It’s Boxing Day in my home and native land, and Christmas is over for another year. I didn’t spend Christmas in Calgary this year, nor in my southern home, Atlanta. After all, it was dropping to near freezing overnight in Georgia, so what was a self-respecting snowbird to do? Go further south, of course. My wife, Day, and I spent the holidays in West Palm Beach with a dear friend. And while I will always consider Christmas lights wrapped around Floridian palm trees to be just plain weird, we had, as always, a wonderful time.
Christmas has always been one of my favourite times of the year, despite, or maybe because of, some of the more unusual celebrations I’ve had over the years. There was the out-of-town holiday my husband BJ, stepson Bobby Joe, and I spent with my father-in-law, in which we spent Christmas Eve on a waterbed that sprang a leak on my side. I woke up around one a.m., soaked, and ended up pulling cushions off a couch to make a pallet on the floor next to the dry side of the bed. Not wanting to wake our hosts to ask for fresh bedding, I draped the covers off my husband’s side onto my floor-bed. Several years later, the last Christmas of my husband’s life, he had deteriorated to such an extent that the word, let alone the season, meant nothing to him. Our Christmas observance was minimal—a tiny electric tree, no gifts, and a frozen turkey roundel for supper since he was, by that time, tube-fed. Another unusual Christmas was the year I couldn’t fly south until December 25th. No decorations of the season that year. It quite appalled my youngest niece when she found out Day and I had a Christmas corner rather than a Christmas tree where we piled our gifts. She simply couldn’t fathom not having a tree.
Mostly though, I remember the best Christmases—the first year I spent with BJ and Bobby Joe, when I took it upon myself to get the stocking stuffers. I’d never filled a stocking before, and I ended up with so many stuffers that they filled two stockings to overflowing. One little boy must’ve thought Santa miscounted the number of children in our home that year. Then there was my first Christmas in Atlanta; that was a big adjustment. Decorating a tree in weather you could walk outside in without a parka, snow boots, toque and mitts was an eye-opener. It was an adjustment I made easily, though. Even this year, as I sweated up a storm while setting up our outdoor lighting, my only regret was the midges buzzing about my head, not the record-setting heat.
As much as I love the traditions my wife and I have created for our holidays, my fondest memories are of childhood Christmases. As a child, for weeks before the big day I would lie in bed and shiver with the pure delight of anticipation. I loved going out to the woods to find the perfect tree, which my dad usually had to trim by a couple of feet to fit in the house, and I always eagerly awaited Mom’s Christmas baking. In the weeks ahead, she would make a dozen different kinds of cookies and freeze them. My bedroom happened to be in the basement. Was it my fault that I had to pass the freezer to get to my door? I didn’t mind that the cookies were frozen, and I was always careful to apportion my thievery to each of the different cookie containers so none of the contents looked too conspicuously depleted.
Most of all, I loved the big day itself. After breakfast on Christmas Day, the whole family would gather around the tree to open gifts, and there were strict rules that no one was allowed to touch them until then. But there were no limitations on when we could delve into our stockings, aka my dad’s work socks the other 364 days of the year. So on Christmas Eve, once I’d ascertained that our parents had gone to bed and the house was quiet, I’d set about waking my siblings and then leading them on a stocking raid. My mom told me recently that they always heard us, but with one exception, they left us to our clandestine reconnaissance runs. We’d investigate the contents of our stockings, compare loot, eat a couple of chocolates, and head back to our beds for a few more hours of sleep. One Christmas, however, my mother decided to get photographic evidence of our midnight foray. I still can’t believe she snuck up on us without our noticing, but as you can see from the picture, we were caught red-handed. In fact, I literally had my hand in my stocking when Mom snapped the photo. Notice the look of indignation on my face…and the fact that my brother and sister were totally oblivious. It was the only Christmas that our midnight raids were interrupted though, and I happily led my merry band of siblings (five of us in all,) until our teens, when sleep became more important than stockings.
I’m not actually blue that Christmas is over. I’ll spend Boxing Day and the next 100 plus days with my wife before I head north, so life is rosy. Besides, next Christmas is only 364 days away. I can already taste the frozen cookies. Oh, did I forget to mention? I adopted Mom’s practice of making and freezing Christmas cookies. I even use some of her recipes. And you know what? A half century later, frozen cookies still taste just as good.
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