I've never been a parent. It must be interesting to watch your children grow and change.
This is a time of year of gazing back toward childhood holidays. Those holidays were divided into two eras before I became a teenager, with the earlier era being me and my two sisters with my Mom. Sometimes Dad was there but he was mostly a visitor in our lives.
Because of the holiday memory associations, I think about all those 'young' holidays and regard them in the lense of Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas. Easters were remarkably stable. We bought new shoes and clothes for the holiday. A haircut was required and then Mom would buy me a new three piece suit. I have glossy Kodak and Polaroid photographs of the occassions. My sisters and I would be dressed in our new clothes and lined up, squinting at the sun. We always went to Church.
We received the same Easter baskets each year, woven from red and green strips of wood, with a simple wooden handle. They weren't large. Plastic grass lined the basket's inside, cosseting chocolate treasures, jelly beans, and Peeps. Mom must have stored and re-used those baskets.
I have fewer memories of young Thanksgivings. Mom worked many of those, it seemed, and we traveled to relatives' homes for the meal. Most of the memories are about arriving, re-uniting with cousins, killing time by playing games, eating, and then killing time while the adults played games after cleaning up. Poker and Tripoly were the big pastimes for the adults. Wine, beer and whiskey was broken out, glasses filled, ice cubes consumed. Smoke and roaring laughter thicken in the dining room as the adults played, drank and unwound. Stuffed with food, we children were left to feign for ourselves, usually watching television or finding somewhere to curl up to sleep.
Christmas, though - that was a whole month of events. Falling snow, counting down days, enduring school until Christmas vacation began, joyous about snow -- look it's snowing -- delighted when the first day of winter arrived. I layed on the floor, flipping through catalogs and wish books and watching Christmas specials on television. Finding a tree, erecting and decorating it was another big event. Just finding and getting the decorations out was an event. The musty boxes of stored ornaments were treasures of memories and finds. Untangling the lights and testing them became my job at an early age. Real trees dominated the early years, a potential fire hazard shedding needles but enriching the air with amazing pine scents. We had to set it up in a green and red metal tree stand, planting the trunk in a bowl of water, then screwing bolts in to hold the tree straight and upright. A blanket of cotton snow was added beneath the tree to help the illusion that this was outside somewhere. Then decorating began. We used colorful glass ball ornaments and shiny silver and gold garland, wrapping it around the tree to create a pattern around the huge, colorful bulbs, and then adding icicles of silver tinsel. Those were my favorite trees, complete with an angel in the top.
Every aspect of decorating challenged us. First, where to put the tree. That required re-arranging the living room. We always put it in the living room. In front of the front window was always a preferred spot, but wasn't always available. We moved around in those years and didn't always have a front window. When such a window wasn't available, we erected the tree in a corner.
Next, spacing of ornaments and lights were important. Having the same colors too close together was rejected. Bare spots and clumping were both threats to proper decorating but the greater threat came from the tinsel. It had to be spread just right - not too thick or clumped, but not too thin.
Decorating could become exhausting.
Once we finished with those basics of lights and the rest, candy canes were added.
They're such beautiful trees in memory. Mom loved turning off all the lights except the ones illuminating the tree. We'd sit in silence, sipping hot cocoa with whipped cream, and gaze upon our tree.
Later, Mom experimented with an aluminum tree decorated with blue ornaments and blue garland. Another year, the aluminum tree was less decorated but we had a turning color wheel, run by a motor, lighting the tree with red, orange, yellow, and blue. We always worried about that color wheel catching fire. Those plastic wedges of color begame warped with heat, adding an usual hot plastic enrichment to the Christmas holiday.
Still later, on the edge of the era, Mom abandoned the aluminum tree for fake green trees. Our old fashioned ornaments, garland and lights were pulled from storage. I look back on them as an improvement but I missed the real trees, although, as an adult, I understand the aversion to their messes, and to killing the trees, and all the other effort involved.
We were fortunate to me, then, to be living in a snowbelt. Snow was expected for Christmas, and except for one year, nature delivered. We decorated the windows and the outside with lights and added wreaths to the doors. Walking around in the cold, snowy air, past the colorful houses, is another slice of favorite memory.
We had it all - sledding after school or snow days when the snow was too heavy and we were forced to stay home, rushing outside to build forts and snowmen, and have snowball fights.
On Christmas Eve, we watched and listened for Santa, staring out at snowy skies for signs of his sleigh and reindeer. Mom kept the illusion in the early years, buying the presents and hiding them until Christmas Eve, then putting them out after we went to bed so we were surprised to see that Santa had done his thing while we slept, just as advertised. Hiding the presents became a greater challenge as we grew and questioned Santa's existence. For a while, she held back on putting them out until December 21st but with badgering each year, the presents appeared earlier and earlier until there were daily additions. Seeing the new gifts required that you check to see who was the planned recipient, drawing threats and warnings from Mom.
My little sister was an unbridled sneak about checking what gift was going to whom, and she would come and tell me. "You know that big box in the back? That's for you."
Then, what became as fun were the years when I became part of the Santa generation, buying others gifts, wrapping them and adding them to the colorful booty. Watching Mom realize other presents had arrived under the tree and that some of them were for her was a joy.
Eventually, it changed. We three children aged. Mom and Dad divorced. Mom began searching for a new husband, trying to continue her quest for the family she dreamed of when she was a little girl. She married and more children arrived. Eventually, I moved away, returning as a visitor bringing gifts, and then my travels took me further and further away, and my returns became less frequent.
But with memories and thoughts, I still go back to those days when Christmas was exactly as we expected and the world was a wonderful place. Sometimes it starts with just a snowflake.
And sometimes, when the snow falls in a darkening night, I look up into the sky and watch for Santa.
Causes Michael Seidel Supports
Kiva, Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, Propublica.org, Doctors Without Borders, GreaterGood.com