Saturday, December 25, 2004

SATURDAY AT THE WESTERNER & MERRY CHRISTMAS

What will they remember about Christmas?

By Julie Carter

Christmas memories of long ago days drive the Christmas season both domestically and commercially.

Those memories, as varied as they are in location, extravagance or lack of it, belong to us. They strike in us a deep chord that no other holiday comes close to touching.

I grew up believing the Christmas holiday was about the celebration of the family beginning with the family who started it, Joseph, Mary and the baby Jesus.

Our celebrating began with the cutting of the Christmas tree. It was a family event including aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents. It always entailed a few snow ball fights and body rolling down the snow covered hills.

Mom had only a few strings of lights and they all went on the tree. In sharing my Christmas memories with my eleven-year-old son who already thinks I’m ancient, I realized the huge gap in Christmas then and Christmas today.

Of course this is the son who asked about when I was in school, did I write on rocks? Presumably he meant like the Flintstones or Moses.

He isn’t sure we had electricity when I was a child but did ask what we used for lights on the tree. I assured him we plugged our lights in but told him that in my grandmother’s day they had used candles on the tree. He shrugged and said as he walked away, “I bet they burned a lot of trees down.”

When the mail brought the Montgomery Ward Christmas catalog to the ranch, it was a big day for us. The pages were worn out by the time child number four got his list made for Santa. We had no shopping malls to entice, confuse, or commercialize us.

I remember my mother working tirelessly, or so it seemed at the time, to create the perfect ten foot Christmas tree, to have the exact same number of packages for all four children wrapped and under the tree and at make at least 15 different kinds of cookies and as many kinds of candy. Homemade caramels were an annual. I didn’t know Kraft made caramels until I was in high school.

And Dad, well once the tree was cut and standing in the bay window, he was pretty much out of the Christmas preparation picture. He knew when to make himself scarce. He did spend an obligated amount of time every year teasing us about scaring Santa off with a shot gun and our stockings being left empty. It could have psychologically scarred us if we had known it could.

Midnight mass, participating in the church program wearing a bed sheet for shepherd’s clothing, setting up the nativity and always knowing it was Jesus’ birthday we were celebrating-- all part of those films that run through the memory banks.

I see my child today with the same overflow of excitement and anticipation for Christmas. He wants lots of family around, the tree decorated, lots of lights, and some homemade cookies and candy to graze on over the weeks.

He shakes and squeezes packages and holds tight to the image of Santa with a knowing there is something he doesn’t want to know. He understands that the season is about Jesus and not about Santa Claus, but Santa is pretty nice too.

In honor of my rural, call it redneck if you will, upbringing, I will continue to make his Christmas memories include Christ in Christmas and not accept “Winter Festival” for a holiday name. He will learn that the gifts are a symbol for the gift we received with the birth of Jesus and that saying “thank you” for both is essential, not optional.

What my generation teaches the next generation about Christmas is critical to Christmas itself. If we let them take away Christmas, the” one nation under God” becomes no nation under God.

Julie can be reached for comment at jcarter@tularosa.net

© Julie Carter 2004

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