I remember the sticky pine wreath and tree sap, weeping through my mittens, leaving little black fuzz on my fingers and a pleasant smell on my mind. Crazy Mistletoe traps hovered over doors, snatching perfectly sane adults in their grasp, only to urge them to pull me into a conspiracy of kisses. Yams, hams and Rankin Bass Christmas classic clay animation classics, with endless sequential stories of optimistic triumph over holiday tribulation, marched along the beating drum of carols and musical tributes. Where did mom hide those presents? Can I guess what's in this box?
There I was, Christmas eve, waiting in my grandmother's house for Santa's arrival. A brisk winter wind would usher the gnarled fingers from that craggy old oak, across a roof shingle or two. I would whisper over to my sister.
"Did you hear that?!"
I gasped, slipping from underneath the quilt, and padding to the window. I could feel the frigid breath of winter crystals kissing my cheek, through the leaky, creaky window sash, as I pressed on the glass, trying to purchase a glimpse.
"Shhhh! Quiet! Get back to bed!"My sister would caution me, reminding me that if Santa detected my awakened state, he would hurry off to the next house, leaving us unadorned by gifts. She was bigger, but none the wiser. She also reminded me that if I scared St. Nick off, she would quickly cast my broken body on her scales of sibling justice, for my curious folly.
To my relief, the next morning, there was that brand new box full of Tinkertoys, the Erector set or a dazzling box of Rock 'em Sock 'em Robots. Stumbling in excitement and pajamas, in the midst of the smell of Christmas morning bacon sizzling, hot buttered toast, steaming rich cocoa and pancakes, we would shower each other in the confetti of exhausted bows and paper. Gramps would have to shoo us into the television den, since our rough housing had upended Gram's ashtray, bringing a brief orange shower down on her seasoned wood floor, still fuming from an early wash of Murphy's Oil soap, wicking between the cracks.
As I get older, the things I cherish about Christmas are those very things that make tradition so important to people. I don't care much about gifts these days. The sounds, the tastes, the ornaments, music and gentle touches of the holiday mean much more to me now.
I know many people never grow out of selfishness. I know many people have painful Christmas holiday memories, often brought on by self-imposed emotional obligations. I have been through enough of those years, sometimes ruined by my own selfishness. It's all part of accepting the perpetual imperfection of our lives, I suppose.
Ultimately, isn't selflessness and human imperfection the lesson taught to us, by the human being who's name and birth are celebrated every Christmas?