My Fresh Hell
Life in Scribbletown.

Ghosts of Christmases Past, Part I


As a child, Christmas began when school let out for the holiday and my mother got the crèche down from the studio closet shelf. It consisted of a wooden manger with a variety of manger inhabitants – some plastic, some molded from some chalky substance and painted. There were two Josephs and two Jesuses (Jesi?). One baby was separate from his hay bed; the other wasn’t. Guess which one was more popular? Yes, and the plastic separate baby fit perfectly in his plastic mother’s arms. There were two donkeys, a cow, a shepherd and sheep, two angels, and sundry other animals as the years went by. Eventually, I was down to two wise men, one without a head. Who knew John the Baptist was there at the Beginning?

Religion did not play a big role in our Christmas celebrations. The “reason” for the season hung in the air the way fog lingers between stands of trees on winter mornings but eventually the sun comes out and the fog dissipates.

We went to church. I sung in the choir (which I loved – it was the only time I was part of a group and felt that I belonged to it. I ascribe that to the personality of the choir master, a wonderful man despite being one of the elite.). I participated in the Christmas pageant (one year I was the angel). I took Communion. But, my parents were basically going through the motions, believing that their children needed church the way they needed table manners and clean socks. It was a Parental Duty thing rather than being based on any absolute firm belief in God and Jesus, etc.

So, the crèche was good fun though its true meaning was a bit lost on me.

My mother worked only on the weekends at the music and art department of the downtown library. So she had the time I do not to do a lot of extra holiday things. She is an award-winning (Pillsbury Bake-Off, anyone?) gourmet cook and spent a good portion of December in the kitchen. She would make her dreaded fruitcake (apologies to Harriet; I despise fruitcake) and plum pudding and we would, together, bake lots of cookies. I now own the cookie cutters from those days: Christmas Snoopy, tree, Santa, bell, ornament, gingerbread man.

As I got older, my responsibilities grew. I’d get to do more cutting and shaping, more decorating, more eating. The baking aspect of Christmas is something I try to do with my own kids because i love to cook. This year has been so crazily busy I only hope we find time to make cookies. Dusty loves to bake and Red enjoys [eating flour] it, too.

My parents decorated the whole house: garlands over the front windows, candles in all our front windows, garland up the banister and in doorways – particularly between the pocket doors that, when closed, separated the living room from the dining room. Lots of candles.

And a mysterious bowl of fused ribbon candy that emerged year after year unchanged and slightly more dusty.

Our house did not have working fireplaces so my parents removed all the usual stuff from the mantel and filled it with candles – fat, short, tall, thin, white, red. When I was very young, they hosted a New Years Eve party every year and even more candles were lit then. There’s something magical about candles though, now, as a mother, they seem more dangerous than they did then.

We always had a real tree. A tradition I've continued. For many years, we’d visit the tree farm owned by the president of the ad agency that employed my father. The president would host an office party at his tree farm home for all employees and their families. Then, after the adults had gotten sloshed and the kids had freed themselves from the freezing Florida room purgatory, we’d all pile onto a hay wagon, ride down to the rows of firs, and select a tree.

Once home, my father would spend a couple of hours cursing as my parents inserted the tree into one bent and almost-non-functional tree stand or another. Then my mother would spend an addition couple of hours trying to make it straight in the Official Xmas Tree Corner and then threading a piece of rope through it and attaching the ends of the rope to the eye hooks in the wall that were always there on either side of the niche. Now it was immune to the torments of cats and children. More or less.

My father strung the lights and then the rest of us added the decorations.

When the light cord was plugged in, and the tree glowed in the corner, it was now officially Christmas!


11:10 a.m. ::
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