I love Christmas. It’s the shopping and the crowds and the stress that set my teeth on edge.
I love the majestic Christmas Eve services at the Episcopal church I don’t attend often enough. I love being able to provide gifts for the less fortunate. I enjoy baking for friends and wrapping presents. But braving maniacal crowds and hearing Muzak carols for six solid weeks? Not so much.
My mother used to go all out for Christmas. She decorated outside, inside and in-between. (Lights on the doghouse, my hand to God.)
She hung wreaths; trimmed live and tabletop trees; put out Christmas china and dishtowels and napkins; used cotton batting to simulate snow; and carefully assembled vignettes with sparkly miniature reindeer, wooden snowmen, sleighs and fruit. I never understood why glittery fake pears said “Christmas” to her, but to each his own. It made her happy.
Another thing that made her happy was stuffing our Christmas stockings. I think she enjoyed shopping for the toys, nuts and candy more than we enjoyed emptying the stockings. Per tradition, the last thing we found, tucked down in the toe, was a tangerine.
My brothers got BB guns, Matchbox cars and tennis racquets. My sister got transistor radios, makeup and one breathless year, a genuine rabbit-fur stole. I got books and dolls—Dawn, Skipper and Barbie—until Mom tired of me pulling their heads off to throw at my brothers. (Don’t judge.)
One year I got a toy typewriter and a ceramic piggy bank, two items that would define my life. (I love to write, and hate spending money.)
I often got animals as gifts: Hamsters, ducks, a manic miniature poodle, and, one unforgettable snowy Christmas, a spotted pony. He was a green-broke gelding, and he cost $100. I named him Smokey and had him for 15 ye
To the day I die, I’ll remember being carried into the backyard where my dad stood in the falling snow, holding the halter of a dream come true.
Another standout was the year Dad gave Mom her first dishwasher. (She was 40.) Her hands flew to her mouth and her eyes almost popped out on stalks. My oldest brother pulled up a chair and said, “Sit,” as she collapsed. She bragged about that dishwasher for 20 years.
Most of us can summon dozens of Christmases memories. Some experts say we conflate them, that what we think happened at age eight is actually fragments from age four, six and nine. But that doesn’t make the memories any less real.
My brother T-Bob cherishes a tattered, black- and-white photo of us taken one Christmas morn. He’s five, I’m three, and the shutter caught him precisely as he bopped me over the head with his brand-new Lionel train engine. I never saw it coming. T-Bob swears Mom had to pry my tiny hands from his throat. We laugh ourselves sick over that photo today.
There was the Christmas it was 80 degrees and we rode our new bicycles in shorts and flip-flops. There was the year Mom, for some unknown reason, crammed our stockings with full-sized Three Musketeers and Milky Way bars. I ate four Three Musketeers before 11 a.m., and have not touched one since.
I also love the legends that surround Christmas. One is that livestock kneel in their stalls at the stroke of midnight on Dec. 25, to honor the newborn King. And there’s an old Indian saying—Ojibway, I think—that says, “All lost things come home at Christmastime.”
Whatever you’ve lost, I pray you find. Merry Christmas.
Julie R. Smith, who will be shopping at Walgreen’s on Christmas Eve, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org