You could hear the needle on the record player finding its groove to the next Christmas song – Mommy Kissing Santa, Silver Bells, Silent Night, Frosty and the poor kid needing Two Front Teeth. The aroma of cookies in the oven and cooling on the counter filled our Pennsylvania home with appetizing warmth. Garland and twinkling lights wound through the staircase railing to the hutch in the hallway displaying the nativity.
Setting up the nativity was my job. Each piece was wrapped in old tissue and the box stuffed with yellowed, straw-like paper. Though I had unpacked it year after year, it seemed brand new to me each time. I had forgotten about the wise men with their gifts and crowns, the shepherds, their sheep, the cows, that one camel with a chipped foot, the hovering angel and the little nightlight poking through the back of the stable wall. Opening the nativity box was almost as exciting as unwrapping presents.
Halfway up the staircase you could sit on one of the steps and through the lace draped window, watch the snow falling, transforming tree branches, bushes, sidewalks and roadways into a wintry wonderland. At night the street lights either caught swirling snow in their blustery chaos, or soft, silent flakes falling in peace. Either way the performance entertained those willing to notice, wonder and dream.
‘Candle’ lit wreaths glowed in every window. Their brown extension wires, unleashed from the cellar hooks, hung down each wooden sill, crawling along the baseboards, rounding corners and mingling at times with dust or cobwebs. They seemed like part of the decorations to me, and I used to imagine how glad they must be to come up from the cellar and help light up the house.
Shoveled, salted sidewalks led to the front porch where snow drifted onto a frozen welcome-mat near the red-foiled paper wrapping our front door. Strings of lights, with screw-in bulbs of every color shone through the snow smothered bushes in the yard, beneath crystallized icicles clinging to the spouting above.
Christmas tree decorations were Mom’s choice and varied from year to year. I recall Dad suggesting blue lights every season and over hearing their discussion – apparently, blue was not mom’s favorite. And so the blue Christmas conversation became a holiday tradition with shaking heads, winking eyes and loving smirks. It was decades later Dad got his wish, knowing Mom, looking down from heaven, was most certainly shaking her head, with a smile.
The ruffled bottom of my flannel nightgown graced across our carpet with pink fuzzy slippers leading the way. Cold Pennsylvania winters made it hard to crawl out from under the covers in the morning, but if timed just right, you could race down the stairs when the furnace kicked on and stand on the floor register in the hallway, filling that long flannel nightgown till it puffed full with warmth. I so wished I could sleep standing up.
For me, memories of Christmas have so little to do with gifts. Though, I’ll admit, as a kid, I loved the anticipation of presents and surprises. But looking back, as an adult, it was more about the energy, the music, the food, the visitors and the traditions. It was the warm atmosphere of a loving home that now fills my heart with thanks and my eyes with tears. But, that was Christmas past. I am happy to say Christmas present holds new and wonderful memories for me, as well, memories worthy of reminiscing one day in another Christmas future.