In Christmases past, there were always two kinds of folks: the Eves, and the Mornings. We were, because mum was always up, Mornings. And, it didn’t matter how late we stayed awake the night before; my little brother and I were out of bed, and always before we’d had enough sleep.
I think it might’ve been class related. Rich people opened gifts in the evening, after a posh meal and a high Catholic mass. Poor people liked to savor the sight, one more night; presents, we called them, falling over each other under the tree, in just the light from the strands wrapped around it.
In families where the cousins and grandparents lived nearby, that extra evening gave everybody more time to finish wrapping and delivering. For us, it was always an extended family affair; we had more than one gift for siblings and parents, plus something both for and from every cousin who came from across the street and around the corner and as far away as Lawrence Park.
When we were toddlers, I don’t even remember eating breakfast first. It was all about the living room floor, in pajamas and housecoats. Dad, sitting in the corner of the davenport, eyes closed, robe and slippers on.
Union Bank had a Christmas Club. This was a means of saving meager earnings, all year, so the windfall on Christmas morning could make up for all the sacrifice – that sacrifice, of course, being the exclusive domain of mum, who never bought a single thing for herself, ever, and made all her own clothes and ours, too.
Making mum her special Christmas card was always a big deal. And, in later years, finding her that one outstanding present, just like she had for us – several small, but one big, climactic box which, from her, meant a completely tailored suit or dress – was always the challenge; and, as the years passed, meeting this one successfully became more difficult. From me, the electric potato peeler and portable shower rail were two stand outs; she never had to use the peeler, and died before the shower rail ever became necessary.
We always, as children, had a real tree, too. Mum’s arthritis kept on, though and, once we reached our late teens, green branches made of twisted wire and flexible plastic needles took their permanent place. Yet, like everything else valued by the children of the Great Depression, the glass ornaments and lights as big as your grandfather’s thumb and table candles and window wreaths were as carefully brought out as they always had been, after the trunk was firmly set in its screws in the steel stand.
Dad, raised in an orphanage, had no need for any of this. He already knew that just being in a warm house, having had a solid night’s sleep, his brood all around him, waiting for some hot oatmeal, was more than enough. But, eyes closed, he’d be listening to us, with a smile on his face.
Memories like these are what make the present hard. Living in The Now is overrated; take me back, any day, to what we had growing up. Nobody could have ever told us how it would be later, and we wouldn’t have wanted to know. The Bible says that the poor ye will always have with you; but, there used to be a day when even those who had little could enjoy the reward of being alive, like the baby Jesus. Our parents knew that secret, and this is what I miss. Christmas, my friends, used to be for everyone.
© Ruth Ann Scanzillo 12/25/15 All rights those of the author. Merry Christmas!