Keeping in Touch: Memories about the meaning of Christmas
By Mac Neely
For The Journal
This column is going to be about Christmas, so read on and see if any of it applies to you.
The first Christmas I remember I was 6 and we lived in a log cabin on the beach and had no money to spend, hardly enough to eat. At 6 I had not been accustomed to a tree with colored lights, tinsel, breakable ornaments, but I remember it as one of my favorites.
We had visited with some friends at their house and came home with a package under my dad’s arm. No tree, no decorations, but I didn’t know about that so I didn’t miss them. I walked up the stairs on the back porch where my dog, Kim, and the cat both slept. I heard a strange whimpering sound and was waiting for my dog to come running. She didn’t. She only lay on her blanket next to the cat, who was doing the same thing. My dad was next to me and kneeling down he whispered to me, “Kim has had some baby puppies. When they get a little bigger, you can play with them. Your cat has had some kittens too. What a great time you’ll have in a few days.”
My crying stopped, and I wiped my nose and lips on his shirt. “Are they OK? Why don’t they get up? Why don’t the puppies get up?” I had a lot of questions, which my dad answered as he drew me into the kitchen. “Do you like the presents that Santa left you? The puppies and kittens are all for you to play with. Won’t it be fun?”
“Santa Claus? He left them for me?”
“He did,” said my dad. They are all for you.”
Even today I can remember my cries of joy and wanting to play now, but I was led into the kitchen and given the package my Dad had. “You can open it now if you want.”
And I did. It was a beautiful red coat, handmade by my dad’s friend, Edie. I put it on, and it fit perfectly. (I learned later that the coat was made from Edie’s nursing cape that she had worn in the First World War.) I stumbled around, flashing the skirt and showing all the shiny gold buttons. And now I get to wear it.
That Christmas: no toys, no tree, no ornaments or tinsel – just squirming little puppies and kittens and a beautiful red coat that had been in the war.
The years went on. The kittens and puppies were long gone. The coat stored in my closet. Three kids had packages under a big, beautiful Christmas tree decorated with tinsel and ornaments from last year and a couple of new ones. My husband complained loudly, “Why spend money on all this? We don’t need it.”
“Of course not,” I replied. “But it’s exciting and fun for the kids.”
“Hmm. Blah. Blah. Waste of money,” he continued.
The next Christmas I went out to the garage and picked up some old rope and five sacks that Tom had hauled cement in. I filled each sack with our presents, tied the sacks with the rope, and put them under the tree. The next morning, my husband started yelling, “What are all these sacks about?” I replied, “Well, Santa didn’t want to waste any money so he put our presents in the sacks.”
That night as I was putting the kids to bed, I told them about my first Christmas and how I felt. My daughter said, “Christmas isn’t about what’s under the tree anyway or how the presents are wrapped, is it?”
“No, it’s the spirit of Christmas that matters.” My first Christmas was the best I’ve ever had.
Christmas VillageYou read a few weeks ago Queenie Barz’s terrific Christmas village display, which took years of collecting and gifting by friends to acquire. Well, I went with some friends to the Valley Inn and helped take down the village. I must have wrapped at least 100 Santas, horses, dogs and farm animals. It was sad to put them all away for a whole year, but everyone will enjoy them next year.
Merry Christmas and a wonderful New Year 2017.