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April 15, 2024

Christmas Thoughts

By Lydia Manx

Granted, I am not a big fan of overt displays of Christmas. That said, I grew up in a household filled with massive decorations. This isn't some obscure comment but a fact. Anyone who has visited my home knows this about my folks. I know that the first memories of my childhood were captured on film and also in black and white snapshots bound in books around my mom's house. They are the memories of me and my siblings in frozen photographs and there are also abandoned 8 millimeter movies with the backdrop of as much Christmas cheer as could be found.

Dad would set up the camera before we walked down the staircase on Christmas morning, and over the years, he captured all of our delight at seeing the decorated tree with gifts wrapped underneath, waiting for our little fingers to tear them open. Frozen in time, my brothers and sister joined me in the excitement of a childhood with loving parents and gifts from Santa. We didn't have much back then and appreciated every bit and piece given to us. The chiaroscuro Christmas shots still live on in albums turning sepia over time. My folks kept the Santa issue alive and well beyond the usual five or six years. Carefully placed footprints from the fireplace to the Christmas tree with scattered candy, as if dropped by mistake from a bag, let us children keep the illusion of Santa alive and well.

The crisp smell of pine scents my memories of Decembers long past. Our family Christmas trees over the years of my childhood were carefully decorated with my grandmother's glass ornaments my mom had been given along with whatever else we had to decorate with that year. Some years we had handcrafted treats designed in school or made at home while other years we accumulated bulbs and bits to hang up on the pine. Lead tinsel -- yes, real lead back then -- was hung strand by strand on the Douglas fir trees we had carefully selected from lots found scattered around Los Angeles. Something about a tree hung with tinsel and lit by the huge bulbs would delight us children. Today the bulbs are small and sparkling tidbits of light. What I call 'Disney' lights. Back then the bulbs were wickedly sizeable and not to be messed with in the least. If you had a single bulb burned out on the string the whole tree wouldn't light. A burnt light bulb was decidedly a disaster.

As I got older things began to shift. My grandfather had a heart attack right before Christmas -- two days before on my oldest brother's birthday to be precise -- and he was in the hospital, then died on Christmas day. This was during those years now referred to as the tween years. And that does describe my life at that point. I was between a child and a teenager. My life shifted entirely during those years. Christmas was bittersweet that year. To this day, I admit it colors my feelings about Christmas. My grandfather was someone who was larger than life and always part of my heart.

Yet despite all of that I still have enjoyed my holidays. As I continued to live and learn, I found new traditions with and without my loved ones. Some years I would ski with my brothers, other years we would travel to see family abroad. Friends introduced me to Hanukkah, while others shared their winter experiences. I found the joy in sharing with my friends the Hanukkah dreidel songs and games. Nibbling on potato latkes and dipping them in applesauce while watching my friend's kids rip into their blue and white wrapped gifts. Life never just slowed but pulled me along and shared.

Over the years I found peace with my childhood and my family for the Christmas season. I bake sugar cookies with my nieces when I get a chance and decorate for all the family to see. We also did gingerbread houses one year. But mostly the sugar cookies were created in the past few years. I enjoyed watching my nieces pile on sugar, frosting and candies to a cookie they were so proud to decorate. The fact that I was sure to pack the creations and make sure to send my nieces home with the finely decorated cookies further amused me because I knew they would make their daddies eat them (my brothers).

One of the traditions I have done on and off for over twenty plus years is baking for my friend who owns a jewelry shop. It started so long ago I don't really know who suggested it. The week before Christmas I bring in trays of baked goodies for the patrons to savor while waiting to pick up specially made items or for a repair. At first it was just for a day or so before Christmas but over the years it became the week before the holiday.

Now understand I am not talking about a beautifully displayed plate of chocolate chip cookies and sugar cookies on the counter. I bake between fifteen to twenty five different varieties of cookies, bar cookies and candies. For the cookies two to three dozen cookies each variety pretty much sums up the treats. I refill the trays every other day mostly with freshly baked confections. One year I set up bakery boxes of cookies and such to my friend. He confessed later that he would binge on the cookies in the early hours of the morning. Now I just bring them in when the tray empties out.

This year Christmas ambushed me. I came out of doing the NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) exhausted but pleased with the writing I had done during the month. The work was good and my characters strong I felt. So then the first weekend in December rolled around and I yanked out some nerve muscle group in my right shoulder, not a life threatening injury admittedly, but it still wasn't fun. So I was then flat on my back the entire weekend and I pretty much was behind my schedule. Like many of the writers in NaNoWriMo I tend to push aside my normal duties and dues to write. I figured I had plenty of time. I didn't figure in the loss of two days.

The second weekend in December I had family commitments, but still found some time to abuse the plastic at local malls. I hadn't yet focused on my baking. I picked up birthday gifts and some Christmas things. I was completely clueless. So when a recent Monday slapped me in the face something dawned on me when I did the math. It was only a mere two weeks until Christmas and I owed my jeweler some goodies by the coming Saturday. Panic ensued in my brain. I rarely panic so it took me a minute or three to figure out what was going on in my muddled mind.

Thus for the past few days when I've arrived home from work, I have begun to cook and bake. Adding to the overall tension was the note from our local power department who had figured it was a good time to shut the power down from nine to three Tuesday. This now brings me to the past Tuesday's jaunt.

By my work there is an outlet mall. My sister called me over the prior weekend begging me to find some exotic (for all I know) cologne my brother-in-law loves. She no longer was able to buy it since her local Lord and Taylor's stopped carrying it or they shut their store in the Midwest. I wasn't quite sure which because I rarely get a word in edgewise when talking with my sister. The conversations tend to be pretty one-sided. The outlet mall by work has two perfume shops and I was pretty sure one of them would have the scent.

I found a parking place -- a rarity in the weeks before Christmas -- and went to the first store that caught my eye. Reeboks are my favorite shoes. I figured I would kill a minute or three and find another pair of black tennis shoes. Boring but they fit and last forever. Boldly I actually got a second pair not completely black. A minor purchase but hey, it was a need not a want.

I asked the clerk where the fragrance stores were and he gave me precise directions. Wandering down the mall I avoided the obvious ploys to separate me from my cash or credit. The store I wanted had a "Be right back" sign in the window. I wasn't in the mood to sit and wait. Not a good thing. I ended up in a few more stores. Then I went into the Waterford Wedgwood store. I found a great gift for my mom. Pleased, I rounded the displays towards the counter to pay.

Then I saw it.

Gold glitter sparkled with purple and pinks. I couldn't believe it. Add in it was on sale for twenty-five percent off the original price. But I may have actually paid retail given the item. The tag on the bright and shiny object was "Maypole Santa". All I saw was "Pole dancing Santa." I bought it. Laughing at my impulse I went home. I put the ornament on my bathroom counter and couldn't stop giggling. What would possess someone at such a stuffy place like Waterford to put Santa on a Maypole? We are talking mixing two different icons here. Santa is winter and May poles are an entirely different season and reason.

Then I shared the snap I took on my digital camera with my friends. One of my favorite folks pointed out that reindeer weren't cheap to feed and Santa probably needed the second income as a dancer. Laughing, I knew Christmas may not always be what I envisioned, but there were some folks out there with an even more bizarre take on the holiday. Merry Christmas to you all. Enjoy the season for whatever reason.

Article © Lydia Manx. All rights reserved.
Published on 2006-12-18
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