Christmas is coming. Before this newspaper arrives in your mailbox again, Christmas with all the trees, presents, lights, and mistletoe will have come and gone. The ham will have been eaten, along with Grandma’s macaroni and cheese, pumpkin and pecan pies, and the $30 fruitcake. Most family members will have departed to return to their regular lives. Only the memories will linger.
Last week when the strains of “Good King Wenceslas” filled my car, I was transported immediately back to my childhood. My record player sat on the floor beside my bed so I could reach it without getting out from under my warm covers. Only one arm had to come out from under my quilt long enough to restart the record spinning there on the turntable. I played the song hundreds of times. Even though I had plenty others, “Good King Wenceslas” was my favorite. The minute I woke up, I started the song and continued to listen to it until Mama made me get up to wash dishes in the kitchen.
On Christmas mornings I always awoke to the smell of both ham and turkey roasting. Mama’d put them in at 4:00 in the morning so the oven would be available by 10 a.m. for baking dressing and various casseroles. I was the eternal, perpetual, timeless dishwasher. While Mama dirtied the dishes, I washed them. My sister didn’t do dishes, and my father—well, back in the fifties, men didn’t do housework of any kind. Daddy sat in his recliner and read the paper beside the Christmas tree. Occasionally, he’d add a log to the fire. That was his job, that and paying for everything. Mama did a major share of that, too, though with her pecan money and her babysitting money.
Traditionally we opened abundant presents on Christmas Eve night. Mama came from a poor family, and children were lucky to get hard candy and a piece of fruit as presents. She’d vowed that her children would have more. We did, too. I don’t remember many specific presents, except for stacks of books with Sears and Roebuck stamped in the back cover, but I well remember the family celebrations. We never knew who’d show up for dinner, but we did know there’d be plenty of food.
Every Christmas season involved some kind of pageant at church. I played every role from a cow to Joseph—I was too tall to be Mary, far taller than all the boys in our little church. When the pageants involved singing, as they invariably did, we made a joyful noise and that was quite sufficient. Daddy might not have chipped in with housework, but he took our religious education very seriously. He saw to it that we attended church and that we knew why we celebrated Christmas. We understood at very early ages that Christ’s birthday meant much more than good food and presents.
My mother is the one who went about buying or making presents for people. Anyone was lucky to get one of her homemade quilts. (Talk about a gift that keeps on giving.) I couldn’t begin to count the number of children on her Christmas list. It was so long that she started her shopping in June or July and finished on Christmas Eve, worrying constantly that she’d left someone out.
Both my parents loved their families, but they showed it in different ways. Nonetheless, they both enjoyed the family Christmases as much as the children did. I never heard one of them complain about how other people celebrated. They said nothing about commercialism polluting the holy day, even though that problem certainly existed back then. Mama and Daddy were firm believers in minding their own business, and I firmly believe they were right.
My sisters and I got plentiful gifts from Santa, but more importantly we got precious memories that still linger all these years later. I hope Larry and I are passing on that tradition to our family. I believe we are.
May each of you and your families enjoy the merriest Christmas ever. Put some memories under that tree.