Rick Sanchez’s mother made his Christmases magical. He fears he is failing at doing the same for his kids.
I’m worried that my daughter won’t have good memories of Christmas when she grows up.
I have vivid childhood memories of my entire holiday season, starting with Thanksgiving.
My Mom would start laying out the entire buffet line of dinnerware and serving platters that would soon be filled with actual food a fill week ahead of Thursday’s event. She would use Post-it notes in the bottom of each dish detailing what it would be filled with…”Creamy Mashed Potatoes,” “Buttery, Crusted Green Bean Casserole.” Thanksgiving morning my 5 siblings and myself would all be in charge of something. There were last minute cleaning touch-ups to perform, dishes to ready, tables to set, nut trays to fill. And then we would dress up in our best sweater-over-a-collared-shirt and wait for our guests to arrive.
We would spend the better part of the day watching football, playing football, completing crosswords with Grandpa, (fetching refills on Old Fashions for said Grandpa) eating nuts, and just hanging out until dinner. Then we would all sit around the big make-shift table (which was a giant piece of plywood atop a pool table,) go around the table and state what we were Thankful for, (I was usually thankful that we were almost finished with saying what we were thankful for because I wanted to eat, which usually got a chuckle,) and then we ate.
We spent the remainder of the day, cleaning up, taking about how full we were and saying our goodbyes to our guests.
The next day or so, we would turn on Christmas music and decorate the house for Christmas, pulling boxes out of storage, erecting the fake Christmas tree we used for years, checking for bad bulbs on strands of lights and placing decorative pieces in pre-approved places.
Christmas was highly anticipated. Slowly, wrapped presents would be added under the tree, one by one and we would check to see whos name was on top. We would touch and shake presents in a childlike manner to see if we could discern the contents, mentally trying to match the shape of the wrapped mystery with something we had included on the lists we had made out the month before.
We would snoop around, sometimes accidentally finding a stash of unwrapped items in a bag under a bed or in a closet. We would sneak a peek sometimes ruining a surprise, sometimes confirming a soon-to-be-victory dance.
Christmas morning we awoke early and promptly woke Mom and Dad to open presents. Our Christmas tree was in our family room where three sides of the room consisted of slat windows with very little insulation. In a previous life, this room had been a front porch, open to the world, perfect for sitting on and watching the world walk by…The previous owner had enclosed this space and it now functioned as a Family room. A very cold, unheated one. We had installed a wood-burning stove and used it for warmth in the winter months. Needless to say, before we could enter the room that Santa had just come from in the past few hours, we had to start a fire and wait for it to do its thing…20 minutes.
And then it began. Presents were distributed and one by one we took turns going around the room opening one present at a time. We would announce who it was from, open it and then shout out a thank you. Dinner was usually at a relatives house, a good hour and a half away.
What we didn’t know until later was all the trouble Mom went through to uphold the legend of Santa. She actually had two sets of EVERYTHING she needed to wrap presents. All of the Santa Claus presents were wrapped in a completely different kind of wrapping paper then the presents from M&D. The to/from tags were from a different package. The ribbon was not only different in color and style, but was tied differently on the Santa presents. She used different handwriting and colored markers for all of the Santa items. This was an incredible feat of complete deceptive buy-in. When we began to question the existence of Santa, she would pull out these evidentiary facts and we were handily quieted. “There is NO WAY she would go though THAT kind of trouble just to make sure we believed that she and Dad weren’t Santa,” we would co-dependently tell ourselves.
But she did.
I can’t remember having and discussions about this with my siblings, cross-checking our facts, I do remember being read in once I had aged out of belief. I remember helping wrap presents late at night after the younger ones had gone to bed with the secret stash of Santa paper and ribbon. I remember attempting to alter my handwriting on the tags as I scribbled “To Jamie, Love Santa” on tags.
And now I’m the parent. And I don’t do holidays like my Mom did.
I don’t lay out the serving platters—or save places with post-its. We don’t put out nut trays and wear fancy sweaters over collared shirts. At my house on Thanksgiving there is usually no football, but we do eat chips and some kind of a sour cream onion dip thing that my sister-in-law makes. I make a Turkey and its usually pretty decent (my trick is to pour an entire bottle of honey in the Turkey cavity before cooking, then baste often.)
At Christmas, we get a real tree, (that we go to get from the Lowe’s parking lot usually at the last minute so its close to dead upon purchase) and we decorate the house. There isn’t any fanfare, no music. We move the little red table across the room and place the tree in its place. Done! The cat usually pees on it the first night.
Decorations are placed all around the house, but in a more haphazard way. We make decoration decisions sometimes based on what might fall on someone’s head in an earthquake.
We wrap presents and place them under the tree as we buy them and now MY kids check to see whos name is on top. They touch and shake presents in a childlike manner to see if they can discern the contents, mentally trying to match the shape of the wrapped mystery with something they had included on the lists they made out the month before. We don’t have different wrapping paper for those gifts that come from Santa. No different tags, ribbons or handwriting either. Some of the presents say “From Santa” right on them.
And we usually do dinner a bit differently too. A couple of years ago, we made Lobster Bisque. The year before we made Crab Legs. Hamburgers? Sure, we could do that. We eat in the living room—on our laps. Sometimes with paper plates. The weather is usually really nice, so we’ll go outside for some of the day. A few years ago it was in the 80’s, so we went to beach so the kids could surf.
We talk all day long. Telling stories. Sharing life events. Sometimes Aunt Cindy comes in to town, who we haven’t seen in awhile, so we visit with her. Every year is different and we talk about that too. “What do you think you want to do next year?” we might ask. And sometimes we go around the room a say out loud what we are thankful for. And then we clean up and say goodbye to our guests and maybe watch a movie (or finish binge-watching Narcos on Netflix.)
I’m not sure how accurate my memories are of the holidays. They happened every year, for 20 or so years and I’m sure they weren’t always as I remember them here…Maybe what I can very clearly remember is not so much the specifics of the day, but the feeling that was produced by the events of those days. Maybe that’s the important part. Maybe by simply getting together on the holiday and doing things as a group, as a family, great memories are created. Maybe my daughter has COMPLETELY different memories of holidays that the ones I had as a child — I’m worried that my daughter won’t have good memories of Christmas when she grows up.
Maybe I shouldn’t be.
Photo: Flickr/Joe St. Pierre