Old folks, I decided as a child, don’t know how to celebrate Christmas. I occasionally accompanied my parents visiting elderly church members, most of whom had no Christmas trees or decorations, no apparent interest in presents. Cookies, if offered, came from a tin and tasted weird.
Now after nearly eight decades of Christmases, I get it. At a certain age (varies for each of us), we let go of futile attempts to recreate the Christmas magic that can happen only when we’re children.
When it comes to remembering childhood Christmases, no writer can outdo Dylan Thomas’s “A Child’s Christmas in Wales.” My memories of a child’s Christmas in Minnesota echo Thomas’s opening passage: “One Christmas was so much like another … that I can never remember whether it snowed for six days and six nights when I was twelve or whether it snowed for twelve days and twelve nights when I was six.”
In my childhood, certain traditions were sacrosanct. The main course on Christmas Eve, in deference to my Swedish father, was the notorious Scandinavian seafood dish, lutefisk. It was the only meal of the year when we children were allowed to pass up what was placed on the table. As an adult, I finally developed a taste for the pickled-in-lye white fish, but where I live, it’s impossible to find.
My memories of unique Christmases have to do with presents — which for a child is the whole point. There was the year I was given a Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer lapel pin for my coat. His nose lighted up — a handy way to illuminate the hymnbook during our candlelight worship service.
There was the year I received a much-longed-for doll with REAL hair. I immediately gave her a shampoo and set. As a result, every day was a bad-hair day for the rest of her existence.
There was the year the gift from my mother’s “rich” aunt arrived in a large carton, too heavy for just one person to lift. We kids were intoxicated with anticipation: it was the size of a TV console, and we were the only home in town without a TV. Or so it seemed. Finally, the moment arrived. As the carton was slit open, we spotted a lovely mahogany case, containing?
An entire set of Encyclopedia Britannica.
Even my adult Christmas memories have a childlike flavor, such as watching my husband meticulously place his favorite, bubbling lights on the lower branches of our tree where his tiny grandchildren could enjoy them.
Now my favorite Christmas present is the presence of Christmas. We open that gift simply by opening our hearts. Because my late husband was born on Christmas day, the high point of my celebration is laying a blanket of greens on his grave. Any self-respecting kid would roll her eyes, but that’s okay. Kids have important work to do, living the magic that will become precious Christmas memories decades from now.