Thursday, December 9, 2010

The spirit of Christmas Past

As if Jiminy Cricket himself floated down on his tiny umbrella, I can’t help but think about the Christmases of my own childhood past. In my mind I hold dozens of snapshots of memories, each one prized and in perfect form. A single moment in time, preserved in color so rich that if I close my eyes I can still smell the sauerkraut served at every Christmas Eve meal. They are beautiful pictures, all of them.
But unfortunately, like the snapshots in real life, they lay completely unorganized and without order, tossed in a box marked “Christmas” and all turned upside down, backwards, and without a single date to be found. It’s not as bad as you’d think, though. The mind works in mysterious ways, and my Christmas memories can all come together to make for one glorious story…
It was yet another Christmas Eve. We all sat in my Grandmother’s dining room which for some reason had one wall that was completely mirrors. This made for an entertaining meal for myself, as I would make faces and watch myself chew when no one was watching. Chewing was more of a task than you’d think, because this was our annual Polish meal and when my Great Grandmother came, she brought along very traditional (read: tasteless, gross) foods that I had to mentally will myself to eat with gagging.
After dinner it was dishes and everyone piling in the car for midnight mass. Living in Cleveland, there was at least a foot of snow and we all put on our snow boots over our hose. Someone would make a comment about how silly we looked with our bare legs hanging out between the woolen coats and plastic footwear, but off we’d got. I’d people watch during the service and make funny faces at my neighbor who was sitting two rows ahead of me and get dizzy from the smell of a millions old ladies’ perfume.
We’d ride home singing Silver Bells with comically inserted sound effects and then it was time for me to open one single present – a gift of pajamas. Once when my mother couldn’t remember which box they were in, I had the pleasure of opening almost all of my presents a day early just to find those pajamas.
Come Christmas morning, I’m somewhere in my late teens home on a college break and caught between the life of a child and one of an adult. The point when you start drinking serious coffee with your parents is a tough one, and after we opened our presents and drank our second cup, my parents and I decided to go ice skating on the pond out front. It was a perfectly sunny and freezing day and we skated for hours, gliding away the tension of being and having children growing up. Peaceful and fleeting as a stable day of weather in Northeast Ohio.
The next snapshot is of extended family gatherings, for after we had our fun of the visit from Santa, dozens of people would start lining their cars down the street and haul in casserole dishes and garbage bags full of presents. There’d be a card table full of two liter bottles and an ice bucket, and the one grouchy uncle would sit on the staircase just far enough away from everyone to avoid conversation. The party would go into the night and I would eventually be put to bed. I’d lay and stare out my bedroom window, past the plastic candle lights that were unnaturally red, green, and blue. Full of cookies, pop, and kielbasa and snuggling the Cabbage Patch doll that I forever wanted and would always love, I’d fall asleep having had yet another wonderful holiday, no matter which year it was.

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