Ok, so maybe it's not exactly Rudolph and the gang, but as long as he makes it by December 25, I really don't care what Santa uses as his mode of transportation. I'm ready!
Stressful days, late nights, traffic, long lines, tight budgets and detailed lists do little to dull most people's spirit at Christmas. Life can give its best shot at turning the most agreeable folks into Grinches and yet, somehow, as soon as the cold weather makes its first appearance the tree goes up and the holiday music blasts.
And we all become excited kids again.
Driving thru the headband
I remember, as a child, I would look forward each year to our little country church Christmas season. The Sunday School children would hop on a flatbed trailer and go caroling in the Burton area. Many times, we'd be given hot chocolate by appreciative folks who kindly opened their doors to us.
Christmas Eve programs were special. Deeply rooted in German tradition, many times "Silent Night" would be sung in the German language, during a meaningful candlelight service.
(Click the arrow to hear the German version of "Silent Night"— Skip the Ad)
The children — myself included — followed Mary, Joseph, the shepherds, the angels and the Three Wise Men down the church aisle, singing "Away in a Manger" to our heart's content. We did our very best because we knew that at the end of the service, we'd be given brown paper bags filled with all kinds of goodies.
There would be apples or oranges, nuts and peppermint sticks, but it may as well have been filled with gold — our Christmas sacks meant that much to each of us.
My research suggests that this church tradition dates back to the Depression era, when many times the valued brown paper bags filled with festive, seasonal edibles were all the children would receive.
Even though those lean years have long since past, the simplicity of receiving those bags remains one of my most cherished memories.
Today's children are more sophisticated. They expect far more than an orange and some hard candy, but the anticipation of bright lights, carols, hot chocolate, hay rides AND SANTA still bring out the very same Christmas joy that kids have experienced throughout the ages.
Some things never change.
I took two of my granddaughters to Santa's Wonderland in College Station. Though the cost of the tickets and all the extra "necessities" was not cheap, the experience was priceless. The hayride — winding through millions of lights while Christmas music filled the night air— seemed to bring out the childlike wonder in the adults almost as much as in the children.
Who can resist a five-year-old's enthusiasm when she loudly exclaims, "LOOK, MIMI! We're gonna drive through a headband!" ???
I didn't have the heart to tell the little fashionista it was a wreath.
Memories like those remain with us for a lifetime, if we're lucky.
I hope someday my grandkids will look back and smile when they remember their childhood Christmases.
And I pray they keep their joy alive, whether they find it in a million sparkling lights, or tucked inside a simple, brown paper bag.
It's the giver, not the gift
Among my memories, are recollections of a tiny house belonging to my great-aunt and uncle. We'd visit each Christmas and some of the rooms would be blazing hot from the heat of a cast iron, wood-burning stove, while others were icy cold from the wind that blew through the ragged windows and doors.
It was a meager existence, but I don't think they knew. Colorful ribbon-candy filled pretty glass dishes and there was always a real cedar tree, decorated in the most delicate mercury glass ornaments.
The tree was always surrounded by angel hair and draped in shiny tinsel. Angel "snow" blanketed the wooden chest where the nativity scene was placed.
It was picture-perfect.
And there was always a present under the tree for my cousin and me.
Since they had no children and were quite elderly, they had no clue as to what kids wanted from Santa. This led to us getting some wildly "wrong" presents. At the age of nine or so, my cousin was given a squeaky frog pull-toy — age appropriate for a toddler. I would get a plastic mirror, brush and comb set which would break the instant it came in contact with my thick, wavy hair. But I had no fear; after all, it would be replaced in 12 months!
We were taught to graciously accept the presents we were given and we thanked them properly, regardless of how odd the gift may have been. We knew it wasn't about the gift, but rather about the giver. We were thought of at Christmas, by people who had next to nothing. These were folks who rarely made it into town and who drew their water from the well in the side yard.
Today, we run ourselves ragged to find just the right gift, many times knowing if we miss the mark, we'll be able to tell immediately by the disappointed look on the face of the recipient. It's understood, these days, that getting a gift receipt is a must, just in case you give them what they consider to be the adult version of a squeaky frog pull-toy.
Part of that stems from our now instant-gratification mentality. We can have Amazon Prime deliver to our door anything our hearts could possibly desire, within 48 hours. We buy what we want when we want it, with no need to wait for Santa to bring it down our chimneys. (Plus, Amazon doesn't require milk and cookies to be left on the hearth!)
We spend lavish amounts on friends and family to show we care. It's all done with the best intentions, in the spirit of giving to celebrate the birth of Christ. It's the 21st century version of frankincense, gold and myrrh.
We wrap it up, give it with guarded pride, and hope for the best.
I'm overly sentimental, I get that fact. Although I've gotten better, I tend to keep gifts long past their "still relevant" dates because the giver was an important person in my life. If there's a gift given to me that is about as useful as a brittle vintage brush or comb, it has most likely found a forever home until I can reason my way into parting with it.
What I remember of the angel hair, "snow," and tinsel-draped tree was simple beauty. I don't remember being disappointed that we were given a gift that was not on our wish list.
I recall instead that there would be a present waiting for me under that beautiful tree...
Given the choice between an Amazon delivery of something I ordered myself or receiving a not-quite-on-the-mark present from someone who cares, I'll take the "squeaky pull-toy" every time.
So if you're on my Christmas list and I blow it, just smile, thank me and know that I gave it my best shot. And if I'm on yours, trust me when I say I realize it's the thought that counts.
As for Santa, I'm leaving the lights on and placing the cookies on the hearth.
All that glitters is not gold
Children are all about the fantasy of Santa, the lights, sound and scents of the holiday season. Anticipation is the order of the day. It's the stuff the best memories are made of.
We tend to romanticize Christmases past, but there are reality-checks that let us know that "all that glitters is not gold" (Shakespeare, 1596).
That tinsel on the tree I so fondly remember? The reality is that it was made of lead and banned in 1972. The gossamer angel hair that was draped beneath the tree? Fiberglass. Banned. And the snow under the nativity scene? Asbestos! Banned!
As it turns out, what I believed was a perfect Christmas, has a fatal flaw. Three, to be exact.
I say this to remove the guilt of trying your best to provide the "perfect" Christmas, and then falling short of your own, or others', expectations. Forget perfection.
By the time the children in our lives become old enough to reason, most likely, the Christmas memories we offered will be their idea of "perfect." Maybe it won't matter that the Reindeer Chow didn't meet our standards or that the gift they received in 2019 didn't match their expectations.
With a little luck, they'll remember driving through a headband, the hot chocolate, your decorated Christmas trees and all the other sights and sounds of Christmas.
And as for Santa, I'll take him over my Amazon purchases any day. The gift may not be perfect, but I'm sure the elves worked overtime to make it happen.
I've got some cookies to bake. It's quiet in the house and the timing is right. After all, I have a very important visitor coming down the chimney in just a few hours... And that Reindeer Chow is just not gonna cut it...
And Santa, I get it. Times have changed. Maybe you don't show up in a miniature sleigh pulled by eight tiny reindeer anymore. It doesn't matter how you get here, just show up. I've been nice. Most of the time. Some of the time. Kinda... Never mind.
Merry Christmas to all the Baby Boomers out there who survived lead, fiberglass and asbestos decorations~
And to all, a good night...