In my opinion, there can never again be anything as magical as Christmastime during my childhood in the 70's. Sure, every kid dreamed about the toys and presents they hoped to receive, but it was so much more than that. When I was very young, I really didn't understand it all, and I can't recall how old I was when it all came together. But once it did, it was the perfect combination of imagination and reality and was by far my favorite time of year.
I always loved Charlie Brown and the Peanuts, and the start of the season was heralded by the airing of A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving. Sure, Thanksgiving is a special in its own right, but to a kid, it was the start of the countdown. After Turkey Day had passed, and the Crayon-colored outline-of-your-hand "turkey" was removed from the fridge, it was on. I would scan the listings in the paper to make sure I didn't miss any of the classics, and each one would increase my anticipation a bit more. Frosty the Snowman (the little girl's name was Karen), The Grinch Who Stole Christmas (the dog with a sawed off antler tied to its head still kills me), Santa Claus is Coming to Town (Burger Meister Meister Burger? - brilliant), Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (I'm cuuuute!) and A Charlie Brown Christmas (the kids dancing on stage and the pitiful little tree) are still an important tradition, and I try to watch each of them every year. I can't go back, but they get me close.
My Dad did a fantastic job decorating the outside of the house. He'd string lights along the house, the bushes and the tree in the front yard. Back then, the bulbs on the Christmas lights were big, brightly colored and substantial. I always thought our house looked beautiful when he was done. He was never out to break any records or win any prizes, but it was always well balanced instead of gaudy. We also had a large plastic Santa Claus, holding a big green bag of presents, which was placed on our front porch. When our house was done, the following week we would take a long drive all around our neighborhood and others just to see all the decorations. It was one of my favorite things, and I think Dad liked it as much as me.
The day Mom baked her Christmas cookies was always a high point, and I was sure to be around just enough so I would get to help clean up (eat all the leftover cookie dough). She made chocolate chip, peanut butter, "snowballs" and rum balls along with fudge. Once the baking was done, it was time to go down to the crawl space and pull out all the Christmas decorations. As soon as everything was located, untangled and cleaned off, the official decorating day would be negotiated to ensure the most family members could attend. Mom would play her John Gary and Nat King Cole records as everyone decorated the tree and living room. The adults had cocktails and I had cookies and milk. It was a blast.
We had a lot of special activities in school as well. I remember drawing Santa Claus or a fireplace scene with only his two boots showing, next to a Christmas tree with no presents under it as yet. We would practice singing carols, and rehearse our skits for the night of the school play. In third grade I was chosen to play Santa, probably because I had the right body shape, rosy cheeks and the ability to memorize my lines. I remember arriving for the big night, and my Mom horrified to see that the first and second grade moms had hand sewn a custom suit for their kids. I didn't care that we bought ours at the hardware store and that it was made out of plastic. Besides, I got the biggest laugh of the night. The rest of the class was already on stage, and I was to make a grand entrance being led by two girls dressed as reindeer. We took off running down the aisle, yet my plastic Santa hat was too light and flew off my head. I went back to retrieve it as my escort continued to trot up to the stage, and the looks on their faces when they arrived without me was priceless.
When Christmas Eve finally arrived, I was so excited I couldn't sit still, except to watch "A Christmas Carol" on TV or listen to the choir sing at mass. I would read "'Twas the Night Before Christmas" over and over until I finally fell asleep.
I wish you all a wonderful Christmas season, with minimal stress, and the gift of seeing it through the eyes of a child.
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