Saturday, December 25, 2010

I am Thankful for the Christmases of My Childhood

We had a white Christmas here in Cleveland, today. It was just Cheryl, Karisa, Johnmark, Zeus, and myself. Shirley and her family could not make the drive due to the snow. We had a good day none-the-less.

When I was small Christmas was magical. The whole world seemed to shift into emotional overdrive. Everyone was a little happier during the season, the air tingled with excitement.

Christmas was everywhere. City streets were decorated with angels and snowflakes. Crèches were prominently displayed. We heard the Christmas story and sang Christmas carols in public school. Our classrooms were decorated; we had a Christmas program in the auditorium; and we had a party with cupcakes, cookies and Kool-Aid.

Christmas was the highlight of the church year for most southern Protestants. For us it began the week after Thanksgiving with practices for the Christmas pageant. Every year the youth put on a Christmas play. Sometimes it was the Christmas story on other years it was a contemporary drama with a Christmas theme. The year my brother debuted his thespian skills he was a shepherd with the single line “Hail Mary, thou art most favored among women” or thereabouts. The problem was his deeply southern accent. The director worked and worked with his enunciation, and on the big night he vocalized with great volume and clarity “Hell Mary, thou art most favored among women.”

As a prelude to the drama the children presented their program. Usually there was a choir of angels. One year Mom made Shirley’s and my angel costumes out of Dad’s never-used society for social preservation uniform (white robe, but that’s another story). We wore wings made from coat hangers and poster board, and trimmed in foil garlands. As we grew older we were given speaking parts, a tortuous rite of passage.

These public expressions of religious devotion were but appetizers for the big day and that was always at home. We knew we were getting presents and we knew Mom had been shopping for the little ones. They were hidden around the house, mostly in her closet. We were sternly warned “If I catch you children pillaging through my closet I’ll take every present back and you want get any. Santa won’t bring you any either.”

It was that last sentence that constrained my curiosity. I could live without new under wear, or that not-to-be-used house coat, but I could not survive without Santa’s gifts; they were the good ones, the ones you prayed for and dreamed about. Santa’s helpers made certain we got most of what we wanted.

The Christmas tree was the central shrine of the season and the focal point of decorations. Sometimes we went into the woods and cut a cedar tree. Often we picked one up at a local lot. Later, Mom would purchase an artificial one. They were covered with lights, silver tensile, gold garlands, decorative bulbs, and spray-on snow until green was but a shadow buried beneath the brighter colors. Presents were wrapped and stacked beneath and behind it.

The night before Christmas we were allowed to choose one wrapped gift to open and enjoy. Then just before bed we set out a glass of milk and cookies for Santa. As we scurried down the hall Mom reminded us, “Santa won’t come if you’re awake.” Now that is a challenge; go to sleep on the most exciting night of the year.

On Christmas morning Shirley and I were the first to awaken. But we couldn’t go into the front room until Mom or Dad went with us. “Santa, might still be there.”

“Please, please go with us,” we begged until Dad got up and, still in his boxer shorts and T-shirt, tipped-toed down the hallway. Keeping us behind him, he slowly opened the door and looked into the living room. We waited until he entered and gave us the “all’s clear.” Once there was a rocking chair in motion. When we entered Dad asked “Did you see him? He was just here in the rocking chair when I came in. I blinked and he was gone. See if he ate the cookies and drank the milk.” He had eaten half a cookie and drank some of the milk.

That was enough attention to the big guy. The room begged for attention. Carefully placed around the tree with the wrapped gifts were the unwrapped ones brought by Santa. Everything we had dreamed about and more was there. After inspecting the unwrapped ones we waited for everyone else to come to the living room. Once we were all gathered and Mom gave the “go ahead” we began to feverously tear into the wrapped gifts. It was bedlam on Zanex.

After breakfast we began the endurance testing for all the toys. The best ones survived the day.

Compared to those days, 2010 was downright sedate.

That’s the news from snow white Cleveland, Tennessee
December 25, 2010

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I also remember our childhood Christmases with fond memories. It was truly a time of excitement. Mom and Dad always made it special. I think they were always as excited as we were.