This year I am rethinking the meaning and source of Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays and find I have to seek them in the past, at least for right now. I find myself, like so many of you remembering past Christmas experiences. I’m usually that frantic woman who starts bugging her dear man to put up the Christmas tree the Friday after Thanksgiving, but not this year. As many of you know, it’s been a rough year in the health department at our household and I don’t currently have the strength or the health to be enthusiastic as usual. I’m sure my husband would be scratching his head in wonder if he didn’t have to look at his sorry excuse for a wife, right now, and understand a nauseous woman recovering from a fractured back is not a pretty sight. The oral chemo has made me ill and we’re praying and hoping it will pass. A month of nausea can bend one’s attitude a bit.
In the meantime, Christmas with all of its festivities, family fun and food is coming at us, as fast as Rudolph’s lit nose can twinkle. I’ve tried to hold it back but it is thundering in on reindeer hooves, faster than usual with a late Thanksgiving this year. Since I have been physically and at intervals, emotionally down, for the last couple of months, I have had a great deal more time to think, ponder and remember the many Christmas times of my life. I know some folks have unhappy Christmas memories but most of mine are ones of joy and family pleasure. They haven’t always been abundant in the material sense, but always blessed. Always Christmas has brought with it the miracle of rebirth and the joys of life.
When I was a child living with an upholsterer Dad and a housewife Mom, my three sisters completed the circle. Since I was much younger than my sisters, my Dad used to take me shopping with him to buy them a family gift. I recall the year we went into our favorite music store in town. It was a lovely store with sparkling lights and always, always a mechanized, colorfully designed front window just for the season. Each year it was a different excitement of some sort to delight young and old. The memory that stands out most in my mind is when Dad wanted to buy my teen-aged sisters a new contraption which was a step up from the radio that was always running in our home. It was called a stereo hi-fi. I was in awe that it played all types of records and had a radio too. It was encased in a lovely light wood frame and I alone knew about it. I love Christmas secrets, don’t you?
We always opened gifts at our house on Christmas Eve. Santa came early to us and always rang sleigh bells on the front porch of our California style ranch house, just as we were eating dinner. He was speedy in his escape, and believe it or not I was a shy child and afraid of running into him so I waited a bit before opening the front door. We didn’t have a chimney and I’m certain my dear Dad was always grateful for that.
Mom and Dad were counselors for our church high school group and I’m certain that’s how I got drafted to sing AWAY IN A MANGER one year, white robe and angels wings complete with curly hair which came at the price of trying to sleep on metal rollers. I remember a cradle beside me with a doll like image of the Baby Jesus. I was frightened out of my mind but got through it.
Then I remember the Christmas I was ten-years-old and dearly desired a beautiful bridal doll I had spotted at our local J.C. Penney department store. That same year a very homely, realistic looking baby doll came onto the market. At least it was homely to me. When gift opening time arrived, I opened what I anticipated would be my bride doll to find the realistic baby doll frowning back at me. I burst into tears and ran from the room. I must have been a spoiled one to display my disappointment so openly. In the interim my eighteen-year-old sister was laughing. She had pulled the prank on me, thinking it would be humorous. It wasn’t.
There were, of course, later years when money was scarce and one year after a divorce when my children and I celebrated Christmas with another single young mother by buying and swinging at a piñata. That was a fun year, although a lonely one as my parents were committed to visiting one of my married sisters. Good times aren’t always dependent on money but unfortunately, they often depend on health. When I was eleven, I had rheumatic fever and spent that holiday season in bed or on the couch in our living room. I’m not unfamiliar with illness and have had it intertwined into my life almost from the beginning.
Worshipping, family and food are all interwoven into my thoughts and memories of Christmas. This year I have been particularly intrigued by why we say Merry Christmas. Maybe it’s because I am not feeling very merry. We used to say Happy Christmas and I understand that is still the accepted greeting in some countries. Whether you celebrate the birth of the Christ child, or another such as Happy Hanukkah, Ramadan or Kwanzaa, I wish you and yours health, joy of life and peace of mind.
Don’t let the falling needles, the pain in your body, that grouchy relative or the flu spoil this season for you. I will try, also.