The thing I miss most about Christmas is the anticipation. I remember as a small kid waiting eagerly for THE DAY, and not being disappointed, nor let down when it was over. Part of the disenchantment these days is the lead time, I think. In the old days, we didn’t start Christmas until after Thanksgiving. We had time to savor the buildup but not grow tired of the hype. From Advent Sunday until the fireworks at midnight on New Year’s Eve, the season glowed with excitement.
I was lucky enough to have both sets of grandparents in the same town and lots of extended family from both sides, so holidays were exciting and lots of fun for the kids. I don’t know how my folks figured out where we went when, but we always had time with both families and time for our own family and friends, too. But I’m sure, for the adults it was a little more hectic.
Hallowe’en was a blip on the calendar. We recognized it at school by drawing jack-o’-lanterns and ghosts, and maybe reading a semi-scary story, but it was not a pre-cursor to Christmas, just a fun reminder that fall was here and there were things to come. I lived in the country, so unless it was a weekend, when I could stay with my cousin, I didn’t even go trick or treating, and not too many of my friends did either. And we certainly didn’t see any Santa pumpkins.
November would bring us the Christmas catalog, and many hours spent leafing through it hoping and wishing, but Thanksgiving was yet to be honored so we didn’t speculate about Christmas doings because we had that other big day to prepare for with turkeys and pilgrims and stories of harvest feasts . As a pre-adolescent kid, the Christmas season didn’t begin until we returned to school from the four-day Thanksgiving weekend.
Then our art projects turned to seasonal crafts and gifts for the parents. Ornaments, pictures, maybe a calendar or hand crafted booklet, depending on the art ability and the inclination of the teacher involved. And we would start practicing for the Christmas assembly. Each grade would present something, usually a song or reading. Sometimes the older kids, fifth grade or so, would do a short play. And we’d have a Christmas party. Everyone would bring something to share. You can bet it was sweet whatever it was, and we would exchange gifts with the classmate whose name we had drawn. The principal would drop in with a Merry Christmas, and we’d be off to home early on the last day before vacation.
Even in high school, we’d prepare a concert featuring both the chorus and the band and we also had the expectation of the Christmas formal with themes like “White Christmas” or “Silver Bells.” (Because it was sponsored by Girls’ League the girls invited the boys to the dance.) We didn’t draw names in high school, but it was pretty easy to talk at least one teacher into a party in the classroom and we’d all gather in the study hall for the last hour and sing carols.
Then it was home for almost two weeks of no school. This was time to decorate the tree and do our Christmas shopping. No one knew about Black Friday and Cyber Monday certainly didn’t exist yet. Every day was Small Business Saturday, as I lived in a little town with a dime store, and a locally owned department store to shop in. But we always found suitable gifts for everyone: cologne, water colors, comic books, or socks. Puzzles and paper dolls were also in the mix, and as we got older, records, books and earrings. The dime store could be counted on to produce the perfect gift for almost anyone.
Underlying all of this excitement and hoopla was the quiet message each December Sunday of preparing for a miracle. Every age group from Cradle Roll to Youth Group had a spot. The choir sang all the carols and one of the little kids recited the Christmas Story. Each year someone different did the honors, with the background of an elementary school Nativity. Moms held their breaths and teachers coached from the sidelines, but every time, it came off as a successful production.
Maybe what I miss these days is not being a child experiencing the joy of the Christmas catalog and traipsing up and down the streets singing carols as neighbors watch from their front porches. As adults we have lost something if we can no longer anticipate the beauty and mystery of Christmas so I guess it’s time to turn on the carols, finish the decorating, call my brother, and generally get in the mood. It only takes one “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays” with a big friendly grin to remind me “’tis the season!” I just don’t want to start in October!
Virginia Walters lives in Kenai. Email her at email@example.com.