Friday, December 20, 2013

Wonderful Christmastime

Christmas can be a wonderful season, whether one is Christian or religious or not. In most Western countries, Christmas is mostly a secular, commercialised extravaganza, and no religious belief is needed. Oddly, most of my memories are non-religious.

Our Christmas season began on Thanksgiving Day when my parents held what they called an “open house” for the members of the church council and their spouses. This was the closest I came to religion on Thanksgiving Day, because I wasn’t required to go to church (which was right next door when I was a little kid). Instead, I got to watch the Thanksgiving Day parades on TV.

The “open house” ran from just after the end of the service on Thanksgiving morning until early afternoon. My mother served coffee/tea, cookies, dips, crackers, that sort of thing.

Once the guests left, I was allowed to put our Christmas albums on the record player in our console stereo. We’d have our Thanksgiving dinner mid to late afternoon.

From that point on, I’d start bugging my parents about putting up our tree, and they always resisted because we had a real tree in those days and they knew it would dry out if it was up too long. Eventually, we’d drag everything out and decorate the tree—with those same Christmas albums playing.

When I was a little kid, I got to help a little with decorating the Church, too. There was a nativity display outside the church with fibreglass (or something) figures that were child-sized. They fascinated me. The manger was always empty until Christmas (my dad was big on detail). One of my sister’s baby dolls was the baby Jesus for a time, and I seem to recall she sat on one of the animals and broke it; well, that’s what was told to me, because I was too young to know about it at the time.

From as far back as I can remember, we went to church on Christmas Eve, not Christmas Day (when I got older, we went to the late night service, which I really liked). My mother was adamant that us kids should be allowed to be home on Christmas Day to play with our new toys. So, I’ve never been to church services on Christmas Day, and it’s highly improbable that I ever will.

I don’t really remember much about Christmas Dinner, but I do recall having roast beef with Yorkshire Pudding, though I don’t remember if that was every year or just sometimes. Growing up, I didn’t know that it was unusual for Americans to have Yorkshire Pudding, and it wasn’t until I moved to New Zealand that I learned how to make it properly—and that my mother had made it all wrong (it was the cooking that was wrong, not the mixture).

Christmastime ended at our house on January 6th. My parents called it Epiphany, and it wasn’t a day I looked forward to. While I was away at school, my mother took down our Christmas tree by herself. She said she felt none of us should have to see the tree come down, I suppose because it would destroy some of the magic, or something. But between this, and insisting we stay at home on Christmas Day, she was clearly focused on making Christmas special for us kids.

As an adult, I kept some of the traditions. I started playing Christmas music on Thanksgiving Day. In fact, I still do that, though these days the music is all digital. But these days, that’s about it. We haven’t put up a decorated Christmas tree in years; instead, we have a stylised tree, but some years we don’t even put that up.

Over the years, some of the magic has worn off for me—particularly because I came to realise how much work is involved in decorating and un-decorating. Moving to the Southern Hemisphere also affected me: It took quite some time to adjust to a summertime Christmas, because it just didn’t “feel” like Christmas.

Christmas now is basically a family get-together. We don’t buy presents for the family (apart from Nigel’s Mum) or even each other, really, apart from a small gift.

All of this means that Christmas is really relaxed and easy-going for us. We don’t have the all the frenzied rush that so many others seem to, or the pressure, or the expense. We focus instead on what for us is most important—our own family and our extended family. And that’s pretty wonderful.

The video at the top of this post is “Wonderful Christmastime” by Wings from 1979. Quite frankly, it was never one of my favourites, but it was—and still is—catchy. The video—with its 1970s special effects—is pretty trippy, really.

This post was inspired, in part, by Roger Green’s “My iconoclastic Christmas”.


rogerogreen said...

LIKE, as they say in FB land

Arthur (AmeriNZ) said...

I did say I wanted to share more personal history this year! I even talked a bit about my past political activism this year!