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Christmases Past Remembered

Tomorrow is Christmas Eve. The next day is Christmas. What memories the mention of those two days evokes!

When I was growing up, my family practiced certain Christmas-season traditions. About a week before Christmas, Daddy went into the woods on my grandfather's farm and cut a Christmas tree. And then we would all take part in its decoration.

In stark contrast to the beautiful trees most people have today, our tree looked more like the "Charlie Brown tree" than anything else. It generally had one or more open spaces where Daddy would have to bore a hole in the trunk and graft in an extra branch or two to fill in the emptiness. But to us that tree was beautiful. Besides, the many gaps between the branches allowed room to hang more ornaments.

Most of the ornaments we used were really old, and they looked more scruffy with each passing year. Mother would drape the thin strands of silver tinsel carefully and precisely over the branches while repeatedly warning us kids against just grabbing a handful of tinsel and flinging it into the air above the tree and letting it fall where it might--usually in clumps rather than evenly distributed. Then came the tangle of lights. And the angel on the top.

But the decoration of the tree was only the prelude to the big event--Christmas Eve dinner and gift exchange with Pappaw, Mammaw, and Aunt Mildred (Daddy's parents and sister). Mother would have spent all day cooking and prepping the feast while repeatedly warning us kids not to snitch pieces of homemade fudge from the numerous candy dishes scattered throughout the living room for our relatives. (Who will miss just one piece from each dish? we kids thought with the illogic of childhood.)

It seemed to take forever for my grandparents to get the short distance from their house, across the cow pasture, to our house, but eventually they would, bringing armloads of presents with them. The meal seemed to take even longer. Although we kids ate ham, corn, green beans, sweet potatoes or mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, and rolls and butter until we were ready to pop, and although we had "ruined our supper" by snitching a lot of fudge, we somehow always had enough room left in our tummies for several pieces of pie (usually pecan for me).

But what we kids were anticipating most was the opening of gifts after the meal. But the adults always seemed to be dragging their feet about starting it. Mother and Mammaw took their good ol' time cleaning up the kitchen and dishes (doing more talking that washing, I thought). And Daddy and Pappaw carried on a seemingly endless stream of conversation about things that held no interest for us kids. But finally we opened gifts.

Two types of gifts from Mammaw and Pappaw always come to mind when I recall those Christmas Eve gift exchanges: models (cars, warplanes, or tanks seemed to dominate) and books. I always loved to open the books. Arthur Conan Doyle's The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, Gentle Ben, and I'll Trade You an Elk are three that I specifically recall receiving from them. (Surprisingly, decades later, I worked with a fellow who had been employed at the zoo mentioned in the latter work, and he, too, had read I'll Trade You an Elk. I've never met anyone else who was familiar with the book.)

All too quickly, it was all over. But Christmas Day was just a few hours away, when we kids (when we were younger, of course) rushed excitedly into the living room to find the gifts that Santa had left for us. A hook-and-ladder firetruck with a battery-powered lantern and a fireman's hat. A complete cowboy outfit: hat, shirt, guns, and holsters. Models. Books. Socks and underwear. (I didn't get too excited about those, but it was another tradition, so I wore them.)

As we got older, Santa disappeared from the picture and the nature of the gifts changed. Instead of toys, we got more "grown-up" things. Transistor radios. A bicycle. A typewriter with a stand. Books. Socks and underwear. (Mother and Daddy never broke that tradition!) And there seemed always to be a "joke" gift. One year, it was a jar of peanut butter (my favorite food of all time) hidden in the hole of a cinder block buried in a huge box and surrounded with reams of newsprint.

We kids always tried to find clever and ingenious ways to wrap the gifts we gave our parents so they could not guess what was in the package. I recall one year wrapping a four-foot level I had bought for Daddy, disguising it as a guitar. (He still guessed what it was.)

These are some of the fond memories I have of Christmases past. The gifts received and given on those many occasions are all long gone now, but the memories abide still, and they are of greater value to me than any of those gifts--even the books, and certainly of that new underwear!

I hope that each reader and follower of my blog will this year have as joyous and blessed a Christmas as I recall having had as a kid. Make memories that will be dear to you for years to come. But most importantly, remember "the reason for the season": "For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, the mighty God, the everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace" (Isa. 9:6). He was God's perfect Christmas gift to us.

I hope that He is your Savior this Christmas, too.

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Joy Neal Kidney
Joy Neal Kidney
Dec 23, 2022

Two-Gun Dennis!

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