Ho, ho, ho… or Bah, Humbug? Which one is it to you? Twelve days before Christmas at the time of this writing, and holiday madness is on. Preparations, now fever-pitch; roads bear the weight of countless cars kissing each other’s bumpers as if underneath a sprig of mistletoe; and just when you thought it was safe to go back into the mall, you find yourself caught in a shopping frenzy more ferocious than hungry sharks feeding on fresh kill in the water.
Ah, Christmas. I’ve had forty-something of them – and I’ve come to realize that the more things have changed, the more they have stayed the same.
Tinsel and treasure
My earliest holiday memories are rooted in groovy 70s Christmases: sparkly silver tinsel trees strung with more silver icicle foil strips, technicolored balls and funky teardrop-shaped ornaments, colorful plastic garlands, a felt Christmas tree skirt. Everything was glitzy and kitschy bordering on tacky and fake.
Genuine love, however, was strewn all over the artificial flair of the era, and that made Christmas more real and alive than I could have ever imagined.
Night after night, when everyone else was off to dreamland, I would creep out of bed to sit under the shiny tree in the dimly-lit living room. In the shadows, I would quietly count my presents and gingerly shake each to try and figure out its contents. When Christmas morn FINALLY rolled around, my brother and I – all warm and fuzzy in the tummy – would burst out of our shared room at the crack of dawn and barrel down the seemingly endless stretch of hall. The comforting smell of hot cocoa filled the living room, while John Denver’s “Rocky Mountain Christmas” vinyl played on the turntable.
We would eyeball the treasure trove under the tree – never minding the inevitable glare from all that silvery sheen – and gleefully rip open present after present. The year I got a Bedazzler, everything but the family dogs ended up bedazzled in shiny, shimmery resplendence.
When the teenage years rolled around, I became slightly less interested in wrapped presents under the tree, and more interested in the contents of envelopes.
Cash was the new Bedazzler, able to add sparkle to my holiday world. I eagerly opened each envelope I received in wide-eyed wonder; wideness in proportion to the color and number of bills in the envelope.
Christmas became more about parties, out-of-town trips, and nights on the town. We danced ‘til we just about dropped, and – occasionally – drank ‘til we did drop. Noche Buena at home was eagerly anticipated, as well, with all sorts of imported goodies flown in by a visiting aunt. John Denver still played in the background, but this time from a cassette tape deck.
Marriage and motherhood were the next milestones, and Christmas was viewed primarily through the eyes of our daughter, Andie. An avid Santa-fan, her dad and I always went the extra mile to weave the fantasy ever so tightly. A little too tightly, perhaps. She held out belief in the jolly, bearded, red-suited champion of Christmas way longer than most of her peers; and defended his existence to the foot-stomping, balled-up-fist-waving end. Santa was the sparkle to her Christmas, and Andie was to ours.
On Christmas Eve, we would leave notes from the North Pole, carefully penned in writing she would not recognize as anyone else’s but “Santa’s.” Little bits of hay (reindeer fodder) and soil (from Santa’s boots, of course) strewn on the floor completed the illusion. Presents from the “North Pole” were strategically positioned near the tree (which was nowhere near as glittery as the one from my childhood, but shined brightly with the joy that had imbued its trimming), and by the empty plate of cookies and three-quarters finished cup of milk. John Denver and the Muppets’ “A Christmas Together” played from the CD changer.
Sparkle lost, sparkle found
I reckon that Christmas endures more than its fair share of beatings in most lives. As you get older – and older still – much of the sparkle fades. All that glitters is now a memory of a bygone, funky but precious era from our childhood days. And, for those of us who are parents, from our children’s childhood days. Families, sadly, sometimes grow apart. And occasionally, you find that this is beyond your control. Pragmatism steps in. Commercialism dulls the sparkle and turns Christmas into a chore, almost. IF YOU LET IT.
Andie is now a teener, and I often feel like I’ve just about seen all that there is to make my eyes wide with wonder. But, as it turns out, Christmas still holds its magical surprises.
I remember a couple of years back, shortly before Christmas, Andie – eager as 10 beavers about presents she had been working on for nearly as many days – handed us each a largish parcel, neatly and simply wrapped in purple paper. “Open, open!!!” she anxiously prompted. I looked at the handmade, oversized greeting card, covered in my favorite cat-printed paper, and filled with photos of Andie and I; of our family, through the years. Each photo left me awash with memories that can never be taken away. Two cutout paper snowflakes scribbled with endearments, a bible verse written on memo pad, and a heartfelt letter were tucked into the card.
We relived and relished wonderful memories as though they were yesterday. And, in our daughter’s truly special gesture, Christmas regained its sparkle.
What puts the sparkle, in your Christmas? Look unto the things that truly matter –the ones that have ALWAYS mattered – and not the blinding sheen of the season. Hold out hope for the real glimmer and shimmer; the kind that radiates from the heart. Be proactive and shine your Christmas up, if you have to: give love, spread cheer, hug a friend (furry or otherwise), pay it forward, give it back, make memories,
relive special ones. You’ll see what a difference a little soul-shimmer can make.
Heck, I think I may just give John Denver another spin on the player this year.
By ANGIE DUARTE