Christmas, for me, has always been a wondrous time. Aside from a quote-unquote "dysfunctional" upbringing, Christmas always seemed to somehow come together and it represented a very happy time for me when I was young. My parents seemed to call a truce during the Christmas holidays and the focus was mainly on me. I couldn't wait for Christmas to come.
I was a sickly child while growing up, burdened with asthma and severe allergies, necessitating a "fake" Christmas tree, lest I break out in hives or go into a coughing fit. I hated both being sickly and having a fake tree. To me, Christmas just wasn't Christmas unless you had a real Christmas tree, but I learned to enjoy Christmas all the same. Rather than a fake GREEN Christmas tree, to make matters worse my mother had purchased one of those aluminum jobs, starkly silver with a multi-colored, revolving light trained on the tree.
Eventually, I got over the asthma and the allergies and managed to make getting a real tree a major priority during Christmas. I moved out of my home at seventeen and every Christmas I had a tree....real, green, pine smelling and replete with falling needles. Hell, I loved Christmas.
My most memorable Christmas was in Seattle, Washington in 1977. Typically, I was alone during Christmas but had managed to get a real tree and drag it into my dark, dingy basement apartment on seventh and Spring street on Capitol Hill in Seattle. I was working at Providence Medical Center and during my rounds of the floors, making deliveries for the pharmacy one day, a friendly nurse on one of the floors who was always pleasant to me, asked me to join her family for Christmas.
I had turned down her offer at Thanksgiving and this time she wouldn't take no for an answer. She knew, from previous conversations, that I was alone and away from my family. So, eventually I consented and on Christmas eve, I showed up to her home on Mercer Island bearing a small gift that she had requested I bring: An ornament inscribed with the date and my name to hang on their tree. I remember being nervous and typically overdressing for the occasion. I've never been the social type.
I arrived early and upon being greeted and ushered inside, I was suddenly awestruck at the first sight of their Christmas tree. It wasn't any bigger than most, it was just the fact that you could hardly see the tree for all of the ornaments! So, winter coat taken off and glass of eggnog in hand, I was left to survey their tree while my hosts busied themselves in the kitchen.
Each ornament was dated and bore the name of the person or persons who gave the ornament as a gift.
I spent the better part of an hour looking through ornaments that dated back to the thirties and forties. Some of the ornaments were homemade, others were store bought, but all were inscribed....
"Mike and Betty - Christmas '69"
"Merry Christmas 1935 - Tookie & Sugar"
....and so on. I was amazed. In the first three hours I was there, family showed up to the house who had flown in from Florida, Nebraska, California, Mississippi, and other states all over the U.S. This was tradition at it's finest. Members of the family welcomed me and we all sang Christmas carols. Instruments came out from hiding and members of the family pieced a band together and played all night long. We drank eggnog, laughed, told stories, sang, played and ate good food. Then finally came the major event....
We each added our ornaments to the tree.
My ornament, a brass Cartoon Cat with a red ribbon around it's neck, was inscribed with a Christmas greeting, my name and the date. It hung there on that tree, amidst relatives, friends and acquaintances representing over fifty years of tradition. Not a Christmas goes by that I don't think of that ornament hanging on their tree, wondering if anybody asks, "Who is Jim Anderson?"
For the last four or five years I have not celebrated Christmas much. No tree, no decorations, no lights. It has been a sad time for me in most cases, in and out of relationships, going through bad times, feeling alone. The last of my true family died in 1989. I have no children. Christmas, to say the least, hasn't been what I would have wanted it to be.
This holiday season, Christmas was brought to me. Wanda showed up, Santa hat on her head, Christmas tree jammed into the back seat of her little car, decorations and lights overflowing their box. I didn't know what to say but I could feel that sprit inside of me, welling up and filling me with joy. I wanted to cry but guys aren't supposed to do that.
We decorated the whole living room, set up the tree with blinking, itchy lights, and hung ornaments. Each of the ornaments had significance and each was explained as we listened to Christmas music and my Christmas spirit was finally rekindled.
We all need to have times like that I think, special memories that make us want to cry because the feeling is so good, warm & secure. I'm very thankful this Christmas season and sentimental fool that I am, I'm thankful for all the memories that I have to cherish.