Sitting staring at the warm glow from my plastic Christmas tree frosted with twinkly lights, I’m reminded of my Christmas’s as a young boy, all of which seem like a life time ago. The distant memories of my childhood festivities still linger in my mind like a sweet flavour that refuses to release its grip from your taste buds long after the treat has gone, such wonderful memories! My experiences as a child are quite different to the ones I look forward to now, yet at the same time a gentle theme connects the two.
I remember growing up, we didn’t have a silly plastic tree, oh no sir! We had the real McCoy, well at least as real as I’ve experienced in the warm climates of Africa, but it was real! Every spiky prickly leaf is unmistakably etched into my mind and the various scars that adorn my arms. We never had fir trees we had hypodermic needle trees! We’d need to move the thing indoors which if you’re wondering was similar to hugging a cactus and moving it from room to room. But when the starship prickles finally landed in our family room and after band aids and anti itch cream were applied, it was a moment of sheer jubilation.
Looking at my tree again, I notice the perfect symmetry of the branches, isn’t nature grand:) Our trees were not so lucky, good thing I grew up in a swiss household where imperfection was “embraced”. My Father, the legend that he is, would have nothing of this natural ill-placed-branches nonsense. You see, if the branch was not in place, we’d hang real apples to bring balance to our triangular mascot. If apples weren’t enough more serious measures were devised to bring order back into our home. This took the form of cutting off branches, drilling into the trunk and placing the branches where God should have done.
In place of sparkly lights we had real candles, sometimes made from real beeswax which had a beautiful honey aroma which served as a treat for the eyes and our sense of smell. We’d sit in the darkened room waiting for them to burn down and hoping above all that he’d miss one and we’d get to see the little fire starter inflict due justice on the branches that caused us so much pain in the form of a scorched earth approach, sadly, he seldom missed anything, especially a candle hell-bent on burning his newly transplanted offshoots.
All this merriment was carefully put together, and after a time, my brother and I graduated from onlooker to apprentice. We were given the opportunity to put our memories to good use and recreate the Christmas so lovingly created for us in years gone past. We did well, the positions were burnt into our minds and after a few years of my Dad coming through to check on our progress, we were eventually released to go it alone.
Presents were also a big thing! Every Christmas eve we were allowed to open the gifts sent from our grandparents in Switzerland. I remember the boxes as being grand, wrapped in christmas paper, brown paper, secured with string and a wax seal. We’d sit around as family, opening our treasures and marvelling at how cool even a new pair of pyjamas were. Eventually we were receiving high-tech Lego toys and that was super cool! Then off to bed, but not before I would leave milk, a cookie and a banana out for Santa. Yes, I did say a banana. I have no good reasons, perhaps I cared for his health and felt it would in some way make up for the tons of sugary delights he would be consuming that night. Herein lies a problem aswell. Being an inquisitive sort, one year I placed a needle in the banana, only to find Santa had decided not to adhere to my healthy diet and returned the banana to the fridge. If there was ever any belief in Santa’s existence, I’m afraid it was dealt a fatal blow that night.
On Christmas morning, I’d shuffle my feet under the covers to hear the crinkling of wrapping paper cocooned in my stocking. I loved my stocking, whatever the contents, I awoke with such joy. This was a good thing too as after the stockings, we had breakfast, cleaned the house and only sometime after lunch were we allowed to open presents. Yes, AFTER LUNCH! Can you imagine the restraint we must have had, my children would have certainly had a different approach! But wait we did, until all the family was there and then our ravenous appetites were satisfied with all that ribbon covered paper goodness. Let the carnage begin! My happiest memories are wrapped up in every one of those Christmas days.
In 2 sleeps, I will experience my 32nd Christmas. Some things have changed, the death tree has moved on, but the joyous expectations remain. The biggest change for me is that I no longer hunger for a front row seat to the paper tearing ceremony. I’m happy to hang back, in fact, I can’t wait to sit back and watch the anticipation turn to joy as my boys open the gifts especially picked out for them. I can’t wait to experience their smiles and shouts. I long to catch a glimpse of sheer childlike happiness. Not to say for a second that this is the true meaning of Christmas, I know it most certainly is not, but the spirit of giving, of love, of forgiveness and hope for me, can best be experienced in the expression of a child on Christmas morning.
My Christmas’ were slightly different, but the common thread between then and now is family. In a home that didn’t always connect in a space of shear joy, that one day a year was filled with family sharing a moment of delight. I love that “God so loved the world that he sent His son” and if we have taken some pagan festival and made it our own or misdiagnosed the date of the nativity or even hit it spot on, I like to think that even if our day is not spent in pure worship to God, it makes him really happy, especially in a world of sadness, when families come together, even if only for a few hours to share, to love and experience each other. Consumerism aside, I think the world would be a better place if December 25th occurred more often.
Thank you God for my family, for You, Your Son and Christmas.