Our scraggly tinsel-covered tree is standing proudly in the center of the living room as my sister and I watch the bubble lights to see whose choice will bubble first. These aren’t the cheap plastic bubble lights they make today, they’re glass ornaments filled with some liquid that was probably highly toxic and flammable. But the liquid held its color and they worked beautifully for years.
The stockings are hung by the cardboard chimney and the painted paper fire is glowing from the light of an orange bulb attached to the back of it.
The Christ Child is in the manger surrounded by a conglomeration of figurines my mother has put together over the years, each one purchased from Lamston’s five-and-ten at a cost of 15-20 cents. At one point I think we had about 6 Wise Men, 10 angels and 15 shepherds, along with two St. Joseph figurines. (When my mother found a St. Joseph she liked more than the original one, the first St. Joseph was demoted to a shepherd.) Some pieces were plastic, some were china. One angel was missing his nose and a camel had a chip that looked like one of the shepherds’ dogs had taken a bite out of his leg. (I found this identical manger on the Internet, missing the other 30 characters we had!)
My sister and I are past the stage of believing in Santa, so my mother has put all the gifts under the tree tonight, ready to open after church tomorrow morning. Almost all our presents have come in the mail from the Sears catalog. Clothing items arrived without gift boxes, and since my mother thought it was beyond ridiculous to buy empty boxes, she wrapped everything without a box. This made it easy to take inventory of how many “fun” presents you had and how many were boring clothes. (Although sometimes you were fooled into thinking a semi-soft package with an interesting shape was a stuffed animal—only to be fooled by a pair of fuzzy bedroom slippers.)
My mother didn’t care for jewelry or perfume or fancy clothing items. Raised on a farm in New England with eight kids in the family during the Depression, she thought it was the height of luxury to receive gifts such as an electric knife or the latest mixer or God help me, a new steam iron.
For us kids, Colorforms were the hot item. We would sit for hours arranging these soft plastic cut-outs on the cardboard scenes, using something called imagination.
My father keeps shaking the gift I’ve proudly bought with my allowance and says he can’t wait to find out what it is. (It’s a blue toothbrush.)
All is right in our world.
Flash forward to Christmas 2011: The media and the merchants tell us that to have a good Christmas we need a perfectly shaped artificial pre-lit tree, a Fontanini manger that costs more than my parents’ first car, and if we don’t have a real fireplace then we need an electric one that has an artificial glowing fire that crackles like a real one. We should forgo the Thanksgiving holiday to stand on line all day waiting to grab the latest electronic wonder items for our kids, and then toss the keys to a new Lexus in a perfectly wrapped gift box for our spouse. Meanwhile, we’re inundated with ads for the latest anti-anxiety and anti-depressant drugs to help us make it through the “stressful holiday period.”
Maybe if we just turned a deaf ear to these messages and realized how much we enjoyed the holidays before we started to try so hard to make them “perfect,” we could again enjoy them without the danger of having a nervous breakdown each year. There’s only one thing I would change—I’ll take a fuzzy robe in place of that steam iron.
And so as tiny Stretch exclaimed:
“God Bless Us, Every One!”