Ah, the sheer magic of Christmas! Not now, back then. Back when we were children and Christmas materialized out of the frosty air almost overnight.
No magic to Christmas now, of course. We’re all adults, and much given to moaning and groaning that Christmas ain’t what it used to be when we were kids. No sirree, it’s all downhill since then. Christmas starts before the end of November and from then on it’s one inglorious scravel to try to “get things ready.”
No phrase ever took the magic out of anything more totally and completely than “Are you ready for Christmas?” takes the magic out of Christmas. Because, you see, no one ever is. At least, to hear people talking, that’s the way it is.
“Got nothing baked for Christmas yet, my dear. Don’t see how I’m ever going to get it done.”
“Got no shopping done yet. Don’t know what I’m going to get for anyone.”
“The house is a total mess and only three weeks left. Don’t see how I’m ever going to get through it.”
“There’s too much going on during Christmas. Concerts and parties and dinners and church services and tons more besides that. No time for anything. By the time Christmas Day comes, I’m wore to a frazzle.”
Hardly a magical time. Don’t expect it to be. Christmas is for youngsters, anyway, right?
And you can understand it. There was none of this “getting ready for Christmas” talk back when we were kids. The first we heard about it was the school Christmas concert. The teacher gave you your “part” written out on a sheet of exercise book paper and you were supposed to take it home and memorize it.
There were always a few of us who lost our part in the snow on the way home. Then we’d have to go back to the teacher and ask for a new one. She’d get totally ticked because that meant writing it out all over again — no copiers in those days. If you lost the second one, you might as well hide in the attic and wait for Easter.
Going into woods
The second sign of Christmas was when your family went to get your Christmas tree. I don’t mean Wal-Mart. We walked into the woods until we found a good-looking fir, chopped it down, took it home and decorated it. When that happened, we knew it was getting close.
We started singing Christmas carols about two Sundays before Christmas Day. We didn’t have Advent, which seems to be all the rage these days. We didn’t have adolescence or birth control pills, either, although I don’t know what one has to do with the other.
Some clergy get all uptight if you sing a carol before Christmas Eve. Advent is Advent and Christmas is Christmas and never the twain shall meet. My mother had a term for it: “Poop or Honey.” In my day, they were not mutually exclusive. Now the emphasis is on the waiting, which is fine if you have lots of theological patience.
I blame it all on the theology schools. Too much theology and not not enough religion.
Heard a young woman say the other day, with a little kid in her arms, that she was totally sick of Christmas already. Others were saying they had no intention of putting up Christmas decorations this year — they were tired of it. There was none of this foolishness back when they were children. None of this pressure and anxiety that almost spoils Christmas completely.
Hmmm. I wonder why it is that Christmas used to appear so magically and so much without stress back in the good old days, but not now. Could it have something to do with all the commercialism? Or with the pressure to get just the right present for the right person and to hell with the cost? Or would it be the fact that while too many children have too little for Christmas, far too many of the others have so much that nothing seems to impress them anymore?
Perhaps all these things are factors in the modern tendency to emphasize the trappings. And that’s why we complain about how much time and energy is expended on them.
But there may be something else. Why do you think Christmas simply magically appeared when you were a child, but not now? Might it have something to do with the fact that back then, at least two of your family members were working like dogs behind the scenes to make everything possible?
That your mother, just as you are now, was baking for weeks to make sure there was food in the house when the family came by or the mummers came in? That your father, if he was lucky enough to be home in the weeks just before Christmas, was busy cutting lots of wood for the stoves? That he made sure the pantry and the cold room were well stocked with meats and vegetables?
Who spent hours poring over Eaton’s and Simpson’s catalogues looking for toys and clothes they could afford? Who sat up in the wee small hours knitting vamps and sweaters, or building cradles or tiny rocking chairs in the basement or out in the shed?
Finally, who knew about it besides them? And who saw Christmas appear like magic, like the first star in a pale blue sky?
The big difference between now and then? I never did hear, not even as an adult, my father or mother complain about all the work they had to do to be ready for Christmas. They counted it, I’m sure, as part of the joy of that magical time.
Perhaps, just perhaps, their attitude was shaped by their firm belief in one of the greatest of all truths. That this little Child ultimately showed us how to live with each other in love and understanding.
That Christmas isn’t just a pleasant myth.
Ed Smith is an author who lives in Springdale. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.