Looking Back: Of Christmases Past

I don’t remember my first Christmas, and I am convinced nobody can remember theirs. We were all way too young when our first was celebrated. In fact, most of my early Christmases seem to blend together. However, there are some holiday moments that stand out in my memory.

I do remember the year Santa Claus scared the “you-know-what” out of us kids. We were playing games in the front room with friends who lived in the apartment above ours. It was dark outside, and we heard something at the window. Looking up, we saw a face with a white beard bobbing up and down in the window. Since we knew this was something that shouldn’t be happening, we did the only thing young children would do; we screamed and ran from the room.

It took awhile for our parents to calm us. We were told it was Santa checking to see if we were naughty or nice. They told us a variety of tales to reassure us that we were perfectly safe. As I look back, I choose to believe it was some misguided parent with good intentions who put a Santa mask on a long pole, and it just didn’t go as planned. I can laugh now, but when it happened, I was one of the screamers.

I remember my first Christmas away from home. One of my shipmates invited me to share the holiday with him and his family. I remember taking a bus, then hitchhiking a short distance. We finally arrived at our destination to a home filled with warmth, laughter and good smells. After eating and getting acquainted we went to sleep.

On Christmas morning, as we sat around the tree, they surprised me with some presents just for me. As you might imagine, I was delighted. When I think of that day, I wonder at the generosity and selflessness of my friend and his family. The military transfers everyone, and we eventually went our separate ways, but I always think warmly of them.

My longest Christmas came about when mother decided to keep the Christmas tree up until my brother returned from Vietnam. Although it was usually taken down after New Year’s Day, this year it stayed up for another six months. It shed needles like a dog with mange sheds fur. By the time my brother returned safely, the tree had a very Charlie Brown look about it. We celebrated. We took down the tree.

Christmases come and go. I always find myself looking back, even as I look ahead to the next one. I forget about how retail sales have been starting earlier and earlier, ignore the hype about Black Friday and Cyber Monday, and think about being with family and friends. I laugh at memories of decorated palm trees in Hawaii, and shiver at memories of trudging through snow in a Washington winter.

Still, I try, as Charles Dickens tells us “to keep Christmas in our hearts.” When the radio plays holiday music, and I hear “Silent Night” for the umpteenth time, there is a different tune playing in my mind: one I got to sing on stage one very special Christmas season . . . “Christmas is a magic time of year . . .”

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