Saturday, December 25, 2010

The ghosts of Christmas past

Some of my fondest memories of Christmas are from my childhood. We were like most kids; we looked forward to the holiday season with so much anticipation that we could hardly wait for the big day to come. The excitement would build and build as packages were added around our tree. When the treasured moment arrived, we would literally rip the paper from our packages to see what was inside.


The tree, yes the tree. It was always a cedar that we cut on our own property and we would look over many before deciding on that ‘just right’ tree. We didn’t have much to do with so we used the same lights and ornaments every year. Even the icicles were carefully removed from the tree after Christmas was over and used again the following year. They got pretty wrinkled and broken, but to us our tree was always beautiful. One memory I have that is not so good; one day we went to cut our tree. I was small and more in the way than anything. While I was watching someone, I forget who, chop down the tree, the hatchet blade came flying off and barely missed my head. I have lost my head over many things in my life, but that time it was nearly literal.


I got my first bicycle for Christmas when I was only 7. It was a huge 26 inch bike and I was small for my age. I couldn’t reach the pedals when they were all the way down, so I would push down on one pedal as far as I could, then hook my toes around the one coming up and pull. Of course the centrifugal motion kept them turning as long as I pushed hard. I had a lot of crashes until I learned to ride, and it was a long way to the ground for a small boy on a bike that big. I would go around and around in small circles in the yard, and then run to the house and boast about how many I made before I crashed and burned. I kept that old bike during all of my childhood. It was the only one I ever owned, except for a couple of junker’s that I used for parts or just for coasting off hills. I took that big old bike and added another set of forks to the front to make a chopper. I added a huge high ‘sissy bar’ and a red, white, and blue banana seat. I took colored tape and went around the frame, put on some ram horn handlebars. I added a headlight and taillight, and I had the coolest bike in the country. As far as I know it was the only one fixed up that way. Everyone else had the small 20 inch bikes. I rode my chopper a couple of miles to my sisters grocery store and I remember that when I got going too fast, the long front end would start vibrating like crazy.


Christmas was exciting in many ways to us. Not only for the gifts, but for the parties at school, and at church. The Christmas plays we would either watch or participate in. The camaraderie with people that we might not even be friends with for the rest of the year. I remember a party at church when I was 15 or 16. Santa Claus came walking into the church house doing the “ho ho ho” thing, and one of the other boys who was my age said. “Hey, that’s Dad”. He sounded almost disappointed, even though we had long known that Santa wasn’t real.

I recall getting gifts that made my heart sing with excitement, and I remember years when we didn’t have enough, and all I would get was clothes for school. Even that was exciting, because they still had to be unwrapped. A wrapped gift could contain anything so we approached all with the same zeal.

I recall being very small and buying my father a small gift, then getting confused about what I had gotten for him. I was arguing with my sister about it, and forgot Dad was listening, and said loudly, “MOM, I DID TOO GET DAD A PAIR OF GLOVES DIDN’T I! Of course Dad heard me and the surprise was ruined, except that I had actually bought him a pair of socks and forgotten it.

I recall some special people who always took the time and money to make sure that we had gifts for Christmas. Our next door neighbors and one of their daughters who lived in New York made memories for us that I will never forget. I was an avid reader and the old lady next door bought me many books over the years. I still have those books and will cherish them forever. The lady in New York always sent us some really neat gifts that were both entertaining, and chosen to make us use our minds as well.

I recall one year when Christmas was approaching. I was about 17 and had a job earning a few dollars. Mom got concerned about me not buying gifts for Christmas and informed me that I was selfish. All the while I was secretly busy building her and Dad a magazine rack in shop class. She was surprised, and seemed happy with it when I proudly presented it on Christmas morning. I felt rightfully absolved from the guilt of being selfish.

I recall celebrating Christmas with many people who are no longer with us, including one of the boys from church that I mentioned above. He was killed in a wreck a few years ago. My father is no longer here, but his gifts to us will never be forgotten. The material gifts he gave us are mostly gone now, but the gift of his life and cheerful, giving personality will live on. Others we cared about are gone, but still here in our hearts. We don’t know when Christ’s birthday really was, but we know what he did for us. A lot of our Christmas practices actually come from old pagan practices, and I hope God will forgive us for that. I can’t help loving this holiday.

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I am now building new memories with my wife, and hopefully we will have a family of our own soon to share them with, and create more. I try mightily to celebrate this special day for the right reasons, love, giving, caring, togetherness, and beauty. I love the lights, the decorated trees and homes. I love the brightly wrapped gifts and ribbons. I love the holiday cheer, but most of all I love my family and the memories, the ghosts of Christmas past. 

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