Confessions of a Christmas Junkie

As the temperature heats up for summer, I’m dreaming of a White Christmas.

The yuletide season is my favorite time of year. I love the music, the pretty decorations, the sweets and of course the celebration of the savior’s birth.

I haven’t always been a Christmas junkie. I loved the holiday as a child but for many years as an adult I was a scrooge. I’m not sure exactly when I began loving the season again, possibly when I accepted the fact that Christmas Present will be different from Christmas Past.

When I was a kid, Dad put up the artificial tree. I helped hanging the decorations—anyone remember those silvery tinsel strips fell off once you put them on the tree?

Mom made felt stockings from a pattern. The stockings were hung on a wire and I loved dumping out the candies and trinkets from my stocking on Christmas morning. Nothing expensive, but still fun to get.

My family didn’t shower the kids with oodles of presents, so we appreciated the few we received. One year my parents packed the gifts inside empty cartons. I pulled off the wrapping paper on one gift to find a tissue box! I was disappointed until I realized the cardboard piece covering the hole was a different color. I removed it to find a stuffed animal inside.

My brother and I bought books for each other, the Whitman TV-tie-in novels with the cheap pasteboard covers. Of course we each read the book before wrapping it up. One year my parents gave me the first two books in the Trixie Beldon series, the first mysteries I ever read—I never got a Nancy Drew book, although my brother received Hardy Boys mysteries.

The highlight of the season was perusing the special Christmas mail order catalogues from JC Penney, Sears and Montgomery Ward (at one time my home town had physical stores for all three companies). I’d read the toy section in the back and make out my wish list. I ignored the adult clothing in the front pages.

We attended the special Christmas Eve service at church that started at 10 or 11 p.m. I had a hard time staying awake that late. The large youth choir put on both the Christmas Eve and Easter sunrise services. I was blessed to attend a large church with a great music program.

When I was in my 20s I had a part-time job as Mrs. Claus at a mall. I was on the lower level of the shopping center, away from Santa and tucked away in a corner where few people found me. I helped kids write letters to Santa. My job ended when the mall closed at 5 p.m. Christmas Eve. Before my shift that day I’d packed a suitcase in my car, and as soon as I finished work I hit the highway for the five-hour drive to see my family. Ah, the energy of youth.

But as the years past, Christmas lost its charm. Eventually Mom could no longer drive at night, so we missed the church service. Dad didn’t hang up the stockings anymore and soon the artificial tree didn’t go up either. For various reasons my siblings stopped buying gifts for each other.

My parents sold their house and moved into an assisted living facility, which was perfect for their needs but didn’t lend itself well for family gatherings. My siblings were spread out geographically, so we couldn’t all make it for Christmas anyway.

I was living in the Midwest, so winter consisted of storms, freezing cold weather, walking in slush, digging out from snow, and driving on ice. Not fun at all.

I grew fonder of Christmas when I began devising new customs to replace the old traditions. I bought my own decorations to spruce up my home. I purchased holiday jewelry to wear (but no ugly sweaters). I collected CDs of Christmas music and recordings of my favorite TV holiday specials.

Christmas became for me not a family crowding into a small house but a quiet time of reflection and rest away from the workplace and the world.

Now I live in SoCal and no longer have to put up with snow—although last year we had a deluge of rain. I enjoy the crisp, cooler temperatures and the early evenings that bring on a cozy feel. I’m not into outdoor sports, so staying inside suits me. A cup of hot cocoa, a good book, a favorite DVD, a snug blanket, a cat on my lap and I’m a happy camper.

Over the years I tried to find a Christmas Eve service like the one I remember, but that formal style of worship in Protestant churches has gone out of fashion. I now attend my parish “midnight” Mass that actually starts at 10:30 p.m. Most people attend the earlier children’s and family Masses, so the later Mass is not as crowded, which suits me.

So Christmas—and any celebration—is what you make of it in the here and now. How do you make Christmas or Hanukkah a special time?

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