Christmas Present–It’s about time…

Let’s face it. Some things lose their luster as we age. And that’s as it should be. I’m not so crazy for stiletto heels anymore. I don’t really care to party into the wee hours—I can usually get in all the hell-raisin’ I need by 11 p.m. Did I ever really crave cherry coke?
You might guess by now that I fall into the “boomer” category, rather than “millennial.”  Along with the expected changes of aging, I am discovering that rituals, and my place in them, have changed too. Some I like, some, not so much. Mall-crawling as a social activity is not something I enjoy these days. I’d rather “buy American” online from a comfy chair with a cocktail or cup of tea in hand. That may just be good sense, but it is largely dictated by back problems severe enough to make walking upright for any distance a real challenge. Never mind that “I’m too young for that and I inhaled milk as a kid,” it’s just the genetic lottery. I miss walking, running, skipping, on air.
Happily, a cool, new, 21st-century walker design has me back on the prowl again. Not enough to lure me onto the pavement for Black Friday, but certainly enough to tease me out to enjoy the lights and decorations and enchanted young faces that say CHRISTMAS! Whether sun-kissed or snow wrapped, Christmas, and its cousins, Hanukkah and Kwanza, carve a moment in time where we can believe again in peace, goodwill, and miracles. That Christmas never loses its luster.
It can, however, alter its pace.
I plan to do Zoo lights, and the neighborhood decorations dance, and I will follow the Carolers for miles. Well, a block or two anyway. I’ll hang some lights and ornaments, put candles in the windows, and fill vases with fragrant branches. But I won’t have an eight-foot tree or outdoor lights or acres of home-baked goodies. There may be parties, but I won’t be throwing them; my role these days is charming (we hope) guest with goodies in hand from a favorite gourmet shop.

Christmas, like so much that changes with seniority, has evolved. I seem to have more time for the music now that I’m not conductor of the orchestra. I am lucky in family and friends that span generations, so there are plenty of wide eyes and giggles and Santa sightings to maintain the magic. There’s enormous pride watching a new generation set the table, continue the old traditions and add their own touches as my peers and I don the mantle of elder, storyteller, keeper of memories. It may become my favorite role.
What was Christmas like, the youngsters ask. You know, in the olden days.
It was not a horse and sleigh, and it wasn’t over the river and through the woods, but to Grandmother’s house we all did go.

Early in my post WWII Chicago childhood, my parents walked us to the “L” -elevated train- for Christmas Eve at Grandma’s house. Later we drove in one of my father’s string of Chryslers, with fenders like shark fins and a heater that toasted us into marshmallows. I always remember it snowing. And the raucous greetings of a dozen cousins who swept us past the grownups’ chatter to sift among mysterious packages under the tree looking for our names. There was a shiny silver dollar for each of us from Gram, gifts from our relatives “back east”, followed by a then-exotic long distance phone call to assure my father’s oldest sister and her family they were much missed and their gifts the most appreciated. We ate fish and fruit and pasta marinara…one of the few times a year an Italian family would go vegetarian. And then the heartiest adults headed downtown to a solemn if sleepy midnight Mass at Holy Name Cathedral, while the tots bundled into the biggest bed to await their parents’ return and dream of reindeer on the roof at home.
What tales would my “active retirement” neighbors be telling this Christmas? We have seniority in common; what else did we share? Would our time capsule hold the same treasures? So, I asked them.
1. What was your earliest Christmas memory?
• A childless aunt and uncle who made Christmas special for a niece and nephew with Santa visits, gingerbread houses, an electric train and a Tiny Tears doll with a suitcase full of clothes.
• A soldier scooping a toddler up in his arms to touch an ornament on the tree—his Dad home on leave from a war a world away.
• Grabbing at her toes where Mom had tied fragrant sprigs of balsam to her booties.
• A fat man in red pajamas handing him a little red fire engine.
• Colored lights and popcorn strings on a very big tree inside the house.
2. What is the best present you ever received before you were ten years old?
• A Red Ryder Bow and Arrow.
• Lincoln Logs.
• A toy washing machine with a crank wringer and a hose that emptied into the sink.
• Roller skates.
• A Toni doll with hair that you could curl and a real fur coat and hat.
• A red and white Schwinn two-wheeler with training wheels.
• A cocker spaniel puppy.
• A toy typewriter.
• Barbie!
3. What food shows up at every Christmas dinner that you absolutely hate?
• Fruitcake
• Fruitcake
• Fruitcake
• Nothing. We only bring food everyone likes.
4. Who told you there was no Santa Claus and what did you do?
• A classmate. I didn’t believe her.
• My mother. I reasoned out that one man couldn’t fly all over the world in one night, so she told me it was a charming way to celebrate.
• My favorite cousin. I cried.
• My brother. I punched him and told Mom.
• What? There’s no Santa Claus???
5. What’s your favorite Christmas Carol or song?
• Silent Night
• Mary, Did You Know
• White Christmas
• Nat King Cole- The Christmas Song
• O Holy Night. In French.
• Jingle Bell Rock—seriously. Jingle Bell Rock.
Olden days, indeed, not an iPhone or Xbox on the list. But some things never change…family, faith, food, fun…and hope. Happy Holidays!