Back when childhood sparkled with its touch of magic and fascination, Christmastime held a deeper, more heartfelt meaning. It was in those earlier years that the preparation was a big part of the celebration.
Thanksgiving held its proper place and significance weeks before any thoughts of Christmas decorating. The grade school children brought home construction paper, turkey and pilgrim centerpieces and stores put out their autumn displays, with “the horn of plenty” theme.
Nearing December 25th, I remember the thrill of retrieving that flimsy cardboard box from Mom’s closet shelf, delighting in the joys and colors of the Christmas season, and familiar ornaments tucked away from year to year. Dad had always picked the perfect tree, fitting beautifully in front of our bowed dining room windows, filling the house with scents of pine commingling with decadent aromas drifting from our kitchen.
It was usually the weekend before Christmas when we gathered to hang ornaments we’d crafted ourselves, along with others slightly chipped and discolored, blending softly with the bubble lights Dad would always adorn our tree with. As they warmed, the candle-like lights began to bubble, often with a flick of eager fingers. These special lights, along with Mom’s handiwork, topped off the aura of the season.
Mother enjoyed arranging her “snow scenes” on furniture and shelves. White cotton snow dotted with sparkles formed drifts for miniature plastic reindeer, Santa Clauses, sleighs, bags of toys and busy elves. A plastic tree had gumdrops affixed to the ends of all the branches, which had to be replenished frequently.
One busy week of preparations was a large part of what Christmas meant to a family, who all had a hand in getting ready. We four kids usually got our fill of Moravian sugar cookies which we carefully frosted and decorated, always one of those cinnamon candy hearts on each treetop and for Rudolf’s nose. Colored sugars dusted the turquoise dinette set and freshly scrubbed and waxed linoleum kitchen floor.
Dad usually took us all shopping in his newest Ford. We made our way “to town” (Winona,) even on snowy roads. Being the adventuresome sightseer he was, he always drove us all around the big city to look at the house lights, none so lavish as today. We exchanged very practical, inexpensive gifts. I felt like a chump the year I gave Dad a wool neck scarf, only to be told that he had four of them. I tried much harder to do better after that.
I don’t remember a major holiday shopping day following Thanksgiving, usually a day of rest. In fact, there were no premature, Yuletide-bedecked store windows, nor landslides of pre-Christmas sales before Halloween, like now.
I suppose busy folks in this new millennium find it helpful that they have the opportunity to start early, so they can check out all the nifty new decorations to deck the halls, Martha Stewart tableware and linens for the holiday hostess, and purchase those trendy toys, giving doting adults more opportunity to shop, shop, shop.
Holiday helpers are everywhere! This year even the weather has cooperated, giving folks a head start on mammoth outdoor displays. You can make a phone call and arrange to have a delectable Christmas feast delivered to your front door, giving the Christmas-weary a reprieve from entertaining and festivities all around town and wrapping the many great bargains they bought everybody, credit cards making it all possible.
By the time the holy eve of December 24th rolls around, the magic and spirit that is Christmas is drained from loving hearts. The excitement of simple things gets lost in the hustling and bustling, and the big expense.
Your beautifully adorned Christmas tree lights glow upon angelic faces of local carolers as they stand at your doorstep. A church bell tolls, a serene welcome to Midnight Mass. “Silent night, holy night. All is calm. All is bright.” You long for those unencumbered days of yore. Yes, next year… “…sleep in heavenly peace.”
Janet Burns would like to wish all her readers a blessed Christmas. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.