REMEMBERING THE CHRISTMASES OF MY CHILDHOOD
Recalling the warm Yuletide memories of my youth
Has anyone ever noticed that when one thinks of joyful Christmases, what mostly comes to mind are the memories that one had of the holiday as a child?
Putting it another way: People usually don't like to think about waiting in long lines at 3:00 in the morning for Wal-Mart to open so they can get that Hannah Montana karaoke machine that their daughter has been demanding for months, then literally brawling with parents a la Mike Tyson so they can score that machine. All while trying to not get trampled, as someone tragically did on Long Island recently.
Or pulling an all-nighter on Christmas Eve assembling that BMX dirt bike that their son just has to have or he'll get called a dork by his friends. Not to mention getting that Visa bill in early January and fainting over how much money was spent in the malls just so the kids would see all their wishes come true under that tree on Christmas morning.
I imagine that people prefer to remember their own childhood Yuletide days; seeing all those cheesy Rankin-Bass shows about Santa, Rudolph, and that big snowman who dances around when that silly top hat is put on his head, sitting on that red-suited guy's lap at the mall and telling him about wanting that Schwinn 10-speed or Malibu Barbie's dream house, going to bed early on December 24th so that same red-suited guy could slide down that chimney with his bag of loot, and waking up early the next day and feeling ecstatic over the sight of all the goodies.
Good times indeed.
As far as looking back on good Christmas memories, I am no different than the millions of others out there that prefer to remember those December 25ths during their formative years.
In my case this covered the 1970s and early 1980s, when I was a kid.
Up until I was around 18, I spent those holidays with my grandparents in Riverside, CA; I lived with them until I was nine. And those Christmases, when I think of them, give me a sort of warm feeling. Something that unfortunately can't be duplicated later in life - at least not in the same way.
I remember when I was about five, and for the next few years after that, having a fixation for train sets; an obsession, really. I would beg my grandpa for one every year from 1972 until around 1976.
To his credit, I always got one, even though it usually either stopped working by New Year's Day or I would get bored by it. I'm sure I was wasting his money, but what did I know? I was a silly little kid.
My obsession with trains changed to an obsession with pinball games at around 11 or 12. I recall sleeping in bed at around 2:00 a.m. on Christmas Eve when suddenly a loud noise of bells woke me up. I went out to the patio to find my grandpa playing on a brand-new pinball machine.
Granted, it was not arcade quality, being plastic and all, but it took my mom and grandma about an hour and a half to get me to stop playing and go back to bed.
Good times, good times.
Another warm Yuletide memory was when my grandma and I would get the tree from the lot. It was always a six-footer, and real every year (except one time when we got a fake one - I don't recall when).
I always had the responsibility of decorating the thing, and it was something I did with relish. I took pleasure in wrapping the tinsel around the tree, as well as getting out the green, red, and gold bulbs to hang on the branches. The ornaments even smelled nice; it had a kind of Christmassy smell that just gave me a warm feeling, that all was right with the world - or something like that.
Making sure that the bulbs were evenly placed, I felt like I was making a significant contribution when the tree decorating was done. The adults in the family always remarked about how good it looked - to a boy of 10, 11 and 12 years old, that meant a lot.
Yep, those were nice times.
One memory eclipsed them all, however - a memory that defines Christmas for me, so much so that I continue to do this today, and I'm in my early forties.
This is something I did as a kid - and still do - where it's not Christmas without partaking in this activity.
I am talking about watching a holiday-themed show that is, quite frankly, the greatest cartoon ever made. This is something that has been shown on TV since 1965, has won a bunch of Emmy awards, and has just enough subtlety to not bowl kids over with hype, but conveys the meaning of Christmas better that anything else done before - and especially since.
The name of this classic, I'm sure you're dying to know right about now?
"A Charlie Brown Christmas" - the "Citizen Kane", "Sgt. Pepper", and "Godfather" of cartoons, all rolled into one.
I felt that it was the perfect Christmas special when I was 5 and 6 years old, and I still feel that way at 41.
What with that round-headed kid trying to direct the Christmas play and getting nowhere, buying the most pathetic tree of all time, his blanket-carrying friend quoting from the Gospel of St. Luke, and then all the kids making something out of nothing with that crappy tree, "Charlie Brown Christmas" taught a lesson of what that holiday should be all about.
Clearly a good lesson for kids to learn, both in 1965 and 2008.
This cartoon was (and is) so great, even the music is perfect. Vince Guaraldi's three-piece jazz combo fit the mood exquisitely, with his piano-laden "Linus and Lucy" becoming the essential Peanuts theme.
I remember buying the video of "Charlie Brown Christmas" sometime in the 1990s, as well as the soundtrack a few years later. If I don't put those things into my VCR and CD player, it's not Christmas to me. That's how I feel about it.
These memories serve as a good buffer around this time of year when life gets real hectic and stressed.
I trust that your memories of Christmas (or Hanukkah) are as pleasant as mine were. Hopefully more so.
The next time you find yourself bogged down with all the Christmas hype and shopping nonsense, may I suggest looking back on your memories of Yuletide celebrating and perhaps even telling it to your kids? I'll bet it will make you feel at least a little bit better.
Having said all of that, let me wish everyone a Merry Christmas to all, and...well, you know the rest. Do I have to spell it out?