I feel bad for most kids these days. Every Christmas, they get way too much stuff when memories are all they want.
I’m 44 and barely remember most of the gifts I got for Christmas as a kid. I do remember the extraordinary blessings I was given.
I remember an unusually warm December when I was 6. Dozens of kids were out in the street playing, while their dads hung Christmas lights. I was looking out the window when my father, the Big Guy, pulled into the driveway, a tree strapped to the roof of our 1970 Plymouth Fury.
He opened the garage door and walked inside. He came out carrying a large Christmas tree platform he’d kept strapped to the garage wall. The Big Guy liked his platforms sturdy, and he built ours from a sheet of 4-foot-by-8-foot plywood and 2-inch-by-6-inch studs. It was heavy as lead, but he made it look light as a feather.
The Big Guy was only 34 then, his hair black as coal. He was youthful and powerful and madly in love with my mother. They had four children with two more yet to come. And as he toiled to get the tree straight on the platform, he had no idea his work would elicit powerful memories in his son 40 years later.
For years, our Christmas Eve ritual was the same. Our next-door neighbors, the Kriegers, visited. Tremendous festivity filled the air. The party lasted two or three hours before we were carted off to bed.
The Big Guy would stack the old stereo console in the dining room with every Christmas record we had – Mitch Miller, A Chipmunk Christmas, Snoopy and the Red Barron and Bing Crosby. Sleeping was near impossible until Crosby came on. Not even the most hyper kid could stay awake when the needle danced over that melodious tune.
And suddenly it was morning. I’d jump out of my bed and run around waking my sisters. We’d rush down to the living room. As we opened our gifts, our dog Jingles dived into the piles of wrapping paper.
And when we were done swapping gifts with each other, we gave our gifts to Jingles – six hunks of rawhide. Her tail went wild with excitement, and she’d spend the rest of the day chewing it in total contentment.
The Big Guy always made a massive breakfast on Christmas morning – eggs, bacon, ham, pancakes, French toast and English muffins smattered with jelly. We’d sit around laughing and talking an hour or more.
Until the Big Guy began getting antsy.
"You kids have to get ready for Mass or we’ll end up standing in the aisles like we did last year," he’d say.
All the stragglers went to church on Christmas, you see – even the atheists must have – because we regulars had to get there extra early to claim our usual seats. But when you have five sisters, each sporting the "Farrah Fawcett" big hair of the era, and ONE full bathroom, it took us HOURS to get ready.
Their big hair prompted the Big Guy’s second major Christmas morning concern: "For God’s sakes, don’t run your blow driers at the same time or you’ll burn the house down!"
But every Christmas morning my sisters ran their hair driers at the same time – they didn’t burn the house down, but did blow several fuses. And every year we were late for Mass. We stood in the aisles EVERY year.
My sisters and I are in our 30s and 40s now and we laugh about these memories. The memories, in fact, are all we really wanted for Christmas, but we were too young to know it then.
I know it now. Gifts don’t mean much, but people do and our health does and our love for each other does. For most of the Christmases of my life, everybody has been healthy and blessed.
That’s all I want for Christmas this year. More good memories. That’s what every kid really wants, too, and we ought to give it to them.
Instead of a bunch of stuff.