When I think about my favorite Christmas memories there are three that come to mind. Two are from early childhood and one is more recent.
As kids we celebrated most of our Christmases at my grandparents’ house. They lived about an hour’s drive north of us. Their modest 2-bedroom apartment was not large, but as a kid it seemed huge. They had a fake Christmas tree that was alway decorated by the time we arrived. I especially remember the tinsel on that tree. I don’t see tinsel that much anymore.
There was always some kind of Christmas Eve gathering at that house. Small though it was, it was full of people. My grandmother was a terrific cook and there were all kinds of foods. I have a memory of fruitcake, which I don’t think I have tried since. The people (mostly family and close friends) always seemed cheerful and while I wasn’t aware of it at the time, there were probably spirits helping keep the spirits high.
Presents were piled under the tree. Sometimes we stayed overnight and sometime we drove home late. On the occasions when we spent the night, my brother and I slept in the guest bedroom. I would lie awake in the dark and wonder if Santa had come yet. I had a strong desire to creep out of bed and into the living room to see if he’d arrived, but I was terrified to do so. The should-I-stay-or-should-I-go agony of indecision is the sweetest part of that memory.
I loved those Christmas Eve’s so much that as the holidays approached, I would draw the scene in that apartment on paper, as if drawing it made it real. One year, after we’d moved across the country and couldn’t be at my grandparents’ for Christmas, I drew on a large poster board an incredibly detailed scene of that living room from memory: Christmas tree, presents and people all included. I still have that drawing all these years later. Looking at it made me feel like we were all there again.
On those Christmas Eves when my parents opted to go home, we always left late, it seemed to me. The drive was an hour and after all the excitement, it seems remarkable that I didn’t fall asleep. Instead my brother and I would play a game. We each looked out our windows at the star-filled sky, keeping our eyes out for Santa and his reindeer. There were quite a few times when one or the other of us would shout out with a potential sighting. I think we really convinced ourselves we saw the sleigh streaking across sky like a shooting star. Those drives home were so much fun. They melted away any disappointment we might have felt about not staying overnight at my grandparents’ house.
More recently, one of my favorite Christmas memories was at Kelly’s parent’s house. This was maybe seven or eight years ago. Kelly’s folks live in Florida and we drive down each December to spend Christmas there. Over the years various traditions developed. We all help to decorate the tree. We tour a local neighborhood with festive lights. This one year Kelly’s dad reintroduced me to egg nog, which I hadn’t had since I was five or six years old. I found that I loved it.
On Christmas Eve, after mass, after dinner, we all retired to the large family room and there, we proceeded to watch White Christmas, quite possibly my all-time favorite movie. We’d all seen it before, but this time we watched it with the audio commentary provided by Rosemary Clooney. The room seemed full of people. We chatted about the movie and the commentary. We drank egg nog. Despite the warm temperatures outside, Christmas was in the air inside. It was a very happy time. Kelly’s dad has since passed away, and as we get ready to resume our holiday traditions in Florida, I think about that evening often.
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