Laura Haley-McNeil

12/24/17, Christmases Past

Hello, Everyone!

It’s almost Christmas. For those who celebrate, are you ready? I never feel ready. The year just seems to plod until Thanksgiving arrives, and then my days feel like a mad dash trying to finish the shopping, the wrapping, the mailing and the baking and still pack for our holiday celebration with other family members. But as I take time to think of what I’ve done and what I still need to do, I remember things that I used to do, especially as a child. The most prominent memory on this day, Christmas Eve, is celebrating my mother’s birthday. She didn’t do much celebrating. In addition to planning a Christmas for six children, she opened her home to friends and family and cooked and baked in a celebration of the season. She expected nothing, but because of the date of her birthday, everyone remembered it. The greatest gift for her was to be with those she loved. She was vibrant and warm and people loved being around her. She was never at a loss for company.

Christmases were crazy and rushed, but were organized when I was growing up. I guess they had to be organized with so many of us. It was hard to sleep in that morning because we were so excited. When we were very young, Santa helped us open gifts, though I have to admit Santa’s suit looked a little worn as the years went by. We exchanged and opened gifts, had a Christmas brunch, then dressed and went to church. My mother always dressed herself before dressing us. I can still see her looking beautiful and smelling wonderfully. She would be dressed in a suit or dress with stockings and heels. Her hair was coifed, her makeup set, and her hat was pinned to her hair. The most memorable hat was a yellow one with a wide brim and long feather woven into one side. At church, we would sit obediently in the pew for what seemed like hours, but probably was much less than that. Then off to the house to play with our gifts, meet with friends and neighbors and compare our gifts with theirs. Despite there being six children in my family, Santa was very generous.

Christmas was also a time when we played games. One year, I received a monopoly game and my sister and I would play it until the wee hours of the morning. Though we never played the game before, I was winning. My sister was so poor in monopoly money that I paid her a few hundred dollars to move my token, draw my cards, and set houses and hotels on my properties. Neither of us knew how to play. I had very good luck, and she had very bad luck. She tended to end up in jail A LOT.

Because school was out, we stayed up late and slept late. I’m surprised my mother tolerated such sloth, but maybe she was happy not to have us underfoot while she ran errands and completed projects. At night we would watch silly Italian films that never seemed to make sense or old Christmas musicals. I loved the musicals. I loved the dancing and singing and romantic conflicts. Now those movies move at such a slow pace, they’re boring to watch. I still enjoy the dancing but the conflicts now seem contrived and not very interesting. I don’t know how I had the stamina to stay up late. Now I’m in bed at an hour that would embarrass a toddler. Because of my day job, I rise early. If I meet friends for a celebratory drink, I’m usually the first to leave the gathering.

The craziness of the season hasn’t changed, but what changes are the people who move in and out of my life. I miss many who have left, but thankfully have wonderful memories of the times spent with loved ones and look forward to making new memories with those who are in my life now and those who are yet to come.

Because life has its ups and downs, this time of year isn’t always merry and bright. I hope if you suffered a loss this year that you’ll be able to look past the sadness and cherish memories that bring you joy. I wish you a wonderful Christmas filled with the season’s true meaning and that your life is filled with peace, love and joy. Merry Christmas! Happy holidays! God bless you all!