I am sorry to say that I remember those services as something to endure so we could get home and get to sleep in order for Santa to arrive. That pretty much sums up my feelings as a child. Christmas was a time when I got gifts! It was about me. Over the years I’ve changed. Now it’s about others.
My parents (my early years were spent in the great depression) didn’t have much money, but somehow they always made the day special. One year I received a Lionel O Gauge train: a circular loop of track, an engine, a couple of cars, and a transformer. I was hooked, and that train followed me into adulthood. Every year something new appeared at Christmas. One time it was a pair of switches. I no longer had to traverse just a single circuit. But those switches didn’t come on Christmas day. Their appearance occurred a week prior. My parents were sitting in the living room and I was around somewhere. Suddenly they said, “Did you hear that?” I had heard nothing. They claimed jingle bells had filled the air. “Don’t you hear them?” they said. I did not, but lo and behold, when we walked into the room housing my train, I found a pair of beautifully wrapped switches that Santa had thoughtfully made a special early trip to bring me. And they arrived in time for me to set up the now versatile routes for Christmas!
One year I did something that to this day I am ashamed to admit. I went searching for and found where gifts were hidden. They weren’t yet wrapped and I saw what I was to receive that year. Immediately I rued my adventure. On Christmas I would have to fake surprise. And I missed the excitement of the anticipation. I never did that again.
I have always loved the Christmas tree. When I was a child in New Jersey my dad and I would go out together to find one. They often were sold by entrepreneurs who’d invested in 15 or 20 trees and set up shop on street corners. It was always cold and it was always fun.
After my dad died and my mother moved to an apartment and I went to college, there was a small tree set in her apartment. When I got married and lived in Little Silver, New Jersey, we went to a Christmas Tree farm run by a scientific genius who worked in the research arm of Fort Monmouth. He and his sons ran the business. We would load the amazing tree we purchased on the car. Usually they would be eight feet tall and at least ten feet wide. People would gape as we drove our prize home. Upon moving to Florida we discovered for the small cost of a permit you could cut one tree from the Ocala National Forest. What an outing that was for the family with two children, and two dogs! The occasional rifle shots added an element of suspense. The ride home occasioned our once a year visit to Kentucky Fried Chicken. These trees did not have the thickness of the New Jersey ones, but they were tall. We would pick one about 14 or 15 feet in height and wonder how we’d get it in the front door. But we always did and it went in the stairwell where it extended for two floors. I always worried it might catch fire and that would be disaster. It was a reasonable worry. I saw a man after the holiday take a tree to a field and apply a match. The tree literally exploded and in seconds was gone. Artificial trees have graced our homes the last few decades.
I love to decorate the trees. I became an expert at stringing lights. For years I used the ones my father had where one bulb burned out meant the entire string of eight went dark. I should have said string of sixteen. My dad, an electrical engineer, had put two strings in series. That meant they didn’t burn as bright and hence lasted longer, but when one did die it was harder to find the culprit. You’d pick a new bulb, check it on a working string, and then use it to replace the first bulb in the unlit string. If the lights didn’t come on, you took that first bulb which was already off the string and replaced the second bulb with it. Continuing this way, you’d eventually find the bad one. Unless two bulbs were bad! Of course, there were ornaments, many made by our kids. And tinsel! Ah, tinsel. I can’t believe I would fill the tree with it, one strand at a time. I don’t miss it a bit.
There is so much I like about the season. I love to wrap. I’m terrible at it, but it doesn’t matter. It lets me think of the person to receive the gift and hope it will be liked. I love shopping for people in stores and am sad so much is now done online. I loved going to New York City and seeing the skaters at Rockefeller Center. I like the fact that most people are nicer, more patient, kinder. And on the day after Christmas I like looking at the gifts I’ve received and thinking about the people who gave them to me, and that I was important enough to them that they would make the effort.
A huge pleasure of my life is that I’m surrounded by wonderful folk of other traditions, religions, and cultures. If anyone would like to describe them, I would be honored to post them here, perhaps at a particularly significant time of year.
Meanwhile, I wish everyone great joy.
NOTE: I’m going to take a couple of weeks off to celebrate the holidays. I hope you’ll rejoin me when I return on January 9.