As a child, Christmas was always a magical time.
It began the day after Thanksgiving. It was that morning when the Christmas Spirit started to whisper in our ears. Black Friday wasn’t really a thing back then and, in fact, many stores remained closed from the turkey holiday. We spent this day as a family and began our Christmas preparation. We pulled out the decorations that my mother was sure to hang throughout the weekend before she started to make her tamales - the ones that she sold to make a little extra money for Christmas. Each night, thereafter, when she came home from work, she baked something new: cookies, cakes, pies, candies. The counters were overflowing with each and every one of these treats. Is it any wonder that today I still have a sweet tooth? Oh, but those were simpler times.
The next thirty or so days always seemed to be interminably long. Each day lasting longer than the one before as time slowed its long march to Christmas Day. To occupy our time and distract us from counting down the days, we watched all of the classics on one of the three networks (ABC, CBS, NBC). There was no such thing as cable in those early days and, even when it finally came out, the big three were on the “free” airwaves. As I watched, I empathized with poor Rudolph wondering why the other reindeer wouldn’t let him play. Who cared if he had a red nose? Each year, Charlie Brown tried to teach us the true meaning of Christmas. It didn’t really matter how big or full your tree was. There was beauty even in the little ugly one. Frosty the Snowman taught me that, even when the good seemed to melt away, you could bet your bottom dollar that it would come back. My favorite was “The Little Drummer Boy.” I remember how the boy gave to the Christ child his gift - the only thing that he had in his possession. The gift, as inconsequential as it was, outweighed each and every other gift that was brought by the more well-healed. Maybe I particularly liked this one, because my family was not well-to-do and I realized that any gift that I gave, if given from love, was just as precious (or possibly more so) than any other. Oh, but those were simpler times.
We sang Christmas carols in our school choir - yes, even the ones that were religious in nature. Nobody was “triggered” at the sound of little angelic voices singing “Oh, Holy Night”, “Silent Night”, or “Come All Ye Faithful.” The songs were beautiful and the parents beamed with pride as they watched their children sing in the Christmas pageant. The gift of the pageant was hearing the children sing without concern that the message may be “divisive.” The Christmas Spirit’s whispers were carried on the voices of the children. But those were simpler times.
My family never hung outside lights. Who wanted to pay that electric bill? But we did bundle up and pile into the station wagon to drive through the “rich” neighborhoods so that we could marvel at the majesty of the twinkling lights. They were so beautiful and they reminded us of stars. To my mind, these stars demonstrated just how insignificant our daily problems were when compared to the majesty of the universe. But those were simpler times.
I never did go to the mall to see Santa, but I did accompany my mother on some of her shopping. The stores were bedecked in their Christmas finest and, even though people were intent on their purchases, they made the time to wish us all a “Merry Christmas.” How I loved saying it back. The stores were not concerned that someone might be offended by the phrase. Even non-Christians understood that no ill-will was meant and they accepted the greeting with a smile. But those were simpler times.
When Christmas Eve finally arrived, we drank hot chocolate and ate some of those treats that my mother had baked. Before we retired for the night, she left out a plate of tamales, cookies and a cup of that hot chocolate for Santa. The thrill of seeing them half-eaten in the morning was something that I will never forget. But those were simpler times.
On the big day, we rose very early.. Then we made noise in an attempt to wake my mother. We knew that there would be no gift opening until she had her coffee. As a child, I hated waiting for her to have that first cup of joe. As an adult, I understand that she was not going to be able to get through the mayhem that would follow unless she had it. The day was filled with love and joy, not because of the visit from Santa. If the truth is told, there were many times when we had no gifts under the tree. My family simply could not afford them. There were, of course, other times, when the underbelly of the tree was brimming. But even at those times, the gifts were usually not exactly what we hoped for. Rather than getting the latest brand, they were usually knockoff’s. But as disappointed as we might be in getting that pair of “Jordacke” jeans instead of the “Jordache” pair or the “Polaroyd” camera instead of the “Polaroid”, we simply said, “Thank you.” I was taught that was the proper response when one received a gift. But those were simpler times.
I am not really feeling the Christmas Spirit this year. I went to the mall last weekend to pick up a few last minute items. As she took my payment, the clerk did not say “Merry Christmas” or even “Happy Holidays”. I looked over the railing of the second floor down to Santa’s workshop and watched the line of children waiting to sit on the jolly old Elf’s lap. But their parents were more engrossed in the magic of their iPhones than the magic of their children’s wonder. Throngs of people milled about, but I saw very few smiles. They were hurrying from one store to another intent on the latest sale. Sure, the mall was decorated, but the lights had no majesty and no stars shined through. As intently as I listened, the Spirit’s whispers could not be heard over the noise of the crowd.
I have searched for those Christmas classics on television. They are getting harder and harder to find. Who knew that if I watched “Rudolph” I supported bullying? And, do they even air “The Little Drummer Boy” anymore or is its message too controversial? I was quite surprised to learn that I am pro-date rape when I sang along to “Baby, It’s Cold Outside”. In our cynicism we see nefarious action even when none is intended. Times aren’t so simple anymore.
Oh, I have tried to catch the Spirit’s whispers on the wind. I have done all of those Christmas-y things that should fill us with joy. I’ve decked the halls and the presents are wrapped whilst tucked safely under the tree. I have gone to the neighborhood Trail of Lights. And, yes, I have done my good deeds, giving comfort and aid to those in need. Still, I cannot hear him. I keep listening; hoping to hear his whispers. But, so far this year, he has been silent. Has our divisiveness finally scared him away?
“Why has the Christmas Spirit gone?” I wonder. I hope that he returns. But for now, whatever the reason, he is gone, and with him, he took the magic.