Thursday, December 13, 2007

HC: The Holidays

December brings with it colder weather and hopes of snow ("Snow day!"), holidays off from school, and work, and decisions to make about which food to make and which presents to buy. They say having kids is like reliving your childhood, and of course that's true, and never more than at this time of the year.

My family is/were nonpracticing Jews, who lit candles on Hanukkah and had a little Christmas tree, too. Christmas was never about the birth of Christ for us, it was about gifts and food. My Christmas memories are so many and so varied, from sad to great. I remember spending a lot of time writing my Christmas list. When I was growing up, we didn’t have a lot of money, so the list was essential. I remember the year my big present was pajamas, and I was sad for myself, and then felt bad for my parents because my reaction to the gift wasn’t big enough. On the other hand, I remember when my sister got me front row center tickets to see Over Here! on Broadway, and she wrapped them in a really big box to fool me! I remember my parents practically forcing me to take a present on Christmas Eve, even though I preferred to wait until Christmas morning. I remember going from store to store with my parents hunting down the Barbie camper, which was so popular we had trouble finding it.

I remember staying up late every Christmas Eve to watch Alistair Sim in A Christmas Carol. My husband and I have been married 18 years and we watch it every Christmas Eve. (All right, I do admit sometimes I doze here and there…) One year we watched it on December 21, which was almost sacrilegious, but we watched with friends who had never seen it. We all loved it…thank you Deb and Tom. We also watch Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney, and Vera Ellen in White Christmas. We started watching it because it’s pretty stupid and not very good, and have grown to love it like a disabled pet. It wouldn’t be December without a DVD viewing of White Christmas.

Mostly I remember the incredible excitement of waiting to get my presents. The excitement was so huge I could feel my heart pounding even in my ears. I also remember the inevitable crash, because no presents can live up to what’s in your mind. And even if you get 25 presents, it’s sad opening the last one and knowing there are no more to open.

Now my kids write their Letters to Santa (the kids are teenagers, but we still joke about Santa) and carefully think about their wish list. I miss the days of seeing toys and games on the list. Now they mostly want iTunes gift certificates and DVDs. I remember when I got LiteBrite, which was the greatest toy of all time. I’d sit for hours plugging in the pegs with the light off until I was done, and then I’d plug it in and the pegs would light up. It was so much fun! Times change and kids today, or my kids at least, prefer to sit in front of a computer, television, or gaming screen. I hope they are enjoying their play time as much as I did.

As my kids get older they enjoy the giving of presents more and more. We as a family “adopt” another family from a local chapter of People-to-People. We choose a letter and go to Target and buy what’s on the less-fortunate family’s wish list. We always buy a few extra things so there will be some surprises, too.

Christmas morning is ours alone. The kids still climb into bed with us, which is hard because my son is 6 feet 1 inch and my daughter is taller than I am, and we talk about hearing sleigh bells and hoof beats on the roof. My husband goes down the stairs and turns on the tree lights and the coffee machine, and then comes up to get us. We all walk down together, in our robes, sit on the floor and open our presents. As I get older it’s harder not to cry at this time. My heart is so full of love for these three people I get to live with. I’m becoming a sappy middle-aged woman. I’m a very lucky sappy middle-aged woman.

Later on Christmas day we drive to the grandparents’ apartment and share our day with some of the other people we love. We open presents, eat too much, and remember the people who are no longer with us. Driving home we talk about what we got from whom, and what we love and what we don’t care about that much. In a few weeks it will be hard to remember any of the presents we received, but we will remember the food and the fun.

I’m happy to say that as I get older I want less and less, and the excitement about Christmas really does come about 90% from the giving. (Of course I still hope for the Criterion Collection DVD of Brief Encounter, Santa, are you reading this?) And now in a variation of the Pajama Incident of Sadness, I feel sorry for my children and then feel sorry for my parents if they give my kids something the kids don’t really like. I told you I was sappy.

I hope everyone on earth has someone special to share the holidays with.

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