Only 3…2…1 day left… Christmas memories

When I was a kid, this was without doubt the most happy, exciting week of the year. I’ll admit it had little to do with the true reason for the celebration, the religious one, it was really about two things: the decorations and the presents.

I loved the whole Christmas decorating process, from getting the tree at the tree lot through opening the boxes of family ornaments, to putting them on the tree just so. Then the lights were turned on, and it was magical. Remember bubble lights? I loved them.

The music was another thing I loved, as a kid I never tired of those songs, the big traditional ones like “Oh Come All Ye Faithful” sung by big choir – probably the beginnings of my love of choral music – to the more folksy ones like “Frosty the Smowman”, “Jingle Bells” and all the rest.

But it was the presents that I, like every kid, really was excited about. I mean, lots of stuff, wrapped in bright paper so it was a mystery, and with MY name on the tag. In my family, a few things would be under the tree once it was up and decorated, but the majority of things appeared after we kids, or at least the younger ones, were in bed.

Our family didn’t open gifts on Christmas eve, and it always seemed to me that to do so was some kind of violation of the Christmas Rules. I mean, it wasn’t Christmas yet, right? If you could open them the day before, why not the week before? The month before? There also were rules about Christmas morning. No one was allowed up before 6:00 a.m. and then it was stockings only. I remember lying awake listening to the cuckoo clock in my aunt and uncle’s house (we alternated Christmases with them so were there every other year), waiting to hear it strike the six o’clock hour, when I would leap from the bed (those were the days) and go get my stocking. In the dim morning light I would delve deep into it, removing one item after another, all the way into the toe. There was always a small toy and a sweet of some kind. What fun!

The real gift opening only happened after Christmas breakfast, which was an Event in our family. Since one or the other family was driving from the Carmel-Monterey area to southern California, a stop was always made at Birkholm’s Bakery in Solvang, – now, sadly, gone – so along with the eggs, bacon and such was an extravagant flaky pastry selection, or occasionally a single one large enough to serve all eight of us.

Then finally, after breakfast had been eaten and the dishes washed, came the opening of gifts. More rules. One of the children was picked to take the presents from under the tree and give them to the recipient. As the youngest, I didn’t get this honor for a long time, so I would sit as still as possible while someone else opened their present, exclaimed over it, heard from the giver about it, then we went to the next gift, making sure each person had opened one before anyone got another. It took a long time, as you can imagine, but to this day it seems like the best process, far more civilized than the mad tearing open of the packages as portrayed in the film A Christmas Story.

One particular Christmas morning stands clear in my memory: the time I came downstairs to see (but not touch until after breakfast!) an American Flyer train set up and ready to run in a circle around the tree. I was as excited as I could be, and there was no danger that I’d shoot my eye out.

This year my “big presents” aren’t wrapped: new home, new furniture, new TV and other electronics, more things than I can – or want to try to – list here. Other than some cards on the mantel we don’t even have decorations, this year. That’s okay, I have all those great memories!

About Rick Robinson

Enjoying life in Portland, OR
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11 Responses to Only 3…2…1 day left… Christmas memories

  1. Bill Crider says:

    Great post, great memories. Thanks for sharing them with us.

  2. My favorite Christmas present as a kid was Robbie the Robot. It was one of the early remote control toys. And it lit up. I scared my younger sisters with it.

  3. I loved the post. Brought back some of my old memories. My favorite was a race car set, with a T-Bird and a Corvette racing around the track, racing my uncle, mom’s youngest brother, only twelve years older than myself.

    These days, my joy is watching the kids open their gifts at the family gathering. Seeing that excitement, hearing the hoots of laughter, that’s my Christmas present.

  4. Dan says:

    A bit of Holiday wisdom to share:

    When I was a child, Christmas was when I looked forward to getting everything I ever dreamed about. As I grow older, the things I want are more personal (or more expensive) and less likely to appear under a Christmas Tree. At the same time, though, I’m more mindful of what others want, and I find myself spending time and thoughtfulness picking out just the right book, tool, accessory or other whosis to fill the needs of those I care about. And as Christmas has come to be more about Giving than Getting, it has come to mean much less to me. Without the greed, it just ain’t the same.

    I hope you’ll carry these thoughts with you, not just at Christmas but all year long.

  5. Richard says:

    Yep, that’s it, Dan, though there are the kindnesses of strangers to consider, at this time of year it seems people are more willing to be friendly, smile, greet you.

  6. Carl V. says:

    Wonderful memories, Richard. We always had Christmas Day at grandparents’ homes, so Christmas Eve was our traditional time to open presents. And once I moved away and we got married we had always had to have our own Christmas early because we were always in another state visiting my parents for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. My daughter, now 18, has never opened family gifts on Christmas Day, only gifts from grandparents, aunts and uncles, etc. at the big extended family shindig. This year we will be open ours on Christmas Eve, a first for us for MANY years. I’m very excited about it.

    For us driving around looking at Christmas lights was, and still is, a tradition, and truly nothing excites me like seeing lights on a Christmas tree. There is a quality to those twinkling lights that is magical, no doubt tied into years of joyous memories of wondering what was in those packages under the tree, etc.

    We always took our time as well, and still do. The three of us are pretty slow, actually taking time to savor each gift a bit before moving on to the next person/present.

  7. Jeff Meyerson says:

    Only one day to go, Rick. I hope you get some toys under your tree.

    My favorite as a kid was a set of Lionel trains – I wish I still had them! A relative of my father (cousin’s husband, as I recall) worked for them. We used to beg my father to set up the tracks and had hours of fun with them, way more than with the erector set I got one year.

    Now Lionel trains cost a fortune.

  8. Evan Lewis says:

    I had an American Flyer too. My favorite Christmas presents, though, were the cap guns. The Rifleman’s flip special, Fanner 50s, a shootin’-shell snub-nose .38, a Hubley Davy Crockett rifle. Nothing said Christmas like weapons of small-scale destruction.

  9. Patti Abbott says:

    We let our kids open one present on Christmas Eve. It took a bit of the tension out of waiting. And there was always one final present on the chair under the empty plate of cookies. I wish I had parents to remember it with.

  10. Drongo says:

    When I was a kid, it was the presents that were important. As an adult, the people matter more.

    And the food. Let’s not forget the good foood.

  11. Richard says:

    Yes, the food. We had roast beef with horse radish sauce, mashed potatoes, salad, chocolate cake. Perhaps not the traditional Christmas meal, though I’m not positive what that would be (perhaps roast goose?) but it was sure delicious and makes for great leftovers.

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