Archives for posts with tag: Christmas

​When my mom was a child her family didn’t have a lot of money, but they made up for it with love and small traditions. The way they celebrated seems strange to us now, but at the time it was all they knew.

One of the best she told me about was their Christmas tree. Her father would go into the woods and cut down a huge holly. I had never heard of holly as a Christmas tree, but it must have been magnificent. Their house had big rooms with high ceilings. Try as I might to imagine the scene, I can’t quite get hold of an image of the way they would tie the top of the tree to the ceiling to keep it firmly upright. They had small candles in metal holders that attached to the tree branches. They would only light the candles briefly. That I can certainly understand. The potential for a catastrophic fire would have been horrifying, especially inside a big old wooden house, but think of the joy the sight of that tree, with its natural decorations of green leaves and red berries, gleaming in the candlelight, brought to the children’s faces.

When time came to open presents, packages were sparse, but so very appreciated. My mom’s face would still light up, almost a century later, as she spoke of the year she got a tiny doll in her sock. They didn’t even have traditional Christmas stockings. Or perhaps the socks were traditional back then for country folks. She loved that doll so much, partly because even a little girl’s doll was a rare thing for her.

(This is a very old picture of my mom, with dolls. One of the big ones was hers, the other her older sister’s. The one she’s holding may be the little one she got for Christmas.)

Somehow, an orange and an apple found their way into each child’s sock, along with a handful of nuts in their shells. A little candy would appear in a good year. If her parents couldn’t buy any, her mother might make fudge or divinity candy. They made delicious, sticky popcorn balls and in sparser times chicken and dressing would be the centerpiece of their Christmas dinner, instead of turkey or goose. My grandmother had a reputation as a wonderful cook, even though she had to do it all, roasting the meat, baking cakes and pies and the wonderful cookies she called tea cakes, in the oven of a wood burning cook stove that practically roasted the kitchen, as well as the food.

Maybe all this is why my mom never wanted much for Christmas and was so grateful for the special presents I picked out so carefully to make up a little for the spare Christmases she knew as a child. I think the reality was that she didn’t think of those holidays as spare. She remembered each  gift she received with joy, because every single humble one was wrapped so beautifully in the love that was the best gift of all. 

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My phone doesn’t take the best pictures in the world. Maybe it’s that I forget that it tries to be autonomous every chance it gets. Sometimes what I end up with is an instant toss. Sometimes I like the mistakes.

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When my flash kept firing automatically, I got a series of Christmas decorations shots that look intentionally abstract. I can’t exactly take credit, but kudos to my phone for being good at accidental abstracts.

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Raindrops on the windshield took over with the pretty, once I finally wrested back control and  turned off the flash.

The historic story of soldiers from opposing armies meeting in No Man’s Land to celebrate Christmas together has been told in different ways ever since. A version was depicted in the movie A Midnight Clear. Another in an unusual movie I watched recently titled Oh! What a Lovely War. Different wars, same impromptu camaraderie.

The basis lies in an event, or series of events, that took place early in The Great War. This article,  World War I: The Christmas Truce of 1914 , goes into fascinating detail about the truly remarkable and moving story of the universal oneness of human beings that at rare times supersedes horrific and dire circumstances.

Sainsbury’s OFFICIAL Christmas 2014 Ad captures, a century later, the eerie, touching, tragic nature of this event with respect and high cinematic quality. It’s the most beautiful retelling of the occasion I’ve ever seen. A fine tribute to the nature of the men involved on its own, the added respect given by the donations of all profits to The Royal British Legion makes this “commercial” a class act.

This is not a Santa and Cupid mashup, though I know the title makes it seem that way. I caught the end of The Polar Express earlier tonight and it made me think about how that movie really captures the magic of Christmas that comes with childhood. Sadly, I think it’s true that as we grow up most of us lose, if not the ability to hear the bell, the ability to hear it the same way.

I can so distinctly remember looking up at the sky at night as a little girl, trying to catch a glimpse of Santa’s sleigh…a mere bright speck against the darkness. In my mental scenario, there were always sleigh bells, faintly jingling from a great distance.

I believed, as only a child can.

However much I believed, the weirdly logical little kid I could be had questions. Chiefly among them was: How could Santa bring my presents, since we had no chimney? He always did, but how he got in really bothered me. A writer in the making, since my young life was a veritable chorus of “But HOW?” and “Why????”. My parents told me he came in thorough the keyhole in the front
door. When came the inevitable demand for technical specifications, they defaulted to the answer most kids will accept. Magic. Okay. I bought it well enough to ignore the niggling doubt that such a big guy could get through that tiny opening. Especially with all the presents I expected and usually got. When I woke up to the big boxes with the jolly one’s name on them, I was quite happy to tear into them, with hardly a calculating glance toward the front door.

Earlier this year I was chatting with an elderly couple while at McDonald’s with my computer. The conversation turned to what Christmas was like when they were children, which inevitably led to the no chimney question. That’s a bit surprising really, since I assumed every house back then had a chimney. A particular sparkle came to the old woman’s eyes as she smiled softly and told me how her parents handled the dreaded question. They told her that Santa Claus is made of love and love can always find a way in.

So simple. So perfect.

I suspect that for children of the Great Depression love may have been the mainstay of many Christmases. And I know from the childhood stories of elderly relatives that the smallest gift during those hard times were immensely treasured. That woman’s parents wisely gave the answer that children accustomed to small joys and abundant love could treasure along with their meagre holiday bounty.

So I wish for us all a day overflowing with joys big and small, the kind of love that always finds a way in…and the ability to hear at least the echo of remembered sleigh bells jingling from the sky.

Merry Christmas.

A big beautiful holly bush, laden with its red berries, ubiquitous symbol of Christmas, greets me every time I climb the post office steps.

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This particular bush has become entwined with my hopes and dreams, as I mail my stories, queries, proposals, and screenplay competition entries. What better Season’s Greetings with which to wish you all the Merriest of Christmases and a New Year that shines brightly? May all your own hopes and dreams stay bright, throughout the coming year…and always.

I overheard an exchange between a young mother and her little girl in CVS last night. That’s how it sounded, anyway. We were separated by several aisles, so I never saw them. I was just wandering around, looking at Christmas stuff. Okay, okay I was in the candy aisle, scoping out the new Godiva offerings.

I’ve been witness to way too many scenes of grasping little kids, begging escalating to demands, then tantrums, to pay much attention. The worst was a little boy riding in a cart full of stuff at Walmart, repeating his shrill mantra over and over: “Own tat! Own tat!”. It took me about six repetitions to realize his Southern accent was mutilating “I want that!”.

These scenes usually conclude with the child screaming and the parent trying to outscream the offspring, while threatening bodily harm if the tantrum does not end NOW! The good finales are when the child is taken right out of the store. Blessed silence. The bad ones are when the parents turn into bullies and hit the child in public. Fortunately those are rare.

Rare in a special way was the CVS pair. The child desperately wanted a toy she’d spotted. There was wailing, but it was more heartbroken sounding than selfish or demanding. What caught my attention enough to pay attention was the mother’s quiet, loving voice.

She said they couldn’t get it. Maybe Santa would bring it. The child wanted it then. The mother carefully explained that they had to leave the toy there. They couldn’t afford it. Maybe it would be under the tree for Christmas, but they had to leave it in the store.

The little girl cried some more. She didn’t really understand. The mother patiently explained, until it got through to a mind too young  really know what it meant to be poor. Finally, the child stopped crying. A pitiful little voice asked, “It has to stay here?” “Yes. It has to stay here. Maybe you can have it for Christmas.”

The child accepted her disappointment with a grace that most adults can’t manage. When the little girl sniffled some more the mother said, “Come here, baby. Let me love you a little.”

It was silent after that. I imagined the mother hugging her child, offering comfort and love that hopefully the little girl will remember as she grows up and someday realize was more valuable than anything money can buy.

I didn’t hear any more from them, as they left the store, empty-handed, perhaps already anticipating a happier Christmas morning. I’d moved to the less popular office supplies aisle, fighting back tears as I listened to the final heartbreaking moments. 

I was incredibly tempted to buy the toy for them. Standing there staring at blurry ink cartridges, I wrestled with what would be the right thing to do. I don’t walk around with wads of cash, but I probably had enough on me. They would have been so happy. So grateful.

It would have become about me.

I realized I didn’t want the little girl to remember the nice stranger who had bought her a toy. I wanted her to wake up on Christmas morning, and discover the toy I hope and pray will be under the tree, thrilled that she got it after all. And I wanted that mother to be thrilled that she was able to give her child something that made her so happy.

What if some other toy she might have found to give was not as wanted? What if the child thought every time she wanted something a nice stranger would appear to grant her wish? I’m satisfied that not stepping in was the right choice. Still, come Christmas morning I’ll spare a thought for the kind mother and gracious beyond her years little girl, and hope their Christmas is merry and bright.