Ghosts of Christmases Past

There are actually some advantages of getting older. I can finally not lay a burden on myself about Christmas. I can do as much or as little now as I feel like doing. The most important thing to me is being with my family and a few close friends during the holidays.

Some of our family members prefer now to give each other a donation to our favorite charities in lieu of expensive gifts. Simplicity is the key to what I most appreciate nowadays.

During the Depression, [almost all of] my family lived within a few miles of each other in Springfield, Mo., [and we all] spent Christmas together. We had a real Christmas tree, a cedar, decorated with glass ornaments in eye catching, curious shapes. My mother made pink popcorn balls and candied grapefruit, which I didn’t like, but it was an essential part of our Christmas traditions. We had homemade, decorated sugar cookies and divinity some years.

All our gifts were inexpensive, often handmade by my mother who was a superb seamstress. We children enjoyed our stocking gifts almost as much as our bigger gifts like sleds, dolls and ice skates. We didn’t have great expectations of Christmas. We just enjoyed the season.

When I moved to the East, for several years I traveled to Springfield to be “home” for Christmas. The year after I married, I didn’t go back to Missouri. I missed everyone and all our family’s Christmas traditions so much. I didn’t know how to make my mother’s pink popcorn balls. (She had forgotten the recipe.) My husband and I didn’t have a tree.

After we had children, we started our own Christmas traditions. However, each following year I burdened myself with more and more pressure before the holidays.

One year my husband and I struggled to put a cardboard play store together on Christmas Eve, trying to fold flap A into slot 1 and so on. Finally, in desperation, we called our neighbor who was an engineer. It took all of us, including his wife, hours to finish the project. After midnight, we still had to set up a train set, stuff stockings and complete the rest of the Santa work. With profuse thanks, we sent our neighbors — who still had to set up an elaborate Fort Apache for their boys – home.

A few years later, I had worked for months on a cardboard doll house with cardboard furniture that I had painted, gilded, upholstered in a fit of creativity I had no idea I’d possessed. … We had very little storage space in our apartment, so I had my in-laws keep it at their house until I’d planned to pick it up after our children had gone to bed Christmas Eve. Disaster struck that night. An ice storm descended on our town. Nothing could move safely.

I was in a panic for hours. How could I get that dollhouse back in time for Christmas morning? It wasn’t safe to drive on those icy roads. I had hidden the doll furniture in a closet, but it was supposed to be all set up in the dollhouse for my child’s major gift.

In a final effort, I called a cab company to see if they could deliver the dollhouse to me. The dispatcher answered, “Lady, I’m not sending anybody out in this weather.”

I was devastated until a small voice called out to me from her bedroom, “Mommy, what’s the matter?” Since she already knew about Santa Claus, I explained the problem — an essential part of her gift was at Aunt Ann’s, and I couldn’t get it tonight.

She listened, thought for a minute or so and then, “But you’ll get it as soon as the ice is gone, won’t you?” I assured her that I would.

She answered, “Well, then, that’s okay,” and she went back to sleep. I arranged the doll furniture under our tree and crawled into bed. What an absurd creature I was. My daughter had a lot more sense about Christmas than I did.

Now I can go to more Christmas choral concerts than I used to. Attending my church’s Nativity Pageant, which is performed entirely by children, is one of my delights. Our family also celebrates Hanukkah by lighting a menorah and stuffing ourselves with on the first night. We give each other books that can be secondhand, selected in the hope that the recipient will enjoy the book as much as we did.

Simplicity has so many rewards — unfettered pleasure, peace, and comfort in our faiths, whatever they may be.