, enough of my ramblings. Time for you to share. Link up your Christmas Memories post below (I’ll have it open for a week) or just respond in the comments. I want to hear from you!