There have been so many great journal entries around J-Land lately regarding memories of holidays past. They reminded me of a few almost forgotten memories of my own.
My little brother and I would wake on Christmas morning at dawn's first light. My Dad would hear us stirring and he would turn into my favorite holiday character...the Yuletide Nazi. (My apologies to those who may find the term "Nazi" offensive, but I really can't think of any other analogy that comes close to the feeling I want to impart.) Herr Kommandant would order us back to our quarters where we would remain under house arrest until my mother was ready. Why? Because of the home movies.
You see, in order for us to be allowed downstairs to see what Santa had brought us, we first had to have our faces washed, hair combed and my Dad needed to go down stairs ahead of us to set up his camera equipment. My parents wanted to catch every reaction and facial expression on film. My Mother also had to be "ready". That meant her hair needed to be fixed (rollers removed, hair teased, sprayed and coiffed), her face on (cold cream removed, face moisturized, foundation applied, blush, eye makeup, lipstick...yadda), and she had to have a cup of coffee in her hands.
While waiting for our parents to finish their preparations, my brother and I would be doing the pee-pee dance at the top of the stairs. We were nearly frantic and frothing at the mouth to see our tree. It was slow and cruel torture, really. Finally, after nearly three hours, we would get the go-ahead to come down the steps as my Dad would fire up some Christmas music on the HiFi (reel to reel tape deck). We would lunge downward, full speed, and try to shove each other out of the way to be first to see the latest Christmas miracle. Rounding the bend at the bottom of the steps, we would screech to a halt and throw up our hands to shield our faces from the glare of the twin suns my dad had mounted on stalks jutting out from either side of his 8mm home movie camera. Those camera lights were so bright, I seriously think we should have been using SPF30 to protect our skin.
Once the strobing blue spots had cleared from my vision, the tree would finally come into focus. YAY! Santa liked us! He REALLY liked us! We would play with our new toys until breakfast was ready. The wrapped gifts would have to wait until after the breakfast dishes were washed and put away. Dad would get the camera set up on a tripod and we would all take positions sitting around the tree. The wrapped gifts would be divvied out and the paper shredding would commence. My mother would shriek about saving the paper, and my brother and I would gleefully ignore her. We would take turns chasing the dog away (he would try to steal the stringy garlands of popcorn and cranberries my brother and I made every year to decorate the tree).
My dad would sit in his arm chair next to the fireplace and reach for a felt Santa hanging there on a hook in the brick facade. Santa's big belly was actually a pouch that my Dad or Mom would fill with fresh nuts (still in the shell). In Santa's pocket was a nut cracker. Dad would munch on walnuts, almonds, pecans and others while periodically checking the camera's progress. He would shell some walnuts for me, when I asked. He was also poised to lunge and rescue the tree should it suddenly decide to topple over...which it often did. My Mother had a bad habit of putting too many decorations on the front of the tree and not enough on the back to balance.
These are the fond memories. I won't talk about the hours of footage of my Dad screaming at us, me sitting by the tree or running from the room crying, or my Mom crying because my Dad had lost his temper over something stupid like the camera screwing up, or the tape on his reel-to-reel snapping and taking it out on us.
Dinner was always turkey with my Mom's wonderful sage stuffing (very simple and basic...no oysters, sausage or other junk). I would mash the potatoes and help strain the gravy. I also got to rip up the bread and add the stuffing seasonings, set the table and help clear after the meal. Those were my jobs, year after year.
Things changed when we moved into our last house. I was about ready to leave for college. My mother decided to change the style of her holiday decorating. All the cheezy red and green glass balls, plastic icicles, south-western "gods-eyes" and other decorations I remember fondly from my childhood were either packed away or relegated to the back of the tree (for ballast). The Santa nut bag disappeared. The Asian looking Santa and his reindeer we picked up on Okinawa vanished from the HiFi to be replaced by Mom's new "A Christmas Carol" village collectibles.
The nativity scene my Dad made while stationed in Turkey in the early 60s is still put in its place of honor in front of the fireplace. That is now the only object from those early childhood Christmas memories that remains. Dad lovingly hand-painted each ceramic figure himself to send home to his new wife and to pass the time. He wasn't able to be home for Christmas that year. It's the only artistic thing, besides the occasional model plane or boat, I've ever known my Dad to do. They are really beautiful figures.
I would take the baby Jesus out of his manger to play with him when I was a kid. Jesus would become my Barbie's first born. I hand-sewed little diapers for him out of some scraps of white fabric and Jesus would tool around with his new plastic mommy in her Corvette or go camping in her camper and dune buggy. I would always lovingly place Jesus back into his manger before I went to bed each night. I imagined him telling Mary and Joseph about his adventures in the modern world. When I go home for the holidays now, I always spend time sitting on the floor by the nativity and feeling a bit sad for the lambs who are all now missing a leg or two, and touching the chip in Mary's donkey's hoof.
Here at home, I am still trying to decide what our family traditions will be. I know I want to take Tyler out shopping so he can pick out a new ornament each year. I'd love for him to make a garland of popcorn for the tree, but he is still a little young to be playing with sewing needles. I know I won't be making him wait to go see his presents under the tree or for us to be "camera ready". I don't care. All I care is that he knows the true meaning of Christmas and has a really fun day too.
We have a primarily Looney Tunes themed Christmas tree at the moment, with the stockings to match (as you can see below). But the tree is pretty lean. We need more decorations, for sure.
I set up both of my nativity scenes yesterday. "Mine" is on the window sill next to the tree. Tyler's nativity is placed in the spot of honor, in front of the fire place. Just like I remember from my own childhood. Tyler also heard the story of Jesus' birth for the first time yesterday. We sat in front of his Little People's nativity and I acted it out for him. He really seemed to enjoy the story and had lots of "whys" for me when I talked about all the hotels in Bethlehem being full and Jesus being born in a barn. He was excited when I talked about the three wise men bringing birthday gifts to the new baby. He wanted to open them. I'm sure my telling of the story will become more sophisticated as Tyler gets older.
What are your favorite Christmas (or holiday) memories?