Looking back at my childhood, there are few Christmases that stood out. Sure, I remember odds and ends of many of them. Like the one time when it was about 65 degrees and we got bikes that year and we were out riding them in short sleeve shirts. But there are a few that stand out as cherished memories, even if some of them were in my head (or so people say). It seems appropriate to reminisce about them and share some of them with you all.
We were poor, but I dont think it really settled over me, or us, until middle school. Regardless, our mother always tried to ensure that we had a happy Christmas and struggled to give us at least one of the things we wanted. Excitement, for my sister and I, would start at Thanksgiving. It was then that we would start bugging our parents to put the tree up. Normally we would wait until the first week of December to put the tree up. Dad was pretty much a Bah Humbug Guy, He disliked putting the tree up and having all the lights. That is an image I always remember. Due to my allergies to pollen, we almost always had a fake tree and the tree we used was old by the time I was young. He would fight with it to get it up, always trying to get the stand just perfect and in the end cussing it more than anything and tying it to the wall so that it would be straight.
As kids, we loved decorating the tree. It was awesome just unboxing the decorations to put them on the tree. Looking over the various ornaments with fond memories from previous years and staring in slack jawed awe at any new ones that would be added. We would have the TV on and some Christmas program, like Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer or the like. I even remember decorating the tree with the Wizard of Oz playing on some channel. I think the most favorite part of decorating, for me anyway, was putting the tinsel icicles on the tree. I remember first putting them on our tree about the age of three to five, putting them on one piece at a time. Mom would always tell me to do them in bunches so that it would look like ice on the tree. Not understanding, I would then grab handfuls and throw them at the tree and see what would stick. However, they were a pain to clean up. They always ruined vacuum cleaners, had the possibility of pets eating them, and finding them in various places throughout the year.
Christmas was a family event for us and would spend it going to our grandparents for dinner and gift exchanges. Christmas Eve we would go to Meemaw’s (Mom’s mom) house for a huge dinner. She always had a small kitchen table and we would invariable end up eating in the living room. There came a time that my Mom’s brother, Allen, and his family would come either before or after us, so that they could eat without us there. But during the times that we all were there together, I remember hurrying through dinner and sneaking to the living room to look at all the presents under the tree and try to hurry the adults up so we could open them. Usually we would go to Dad’s mom’s house on Christmas Day. For our family, we opened gifts on Christmas Eve, but I remember hitting my mom to let us open “at least” one gift the week before Christmas.
As a kid, I always wanted to believe in Santa Claus. I think it stemmed from the fact that Santa didn’t care if I was a poor kid or not, he would deliver gifts to all kids. I can remember trying to lie awake each Christmas Even hoping to hear the reindeer as they landed on our roof or actually trying to figure out how all eight of them could possibly land on the roof of our small house.
One night that still stands out to this very day happened around Christmas 1981. I remember being so excited to see what would be left under the tree that I fitfully slept all night. I heard something from the living room, you have to understand that the bedroom my sister and I shared also shared a wall with the living room. The door to our room always stayed open, for heating purposes I guess or just a lack of trust from our parents. But this night, I was sure I heard something from the living room. I slept in the top bunk of our bunk beds and I carefully crawled to the end of the bed and peaked around the corner. As more of the room slipped into my excited and scared gaze, I saw what looked like Santa sitting in a chair on the opposite side of the wall. There he sat, eating cookies and drinking milk that we had left out. My mouth was wide open in astonishment. As he gave a slight chuckle of “Ho, ho, ho,” I got nervous and just as carefully slipped back up to my pillow. I laid there is excited shock thinking that I had just caught a glimpse of that merry man who brought joys to all the kids of the world. To this very day I still carry the hope that it was actually Santa Claus. The only thing I am sure of is that our parents did not dress up to play Santa. They never had a hidden outfit and really couldn’t afford to just buy one for a night.
Just seven years later our family received a major shock. Around September of 1987, our house burned down, we lost everything. I was a sixth grader at the time and already losing faith in Christmas miracles. We spent our first Christmas after in a small three-room camper, my dad, mother, sister, and myself all crammed into this tiny camper. The camper was on site of the house my dad was building for family friends. So that Christmas we used the house to put up our tree. I honestly felt that there would not be a Christmas that year and prepared myself for more disappointment. I understood the travesty our family went through and that money would be tight to try to get us into a new place. Since the tree was in the house my father was building, we didn’t see when gifts were put under the tree. Needless to say, when it was getting closer to Christmas, we started noticing gifts appearing and my excited swelled up into my throat. That Christmas probably taught me more than any other, that family was the most important aspect of the holiday and that miracles can happen to everyone.
My feelings of Christmas has changed over the years. It became a reminder of the things and people I have lost, so my heart wasn’t in the spirit. It became a time that I enjoyed only because the family would come together and share a meal together. I lost interest in receiving gift or giving them. I began feeling that the event was more important. I still look back to that kid in 1981 who clung to the fact he was sure he saw Santa Claus and it still carries some magic with it. I only wish that I still had the same wide-eyed wonder that I did then. It’s funny how the Spirits of Christmas Past can have such an effect on us.