Long ago I ceased being focused on what some nice spouse, relative or friend would place under the tree with my name attached. As much as I appreciate the generosity and the thought, Christmas has become for me a season of memory more than gifts and I find myself increasingly transported back to cold winter days where the thoughts are warm and inviting.
I was lucky enough to once spend Christmas in Paris and the City of Light did not disappoint. Christmas Day Mass at Notre-Dame – the Cardinal presiding and the music spectacular – followed by lunch in a memorable cafe on the Ile St. Louis. What a day. What a Christmas.
Forty years on I can now smile, sort of, about the hard court mishap that found this committed but awkward second-stringer tripping over his own feet, falling across the back of South Dakota’s best high school basketball player and knocking out my front teeth. It happened on Christmas evening as we practiced for a holiday tournament. Of course, my sympathetic Dad had to remark during the emergency trip to the dentist, “All he wants for Christmas is his two front teeth.” True story.
Speaking of Dad, he often told us the story of a very early Christmas memory of his when he and his brothers found an orange, a brilliant, colorful, tasty orange, in their Christmas stockings along with some hard candy and nuts. A juicy orange in December in Nebraska was, apparently, a very rare and big deal and that lovely memory stuck with him forever.
One Christmas, my father surprised Mom with several very suggestive pieces of, well, underwear. I was too young to know that it was called lingerie. Dad had hidden the various items under sofa cushions and behind the curtains. Mom had, in essence, a Christmas bra and panties scavenger hunt for which she was initially more than a bit embarrassed. Before long, she got into the spirit and would take her time finding the next unmentionable as the old man smiled in anticipation. It’s one of the earliest recognitions I had that my parents really were engaged in a serious love affair.
I’ve been asking friends to remember the best Christmas gift they ever received and the best gift they ever gave. It’s a great question that almost always elicits a big smile, a fun story and a warm memory.
I gave my Dad a box of really cheap cigars one Christmas. Really cheap. I still don’t know what possessed me. He never smoked cigars. He accepted them graciously and, I suspect, quietly sent them to the back yard trash with all the used Christmas wrapping.
Twice in recent years I’ve spent Christmas Eve and Christmas Day at the marvelous old National Park Service lodge on the south rim of the Grand Canyon in Arizona. What a place. Big fire roaring in the lobby fireplace, the canyon an unbelievable sight always, but extra special when the red and yellow landscape is dusted with a sprinkle of snow. It’s as if a light dusting of confectioner’s sugar had been spread over one of the Earth’s most awe inspiring places.
So, I’ll celebrate Christmas this year with a head and heart full of memory of friends and family and with a knowable of what I have to be very thankful for. I’ll watch Bing Crosby sing his famous song in Holiday Inn. I’ll put another log on the fire and watch Cary Grant help David Niven find the real meaning of Christmas in The Bishop’s Wife and wince at Chevy Chase’s disappointment when his Christmas bonus is a membership in the Jelly of the Month Club.
And, as night settles around, I’ll read again – as I have a hundred times – Joyce’s great story of Christmas – The Dead – with its haunting and magical last lines, “His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead.”
Christmas is memory. Here’s to a happy one for you and yours.