Thursday, December 23, 2010
So recently I've been thinking a lot about childhood. I've become re-obsessed with Disney, raiding our old collection of VHSes (what is the plural form of VHS?) and watching Disney Classic after Disney Classic. As I write this I'm listening to the Lion King soundtrack. I have gone to see Tangled three times in the theater and have the soundtrack, as well as two coloring books and a Little Golden Book about it. I really love Tangled. And Flynn Rider.
All this Christmas paraphernalia everywhere really makes me think of Christmases past. I realize there are a lot of things I really miss about my childhood Christmases. Here are just five.
1) Trying to sleep when I know Santa is coming.
There was always that feeling of great anticipation when I went to bed on Christmas Eve in my red-with-a-teddy-bear-on-the-front Christmas nightgown. I'd say my prayers and tell myself to go to sleep, but the thought that maybe I'd catch Santa this year as he filled stockings or put gifts under the tree...it made me so excited that I stared wide-eyed at the ceiling, enthusiasm bubbling inside me and making me feel like throwing off the blankets and trotting downstairs.
Sometimes I'd wake up really early and barrel into my older brother James' room, bouncing up to his bed and occasionally bounding onto it, waking my poor brother with an excited, "James! James, it's Christmas! Wake up!!! Let's peek before Mommy and Daddy wake up!!!" My brother always had the patience of a saint, mumbling a half-asleep "Wait a minute. We'll go down in a little bit." I lingered there, bouncing on his bed lightly and checking to make sure he didn't fall asleep again.
We would steal downstairs, where the house was all dark but for the lights on the tree. It was customary not to even peek at the tree, because that was were the really good stuff was, but we'd tiptoe through the kitchen and check to see if there were any new stuffed animal friends or treats sticking up out of the top of our stockings, hung over the fireplace like every year.
After we'd sneaked our illegitimate peeks, we'd go back upstairs again, shushing each other unnecessarily. I'd sometimes take a millisecond-long glance at the living room where the tree was, just long enough to see if there were any huge presents.
Anyway, what I'm trying to portray here is that the anticipation and the magic surrounding Christmas made it my favorite day of the year. There was little under the tree on Christmas Eve, and then the next morning, the bottom of the tree was so filled with presents that it seemed the expanse of gifts spilled out until it reached either corner of the narrow side of the room. It really seemed like a miracle every time.
2) Putting out treats for Santa and his Reindeer.
Every year, we would put out a treat for Santa (sometimes it was cookies, sometimes it was banana bread or another sweet), some milk, and a plate of carrots or oats for the Reindeer. I always saved the nicest carrot for Rudolph, because he was my favorite. I'm not sure how everything was gone the next morning, but my parents must have been quite dedicated-- I know firsthand that eating oats plain is not the most pleasant experience, but bless them, the whole plate was empty.
Sometimes I'd even write a thank-you note to Santa on the plate, so it could only be seen when the treats were cleared away. It usually said something to the effect of, "Thank you for the [insert the year's most coveted present here], Santa! Have a safe trip!"
This year I might just put out some cookies, because we have a whole bunch of cookies.
3) Having Christmas recorded.
Every year, Mom and Dad would record our Christmas with the videocam. Christmas always officially started with my brother and me sitting at the top of the stairs in our pajamas, listening to our parents converse in hushed tones about how to make the videocam work while we exchanged looks like, "It's the same every year."
"Are you sure it was charged? The light isn't coming on."
"I thought you had the batteries!"
"This one doesn't have batteries; you have to charge it."
"Does it even have any--? Oh, drat. This tape is full!"
By the time everything was in order, my brother and I were resting our chins in the palm of one hand, trying not to fidget. But when Mom came to the front of the stairs with that videocam, we straightened up and beamed, ready to finally begin Christmas with the unloading of our stockings.
From the unloading of our stockings to when the last present's wrapping paper was ripped open and the gift was proudly held aloft, Christmas was recorded to be enjoyed in years to come. I always delighted in being recorded, as I was (am) something of a ham. Naturally I wanted to watch last Christmas after the current year's was over. So sometimes we'd dig up tapes of past Christmases and watch them, during which my parents would always remind me of the time a younger me had pointed to the television with a home movie playing on it and exclaimed, "Me on the tiv-ee."
To this day I have no idea where all those old tapes reside, but I only hope the memories I hold of those Christmases are safe, incorruptible by time.
4) The unwrapping of gifts seeming to last forever.
When I was little, it seemed like we got a LOT of gifts every Christmas. I remember one year I took a peek at the tree early and saw so many presents that the floor around the tree wasn't even visible, and there was what appeared to be a giant, fluffy, white polar teddy bear sitting in a chair beside the tree. This excited me because my brother had a giant fluffy white polar teddy bear and I had always been jealous of it.
Anyway, it seemed like it took us hours to unwrap all our gifts, and it was never tedious. Each thing was a surprise, even if I'd been asking for something since Halloween.
After everything was unwrapped, I would make the experience last by playing with my new toys (and invariably losing one of the many small parts they came with). Christmas was awesome cuz I never got bored.
5) My annual Beanie Baby Nativity.
Okay, this one requires a little explanation. As a kid, I collected Beanie Babies. That part isn't so unusual. But the unusual part is that I have OVER TWO HUNDRED. Or something. I've never actually bothered to count, but suffice it to say that I have at least six tubfuls, and several outside tubs as well. I often felt like my Beanie Babies were neglected if I didn't play with them, so I'd get them out and play with them all at once-- they would be divided into couples for a dance, or I'd make stories out of whatever song was on the radio and act them out with two Beanie Babies as characters.
Christmastime was fun because I always assembled a Nativity scene in my room with my Beanie Babies. Everyone from Baby Jesus and Mary and Joseph, to the Three Wise Men and the mythical Little Drummer Boy, to the angels (played by my angel bear Beanie Babies) looking over the stable (which was usually a binder or some other precarious structure), to the animals in the stable-- every role was filled, carefully picked from my expansive choices for their star potential. Mary was always played by a Beanie Baby named Hope, I think-- she was a creamsicle-colored bear who was knelt in prayer, a sweet smile on her face. I would drape some felt over her head, and boom-- perfect Mary. Finding a Baby Jesus was harder. I think I always went with a bear from one of the Teeny Beanies sets that came out at Christmastimes (Jingle Beanies, they were called).
I was always very creative with this, improvising the props like the Little Drummer Boy's drum and the shepherds' crooks from whatever materials I had, and making a star from yellow construction paper and taping it over the scene on a bookshelf or something similar. It was one of my favorite traditions that I had for myself. My parents were not as enthusiastic about it, perpetually tripping over my idyllic stuffed animal scene in their vain attempts to walk through my room.
6) Discovering new ornaments every year.
In my family, ornaments are a big deal. My brother and I used to get an ornament (sometimes multiple ones) every year, so our tree was like a timeline of our lives-- every ornament brought back memories from that year. My ornament from the year I started school was a schoolbus. The year James turned sixteen was a blue car with a Santa hat in the front passenger seat. There are countless ornaments from favorite Disney movies of mine-- three Lion King ones, a young prideful Simba marching and a young Nala hanging onto a tree branch, and a Mufasa with baby Simba clinging to his back; a Pocahontas one with Percy and Miko sitting entranced by a tiny Flit, spiraling around them on a delicate, bouncy wire. The year I was born, James had one with a puppy hanging through a basketball hoop, the board above the hoop reading "Superstar Brother." Sometimes our parents even received ornaments (from each other or from my brother or me).
We always got to open our ornaments on Christmas Eve after Christmas Eve service at church, so it was like a teaser for the following morning. I loved it. But I also loved just looking at our tree.
Every year, I'd walk around the tree and just stare at all the ornaments. It seemed like every year, there would be one I hadn't noticed before-- some new silk ball with a date on it, or a hand-painted sphere, set high above, or a heavy train ornament that needed to have a branch under it to support its weight. Each ornament had a story to tell, and I wanted to hear them all.
Now it seems like every story has been told, and there is no mystery in Christmases past anymore. I feel like I'm struggling so desperately to cling to that feeling of Christmas magic-- that anticipation, opening a new door on an Advent Calendar every day of December and eating the bit of chocolate inside, making paper chains that hang from the door, playing with new toys as a fire crackles in the fireplace, coming home from my last day of school carrying my Secret Santa gift and wearing my bright colored gloves and sniffling from the cold only to open the door and hear Christmas music drifting out from within-- but it's something that feels gone for good. I can't ever get it back.
But then I see all the cookies Mom has made, and taste them, the bright colored sprinkles melting in my mouth. I set another of my poorly-wrapped gifts to Mom and Dad and James under the tree. I drink a mug of hot chocolate, letting the warm steam dampen my face and the mug heat my hands. I sit listening to Christmas carols on our old CDs and remember how I used to listen to them years ago. I ask Mom if we can please play the Charlie Brown Christmas Soundtrack, or watch Annabelle's Wish, since I've hooked up the VCR again, bouncing with that same childish enthusiasm I've always had this time of year.
And I think, maybe the magic isn't gone after all-- I just have to look a little harder.