My mother gave us all a beautiful Christmas experience. The house was abundantly decorated in a lovely combination of religious and secular items. Sparkly ceramic snowmen waved to a portly Santa Claus from their bookshelves, Rudolf gazed at our stockings, and my sibling and I were enthralled by looking at (but never touching) our nativity, complete with tiny barn animals, a mossy roof, and a light bulb to illuminate the hand painted angel. This scene sat upon delicately spun white "angel hair" where every year we cleared off our large dark walnut coffee table to display it.
We always had two Christmas trees. A real one downstairs with all of our family, and handmade ornaments, with strings of lights in multicolored reflectors looking like large tin flowers growing among the pine. The tree upstairs was always perfect and elegant, in selected shades of cream and blue, its pristine showmanship could have rivaled anything on Dayton's floor.
And Christmas Eve was an obnoxious, yet touching movie scene of brightly wrapped presents, topped with beautiful shaped bows glinting gold and silver, spilling out from under the tree, invading half the living room of my grandmother's house.
A typical Christmas Past in the Midwest.
My response to most things that are Christmas today is rebellion mixed with low grade disappointment. Snowmen and Santas alike annoy me, no matter how sparkly or jolly they may be. To the dismay of my spouse, I much prefer the simplicity of white candles and pine cones, my presents covered in butcher paper and colored twine.
When I enter shopping areas I am assaulted by Christmas music, Christmas gift ideas, and Christmas colors that always seems a bit off somehow and garish (at some places this assault happens after Halloween), all directing me to buy that special something. Throngs of people scurrying about (usually in a foul mood might I add) to also buy that special something. This too annoys me.
When Christmas rolls around, this concept of commercial giving to my family that has become standard practice puts me ill at ease.
Don't get me wrong. I do enjoy getting that special something for my loved ones and children. In a good year, I may even have two special somethings that come to mind for giving. Then what? More things to buy, more things to have—all in the name of Christmas.
Bah, humbug to it all I say! For, what truly brings the Christmas spirit has always been the intangibles for me; the crunch of snow underfoot, followed by the sharp intake of breath, frosty and dry in the lungs. The metallic ring of dozens of tiny bells rung by children at Christmas Eve Mass, a sea of dimly lit faces upturned and peaceful, singing Silent Night, O Come All Ye Faithful. Electric candles glowing in my grandmother's windows, welcoming us in.
I'm not a wealthy person. But I might as well be, because 365 days a year I can buy myself or my children anything we need. When there's "nothing to eat" in my cupboards at home, I can grocery shop at any given place, on any given corner, with too many food options to count. Or I can dine out, at any given restaurant, on any given corner with too many food options to count. I turn on my faucet any time, day or night, and I get clean water. My everyday luxuries are endless.
I still want more sometimes, a new dress, a nice dinner out, and I'm lucky that for the most part, I can indulge in whatever fickle thing I want at the time. And I do. So I feel very little need to indulge at Christmas and secretly wait for the time when my children are older, when presents aren’t as important.
In the meantime though, I am not immune to eggnog moustaches and ginger snap crumbs, nor little elven voices singing about and secret late night whispering. Or the enchantment with presents.
It is after all, always the children that bring the magic to the season; pure and joyous. This year brings the painful awareness of others whose magic is gone forever, and makes every parent in America cling to their children with a new found urgency.
And in my own little universe, as one of our most beloved family members starts the long goodbye of Alzheimer's, I will be savoring this year more than most, understanding that the true meaning of Christmas is a gift for us all, and doesn't cost a cent.