The last time I enjoyed, truly enjoyed with excitement, joy, and wriggly anticipation, Christmas and New Year’s I was eight years old. Mind you, this is even with parental and brotherly threats of coal in my Christmas stocking if I wasn’t a good girl, and that Santa’s elves were everywhere, watching. After that Christmas, when, by the way, I received my very own kitten, I began to see a change.
What change? What could possibly change?! Well, suddenly the time between Santa’s appearance in a sleigh at the end of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and December 25th became the busiest time ever. Christmas concerts for the school orchestra, the school choir, the Girl Scouts caroling, the church group caroling, decorating the front of the house, shoveling snow, making the snow mountain in the back yard, and school, of course. We kids tried to find the hiding places for our presents for days. We played in the snow, built snow forts, snowmen, had snowball fights with the neighbor kids. We went sledding in the park two blocks away, and returned home wet through and freezing to real hot cocoa with marshmallows and fresh popcorn. Our father drove out in the country, taking us and our dog, to hike in the woods and find the perfect Christmas tree (for free). The dog chased deer and squirrels. I learned how to read animal tracks in the snow, listened to the chickadee’s song, the Cardinal’s pips, trudged through knee-high snow, and cracked ice on a stream to drink the clear, cold water.
Idyllic, huh? Like something out of Norman Rockwell's America, I suppose. But the thing is, we did all those things when I was a kid. My mother loved to bake Christmas cookies and baked twelve different kinds, plus made dark chocolate fudge with black walnuts, and white fudge with regular walnuts. She made peanut brittle for our father. The house smelled like pine from the boughs she collected out in the country for decorating and making wreaths. She planned the Christmas day meals with special care: breakfast was scrambled eggs, sausage links and bacon, with toast and jam or bagels and cream cheese, fresh squeezed orange juice, and coffee for the adults. She served Christmas dinner at 1 p.m.: roast beef with Yorkshire pudding, gravy, mashed potatoes, creamed onions, winter squash, and her mother’s traditional fruit salad. I remember the vegetables varying from year to year, and one year she decided to serve a roast ham which did not prove popular. And dessert! Apple pie with sharp cheddar cheese, or mincemeat pie.
Maybe the holidays continue to be that fun and festive in small towns. I grew up in a small city. Now I live in a large metro area with lots of shopping malls. The holiday season begins on Black Friday (this year on Gray Thanksgiving Thursday), and focuses on buying, shopping, spending money, finding the best bargains, shopping the sales, right up until Christmas Eve. Sure, people throw holiday parties, serve rich food and alcoholic eggnog. There are charity fundraising campaigns, and campaigns to collect toys for needy children. People compare who has to work the holidays and who has them off, while kids still write letters to Santa with their wish lists. I don’t recall writing to Santa when I was a kid. He always just knew what each kid in the world wanted the most. On Christmas Eve, the TV news follows Santa’s progress as he flies in his sleigh with his reindeer around the world. Advertising on TV influences what kids want more now than in the past, I think.
Is it because I’m now an adult or has the holiday season really become totally consumerist and capitalist? Do people spend as much time doing things together now as I remember doing as a child? I’m no Scrooge, but I dread the holidays now. Too much advertising and marketing. Too many nonstop Christmas songs in stores, on the radio, in elevators. Christmas has to be the biggest and the best of the holidays, with lots of tinsel and glitter, Christmas decorations and lights on trees everywhere, lights displays coordinated with music, the most profitable for people selling, the best bargains for those buying. Not that I want to return to the past.
But shopping is no way to celebrate a holiday about universal love and giving of oneself, a holiday with a religious aspect to it that seems to fade even farther away each year. And the truly awful thing for me? No one seems to mind the loss. They are too busy plotting their shopping strategies….