Where Has the Xmas Magic Gone?
I was with a friend this week, a grandmother of 6 and she was lamenting all the lists of Xmas wants from grandkids and son- in- laws. The lists were quite lengthy and specific. I thought it sad that Xmas was all about getting stuff without even some surprise attached to it.
Thinking back on my own Xmas experiences ( 1950, and 60’s) there were no lists. Xmas in our house was about experiences first and material things second. And there was always an element of surprise. (not that we didn’t drop hints), but there was always a surprise.
I was a horse crazy kid so maybe I was easy to get presents for but the memories that are clearest after 50 years are these.
1. My father unexpectedly decided we’d go for a drive. A rather long one, an hour away. We landed at a warehouse full of horse tack, boots and apparel for both English and Western. I can smell the leather and saddle soap to this day. My father told me I could pick out a pair of boots. Tall , black English riding boots. He also let me get a jacket and I chose a Western fringed leather jacket . It was all a complete surprise and I loved wearing both. (together).
2. Another drive landed us at “Critchleys Candies” in Rivers Edge , NJ. At Xmas time Critchleys was a wonderland of confections and decorations. They were famous for chocolate peppermint bark, and real ribbon candy. I got to pick out gifts for my aunts and of course goodies for us.
3. We didn’t get a Xmas tree until a week before Xmas. It came from a large nursery about a ½ hr away. They had hundreds of trees, wreaths and greenery. The nursery had real horse drawn sleigh rides, a petting zoo with deer, sheep and goats and a very magical indoor room full of lights and fancy imported glass ornaments from Europe. Each year someone in the family got to pick out a special ornament. When we got home from this fun shopping trip, we roasted hot dogs in our fireplace for lunch and made hot chocolate. My father loved his record player so on went the Xmas music…The Ray Coniff Singers, Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin.
After the tree got lit and decorated , the stockings hung and the nativity figures were in place on a table the house felt so magical that I got my sleeping bag and slept underneath the tree!
Of course there were still wrapped gifts under the tree on Xmas morning and they were needed but more mundane items like new socks and underwear, a plush bathrobe or a board game.
On Xmas eve we attended church. I sang in the church choir for many years and the Episcopal church loves singing, so it was a joyful, usually candlelit service. Afterwards we came home, broke open champagne and exchanged a gift or two, choosing to sleep in on Xmas morning. Our cousins, aunts and uncles came over on Xmas day but dinner was simple cold cut platters, fresh rolls , potato salads and pie, We alternated holidays with my Aunt Dottie so if we hosted Xmas, she did Thanksgiving. I often attempted to make Xmas breakfast which was French toast or pancakes.
Another magical experience at this time of year were some tickets to a performance- Radio City music hall and Rockefeller Center, a Broadway Show or a visit to a special restaurant in NYC. Bundled up, walking down 5thAve in NYC at Xmas time is magical. The store windows are all decorated to the nines with fabulous displays and twinkling lights. And yes, chestnuts are roasting on open fires on the street corners.
Of course Xmas was also baking time, and we cranked out little cookies from powdered sugar dusted pecan balls to iced sugar cookies. Some went in to tins for gifts or sharing with neighbors. The house always smelled warm from the scents of cinnamon and vanilla.
I never thought of my Dad as an especially creative person but his way was surprises and I am grateful for those treasured memories. Having lost my mother at 10, I think planning surprises probably helped him with any grief he might have had over the holiday. We made the best of it.
Its easy to be sad about all we’ve lost in life, but if we are thinking about the past or worried about the future we are missing out on the present. That gift is in front of us so lets accept it!
Happy holidays to all.
Have a fond Xmas memory from childhood? Share it in the comments.