I don’t think Christmas is a time to be philosophical about what the holiday is and isn’t. But this morning while fresh out of bed, wrapped in my warm fleecy bathroom, drinking my hazelnut-flavored coffee – and looking at the tiny Christmas tree sitting across the room from me on its tiny little round table – I just couldn’t help but think about what Christmas in old age is about.
Christmases in my childhood looked like this. We had big Christmas trees with piles of presents around them. We opened our presents on Christmas morning, and as our family had no traditions or regulations as to how the present-opening was to be conducted, it truly was every man for himself. The only rule we had was that in the morning my sister and I had to wake our parents up and wait in their bedroom until they called us from where the Santa stockings had been hung. Once we heard their calls, we made a mad dash into the living room to see what Santa had left. Santa was always a very generous fellow, and aside from the many little items we had asked for he always left an apple and a silver dollar in the toe of each stocking.
Once the stockings had been turned inside out, we then tackled the presents under the tree. Daddy would crawl around under the tree finding presents with our names on them; he passed them to mother, who then passed them on to us kids. There was no order to the opening, We ripped and tore and tossed the ribbon and paper aside, took one look at the present and grabbed for the next one. It was yelling and ripping and grabbing and oohing and aahing – bedlam would be a close description. Our folks let us act like heathens, and when Ginnie Lou and I finished opening our presents, the room was little better than a disaster area. Daddy crawled out from under the tree, grabbed all the trash, and put it in a huge bag. Many times we had to dig through that trash bag to find something that had inadvertently been mixed in with the trash – like a card with money in it!
When I became an adult and had children of my own, our Christmases were just like the ones of my childhood. I was shocked when I found out that some families sit down quietly and open presents one at a time, with everybody watching the gift receiver. In other words, some people were civilized on Christmas morning, but that approach wasn’t in my genes or my traditions. We allowed wild people to have a go at it! Oh, I think about those Christmases with such nostalgia.
So part of the philosophical ruminations I had this morning were because I looked at our little tree of this, my 74th Christmas. It is exactly 24” tall, fake, with a mere handful of tiny ornaments on it. I think of it as merely a “reminder” tree, because it sure doesn’t have the cachet of the trees in my past. It suffices, but what a difference growing old has made.
But of course Christmas never was for the adults anyway. We had our own fun and our own presents, of course, but it was in doing for the children and for giving them Christmases to remember that was our goal.
This is of my son Sean’s 2nd Christmas. He was too young yet to understand Christmas, but he understood that he had a new horsey to play with. I have kept this picture all these years for many reasons. One is that it shows a time in our lives that is long gone. Sean’s dad and I were both still trying to get through college, and all our textbooks are sitting on the shelves below the little desk we used, and which we conscripted for hanging the stockings. We were poor as church mice, but you can see by the old vinyl LPs in the rack behind the horse that we may not have had a lot of possessions but we did consider music to be a priority in our lives. And the TV set was one that my father brought from his appliance store so we could watch TV. We didn’t have much, but we did have a darling little boy on a horse and a 4 month old little baby girl, Erin, still asleep in the bedroom -- and we knew that this is what Christmas is all about. All we had to do is to look at the happiness on Sean’s face to know that.
And this morning I thought of how the children had grown up – and that this is all part of Christmas too and a part of the aging process. We grow old and our children grow up, as shown by a current picture of Sean taken just before Christmas this year.
It was Sean this year who rallied our other children to give us a really wonderful new TV as a Christmas present. And it was delivered and installed by Sean’s son and our grandson Brendan, who is an adult himself.
So our trees get smaller and our kids get bigger and Christmases change – but what never changes is the Christmas Spirit that is passed from parent to child through the ages. And for me, having a philosophical thought about it all and being able to tell our kids we love them and thank them for the gift via this blog is the best thing that could happen at Christmas in this year of 2009.