, Photo (c) Jim Doty, Jr.
I love Christmas. Why? Probably because Christmas brings up a lot of happy memories.
Growing up, Christmas almost always meant driving to northern Colorado to spend a few days with grandpa, grandma (who passed away when I was too young), aunts and uncles (10 of them) and cousins. Those days were filled with enjoyable times spent with a wonderful extended family.
There was always the traditional Christmas feast which would include wild game if grandpa had been fortunate on his most recent hunting trip through the fields of northeast Colorado. A few times we got to go along. We always had a blessing, and it would often be sung: "Be with us at our table Lord . . ."
We would often open gifts after Christmas dinner. Getting gifts was nice but having fun with the family was a lot more important. Sitting in grandpa's lap, playing horsey on uncle Ken's back, wrestling with whoever, making mud pies with cousin Linda. We went home from our annual Christmas pilgrimmage with lots of gifts, but mostly with lots of happy memories.
Packing a big family into grandpa's house was a trick. Every bed, hide-a-bed, and sofa was put to use. When we were small, they would put several of us cousins in one bed lined up like cord wood. One night I woke up in absolute darkness, standing in a room somwhere in the basement (I had walked in my sleep). I heard strange noises coming from in front of me (someone snoring). I reached out ahead of me and felt a bed, but it wasn't mine. I turned to the side and bumped into a table. I reached out and my hand went into a glass of water and I felt - - - teeth! Yeccch! I did not want to wake the person in front of me, so I lay down on the floor and went to sleep. The next moring I was back in bed where I started, squashed between several of my cousins. I don't know if I walked back in my sleep, or if someone put me back.
In the pantry on the back porch was a box of chocolate chips. Along with the other cousins, we would sneak out on the back porch and steal just a few chips. Not too many though, lest it be obvious. We did not learn until many years later at grandpa's funeral that our parents were sneaking chocolate chips too. Then we found out grandpa was actually buying several boxes of chips each year to keep up with the demand. 20 or more people stealing chips is a lot!
Each year brought the annual Christmas program at church. When we were young we had a chance to be a sheep. Later on we cold be a cow. If we were lucky, we became angels or shepherds in our teen years. Young adults played Mary and Joseph, older men were the wise men.
High school brought band and orchestra concerts at Christmas time, filled with all of those wonderful arrangments of Christmas music. I loved rehearsing for those concerts, and the concerts themselves were even better.
There was caroling on frosty December nights, followed by hot spiced cicer and hot chocolate back at church.
Diagonally across the street from our church in Pueblo, Colorado was an older home which would always be decorated in a way that looked splendid to our young eyes. There was a choir of carolers, Santa and elves, the traditional nativity scene, huge candles, and Christmas lights all over the house and in every tree. Christmas music played through outside speakers. After church on Sunday and Wednesday nights in December, I would walk to the corner of the church lot with the other kids and look across the street and listen in wonder. Bright stars twinkled overhead in the night sky, as well as one big one over the manger scene across the street.
Marriage, a job as a band director, and children brought more Christmas memories. Some years we had very little money for presents, but we did have good memories. We still have most of our first Christmas tree. A styrofoam base, a very large pinecone, and a string of inexpensive beads to wrap around the cone. Only the foil metallic angel that set on top has disappeared since we bought our first "tree" for less than a dollar, many years ago.
As a band director in Louisville, Nebraska I always hoped for an early first snow fall. On that day, I would hand out Christmas music and we would play to our hearts content. The Christmas concerts were always a treat. A few days later school would be out and we would head for North Platte and Denver for Christmas with my family and Melissa's.
After buying gifts one year for the children, we had less than $6 between us. Melissa took her $2.87 (more or less) and bought a gift for me at a drug store in North Platte, Nebraska. When she came out with her littel sack, I took the remaining $2.87 (more or less) and bought her gift.
We would buy the $1 Christmas albums that tire stores sold in the late 60's and early 70's. Tapes of those old albums are still family favorites and our children (ages 26 to 31) still look forward to us playing the same music each year while we open presents and have Christmas dinner.
All of our children were home some time or other this Christmas season. We had one Christmas celebration with two of them on December 26, and another celebration with two of them today. They all have spouses or significant others with families to spend time with.
I will end this little trip down memory lane. I hope you have a collection of memories that brighten this season for you. If not, I hope you begin some happy memories.
What a blessed season this can be. May there yet be Peace on Earth and Goodwill toward all of God's children.