I began this essay last season, ultimately publishing the initial portions as a somewhat unrefined draft, but never finishing–so the six or seven of you who read it last year might find the first portions somewhat familiar. For most of you, however, we’re treading on new ground.
My ardent followers and weary friends will certainly attest to my love of most things Christmas, not to mention my enthusiasm for Christmas-themed posts. I wasn’t born this way; it was bred into me by a perversely nostalgic mother and an extended family whose expressions of sentiment were largely reserved for the final episodes of long-running television series (“it’s like they were our friends) and major holidays–Christmas chief among them.
To cut to the quick, I wasn’t the happiest kid. It takes an effort to find a picture of me smiling but each year, when I was young, as the days turned dark and cold, my family’s humble holidays brought moments of magical respite from the rest of the year. It wasn’t perfect, by any stretch of the imagination, but it was better and in endeavoring to make it similarly special for my children I’ve found even greater joy and satisfaction as an adult–so right up front there’s a lesson for you: focus on making some other people happy and it’s likely you’ll get a little good back for yourelf….
Now, to be clear, when I say “Christmas” we are talking about an extended period which began before Thanksgiving and persisted through New Years to Epiphany–the last of those happy “Twelve Days of Christmas”–the very sort of Holiday over-reach that drives Christian extremists nutso. Not that I care what they think.
For many of my generation, “Christmas” began with the arrival of the Sears, Roebuck & Company “Wish Book” and it’s myriad, fantastical possibilities–toys I had never imagined, let alone seen, and mostly likely never would, but of which I could marvel and dream. (all this and a ladies lingerie section, too–the Wishbook was the original internet). Within moments of it’s arrival, I had a ballpoint pen in my hand, circling anything interesting with reckless disregard for reality, or anyone else who might want to read those pages. I never seemed to notice that I would get none of it–the magic was in the dream, not the reality, which was never half as entrancing as the catalog imagery. I mean, all that crap broke by New Years Day, in any case.
The next great holiday milepost was our church’s annual “Hanging of The Greens” night–a massive covered-dish dinner, at which hundreds of people–mostly the older folks and families with young children–gathered and sat at long tables, partaking in the seemingly endless bounty of casseroles, gelatin-based salads, and chewy white rolls. After dinner, the men went to the huge sanctuary to decorate the half dozen or more trees, and arrange the hundreds of poinsettias, wreaths, swags, and bows that turned the church into a festive wonderland–it was truly spell-binding, and it’s disappointing that I have been unable to locate a picture.
While the men scaled ladders and hefted trees, the women cleaned up dinner (ha!) then adjourned, as did the children, to their various Sunday School classrooms to decorate each of the many rooms with craft decorations we had made ourselves. At the end of the evening, everyone gathered in the sanctuary for a small lesson, a few Christmas hymns, and a benediction. I invariably went home exhausted, but excited. Christmas was really on the way.
It’s odd to me now, three decades after my 0scandalous, sin-tainted family–with the adulterous father, the cloying mother, and their no-good, unruly little boy– was quietly marginalized and driven from that church, to recall how warm and inviting those halls were, as familiar as–and far more comfortable and safe–than my own home. I haven’t practiced religion for decades and have no plan to resume any time in the future, but I must admit that my experiences as part of a church community added a richness to the season that I’d never dream of renouncing.
Coming Soon…Part 2: On The First Day of Christmas, My True Love Gave to Me: Thanksgiving Dinner