Christmas Then…And Now

Today we share a piece from the 2016 December Read Around.

Christmas Then…And Now

By Jeanne Crownover


Am I the only one who resents going to the store in October and finding I have to wade through aisles of Christmas decorations to get to the Halloween candy?

Reflecting back on my childhood in Wisconsin, Christmas preparations never started until after Thanksgiving. It wasn’t until the leftovers had been eaten, the little ‘potato turkey’ we brought home from school had begun to rot, and the cornucopia along with the fall-colored tapers had been packed away that anyone even began to think about Christmas.

Not until people had recovered from one holiday did they start preparing for the next: shopping for gifts, writing cards, baking cookies. The tree was a distant concept, not having to be dealt with until before shortly before the actual holiday.

I know that not all families were like mine, waiting until the 23rd or 24th to purchase their trees. In our household, however, the week before Christmas found my mother reminding my father on a daily basis, more harshly as the days wore on, that with the only car in the family, he needed to go get the tree!

But the selection obviously remained good, as a tall, fragrant pine was always obtained, and on the 24th was brought into the house and decorated. The lights were tested briefly to make sure they were all working, but the formal lighting of the tree did not take place until darkness fell on Christmas Eve.

I remember coming home from church at night and seeing how splendid the tree looked in our big bay window. After a glass of milk and some freshly baked stolen, I was hurried off to bed, being told I needed to allow Santa ample time to make his delivery.

Christmas morning, the family arose to find the tree surrounded by a profusion of brightly wrapped packages. After opening gifts, they were left under the tree for several days so friends could see them when they came to call.

What a shock years later when raising a family in Southern California, to have my kids tell me on Christmas afternoon that at our neighbor’s house across the street, all gifts, save the few that the children were playing with at the moment, had already been put away.

This feeling of disbelief was eclipsed only by the disappointment I experienced a week later when attending a New Year’s Eve party at the same home. The house felt like a tomb. Not a scintilla of Christmas remained.

It made me pause and wonder. Had it been around so long that the magic was gone?

As a child I’d heard about the twelve days of Christmas and assumed that was why we left our tree up until at least the fifth of January. None of us grew tired of Christmas. We never wanted it to end.

So as an adult, I’ve always felt a bit out of sync as the holidays approach. While my California offspring never let me wait until the 24th to put up the tree, and I realize that keeping a tree up until the 5th of January could be construed as flirting with a visit from the fire department, I know my cards are always the last to be sent, my gifts the last to be wrapped, and my tree the last to be decorated.

Customs ingrained in childhood are difficult to erase. I’ll always view Christmas Eve as the beginning of my holiday, and while I know the enchantment won’t last forever, I hope that it lingers at least a little while, before it slowly…only slowly…fades away.

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