Janet Sheridan: In memory of calmer Christmases
I wish Christmas goods competing for shelf space with Halloween candy, Christmas commercials airing before Veterans Day, and stores playing Christmas music as I shop for my Thanksgiving turkey would drag themselves into oblivion and take Black Friday with them. I love Christmas, but I would rather it didn’t intrude on Thanksgiving, and I question its commercial clamor. During the slower-paced Christmases of my past, I remember enjoying my family and friends more and shopping for them less.
Every year, my friends and I anticipated the evening Christmas pageant our elementary school presented after supper was eaten and the cows were milked. Wearing costumes that became increasingly disheveled as the evening progressed, we sang with gusto, danced with enthusiasm, and delivered speaking parts loud enough to occasionally be heard. But when the final curtain fell, our excitement mounted; the best part of the evening was about to begin.
We all crowded, willy-nilly, onto the stage; then the curtain rose, and we sang “Jingle Bells” until we heard the booming ho-ho-ho’s and the real, live Santa Claus waltzed through the auditorium doors. Carrying a sack over his shoulder, he danced as we sang, then stopped in front of the stage to lead us in a rousing rendition of “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town.” As he pranced out of the room, waving and laughing, he left his sack filled with bags of peanuts and candy —enough for all of us — by the door. And most of us believed.
Eventually, my friend and cousin, Blake, a short boy with big ears and a voice like a bullfrog, ended my belief in Santa by insisting we arm-wrestle. Being twice his size, I quickly pinned him, and he retaliated by bellowing, “At least I don’t believe in Santa Claus like you do, you great big baby!” Embarrassed and disillusioned, I chased him down, sat on him until he said give, and then got sent with him to the principal’s office. It was glorious.
My siblings and I embraced Christmas wholeheartedly, if not always serenely. We examined the pages of the Ward’s Christmas Catalogue and marked items we’d like as well as those we might give one another, which caused heated discussions that seemed to annoy Mom. So to calm her, we’d pump the old player piano and boisterously sing the Christmas tunes it played. We’d also help decorate the Christmas tree until, tiring of the tinsel, we’d fling it on by the handful and have to go outside whether we liked it or not.
When we were older, Blaine and JL, the two youngest, kept Santa’s spirit alive by questioning us about his sled, his route, his reindeer, and if he’d really leave coal if they were bad. One year I was getting ready for a date when JL convinced me to go outside to look for Santa’s sled with him. While he studied the night sky at length, my enthusiasm soon waned. But as I began edging toward the house, his excited voice stopped me: “! see the sled. I do. By that star. No, the one over there. There! Can’t you see it?” Yes, JL, I did. Looking through your eyes, I saw it.
From Christmas until we returned to school, Mom relaxed her usual standards for chores, grooming, and decorum, turning the living room over to us and our gifts and ignoring our clutter. Whenever we asked, Dad cracked Brazil nuts for us and, every time, miraculously extracted the nutmeat whole. He sang Christmas carols without knowing he was doing so and cranked the ice cream freezer w we convinced Mom to fill it. Both parents played board games with us in the evening. Mom excelled at Scrabble and Clue and Dad at Chinese checkers, checkers, and chess. Neither ever lost on purpose.
But best of all, year after year, we enjoyed Christmas and still managed to trick or treat, honor our veterans and give thanks for our blessings without thinking, “Oh, I should be shopping!”