Christmas. Just saying the word brings a smile to my face. I admit it, I love Christmas.
When I was a kid, my family celebrated in a big, festive, fa-la-la-la manner. We kind of had to because, in case you didn’t realize it, my father, who for 11 months of the year was Dr. John W. Gallimore, Jr., DDS, became Santa Claus during the month of December. I’m talking THE Santa Claus.
No, really. He was the real deal. He had the red velvety costume, the big black boots, the white beard, a booming HO-HO-HO, and the hat with the fluffy band. Ask any number of kids who sat on his lap to whisper their wishes in his ear. R-E-A-L.
Ok. The beard may have been fake.
But the twinkle in Dad’s eye? That was the real deal.
And together with his Mrs. Claus (aka: Mom for most of the year), well, our house was filled with shiny, sparkly, bow-festooned Christmas magic.
It’s not that our celebration was unusual, or outside of the box. If anything, our traditions were firmly IN the box. And it was perfect.
It kicked off a week or so after Thanksgiving when we would race around the corner lot to find that one perfect tree that begged to be ours…while also meeting Dad’s exacting expectations. The tree had to be six feet tall, with still-soft needles, and a very straight trunk. You did NOT want to bring home a tree with a wonky, crooked trunk.
We always found our perfect tree. And sometimes the trunk was crooked. And Dad would grumble a little as he tried to get the tree into the stand, straight and tall. Sorry Dad.
But it was perfect anyway.
My sisters and I would decorate it with Mom’s guidance. She liked red lights. She liked the ornaments spaced evenly around the tree. She liked the icicles placed carefully, one slender ribbon of silver at a time. No clumps. When she wasn’t looking, I would grab a handful of icicles and toss them into the air, letting them flutter down on the tree in a haphazard manner.
Mom always said it was the prettiest tree ever.
Christmas Eve was feast time. Our extended family would gather at our home, in festive holiday attire. I’d always ride in the car with mom to pick up Grandma Daisy and great-Aunt Elva. We’d take the long route home so we could admire all of the best Christmas light displays in town. Then Grandpa and Grandma, Dad’s parents, would arrive and I’d rush outside to help transfer Grandma’s amazing homemade pies from their car to our kitchen, maybe getting a small taste of meringue on my finger in the process.
There was so much food. Mom would worry that the turkey was dry. There was a running joke about hovering over the gravy on the stove to stir, stir, stir so it wouldn’t be lumpy. There was a kid’s table. There was a lot of laughter. There was excitement and anticipation and lots of hugs.
My sister Terry would play the piano as we sang Christmas carols. We weren’t really a family of singers. It didn’t matter. We sang loudly and passionately. We might have digressed to silly at times. OK, no “might” about it.
My sisters and I did a mad rendition of We Three Kings. We even harmonized. Or at least we tried. If we were slightly off key, and I’m fairly sure we were, no one complained.
It was perfect. Our grandparents always said so.
Before bedtime each kid was allowed to choose and open one gift to whet the pre-Christmas appetite. There were cookies and milk to set out. Then it was off to bed to pretend to sleep while listening carefully as Mom and Dad shuffled around, working their Christmas magic.
Remember, Dad really was Santa Claus and Mom really was the jolly man’s missus.
And finally there was Christmas morning. First, there were filled stockings placed strategically at our bedside, presumably to give us our first little gift of the day, but in reality, I think, to allow the couple Claus just a few more minutes of peace and a first cup of coffee. Their calm before the Christmas storm.
The year I hoped and prayed and hinted for a Mrs. Beasley doll? She was there, righ under the tree. The year my letter to Santa promised all sorts of good deeds in exchange for a Beautiful Crissy doll? She showed up to share my Christmas morning. The year my obsession with horses was at its peak? A blue cowboy hat and new boots were nestled in tissue inside the box with my name on it.
And the year I really, really, really just wanted a hamster? I named him Kris Kringle.
Santa didn’t disappoint. And, in the eyes of young Nancy, Christmas was pure magic.
As I grew older, as our family grew to include grandkids, and as I started to really watch, I realized the magic wasn’t in the gifts, but rather in watching my parents’ excitement as they helped the holiday unfold. The true joy of the season, I grew to understand, was behind the flying tissue paper and oooos and ahhhhs. It was right back to that twinkle in Santa’s eye.
Now, with the passing of time, a lot of things have changed. My family has changed. Those grandkids, my nieces and nephews, are all grown up and have families of their own. My grandparents are gone, and my sister Terry now answers to the name Grandma. I am great-Aunt Nan.
My oldest sister is gone.
My parents are gone.
Christmas looks very different now. Celebrations have shifted and rearranged. Family members come together some years, and go different directions on others. Some are near to us, some are near in our hearts.
Christmas is smaller. It is quieter. We create new traditions. Sometimes it’s just me and Jim surrounded by the dogs that are our family. And, you know, that’s perfect too.
The magic may have a different sparkle, but even with a softer glow, it still shines so beautifully.
This year we’ll celebrate a lovely Christmas Eve at home. Just two people and a herd of dogs. Maybe we’ll start the evening by taking some apples and carrots out to the animals in the barn. I think I’ll ask Santa for a clear, crisp night with a sky sparkling with stars and a bright, full moon.
Then maybe we’ll fix our own little Christmas Eve dinner with all of the trimmings. We’ll light a fire, we’ll turn out all of the lights leaving just the Christmas tree to glow–you know, the tree with the crooked trunk that begged to be mine. There will be classic Christmas movies; maybe we’ll watch White Christmas, or we might give the night a dose of laughter with a Chevy Chase twist. And we’ll each open just one small gift.
On Christmas morning, we’ll get up extra early to head downtown to help a different Santa hand out small gifts we have prepared for children gathering with their families to enjoy a warm, free breakfast. I think we might sing carols. I think we will sing loudly and passionately.
And, like my dear Santa once did, I will have a twinkle in my eye that just might escape to trace down my cheek as I remember, as I honor, and as I embrace my new traditions. Different, yes, but still merry. Still wonderful. Still filled with magic.
Thank you, Santa, for this one lasting gift. You taught me well. It’s just what I always wanted.
And it’s absolutely perfect.