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Feeling extra Santa-mental this Christmas

I’m sure younger generations get tired of hearing us talk about having to walk to school, barefoot in the snow, uphill both ways. But a little hyperbole never hurt anyone, and it’s a much more interesting message than just saying, “You kids have a much higher standard of living than we did.” I have no desire to go back to the standard of living of 60 years ago, but, still, there are things that I associate with Christmas as a child that I miss. 

For instance, Christmas was the time for special food treats. In the Midwest, the only way to get citrus fruit during the winter was for your rich Uncle Jack to have a small box of oranges and tangerines shipped up from Florida as a Christmas present. Peeling and eating an orange still makes me feel like it is Christmas, even if its on the Fourth of July. My mother worked, but from around mid-December to Christmas Eve, she baked so many sweets she single-handedly raised the stock price of the Pillsbury Corporation. The smell of warm sugar cookies in an oven is so comforting that today it is an aroma bottled and sold as air freshener. 

Another tradition was a single box of white-chocolate-covered nuts, and it was as exciting as any million-dollar Lotto drawing to see who got the cashew, and who ended up with the Brazil nut. These things are so common today that to even mention them invites a yawn and a bored shrug, but as a kid, their rarity made the Christmas season special. 

Toys, too, were different. Not the toys themselves, but their role in our play. Today, video games and iPads replace imagination. When we were kids, toys supplemented our imagination. They were props for our role-playing, but we invented the stories. And there was usually only one toy under the tree. Practicality required that Santa bring a new pair of jeans since you’d about outgrown the well-worn pair that you started school with in September. But if Santa hit the mark and left you something that you’d stared at in the Montgomery Ward’s catalog until the picture blurred, one toy was all you needed. You hugged your parents tightly and weren’t seen for the rest of the day. 

From these experiences, I learned that Christmas is a season of joy and generosity. The joy was a childhood lesson, when dreams could come true. The lesson of generosity came later, as an adult, when I understood that my parents had no more money or energy just because it was Christmas. All of the extras — the Christmas tree, the gifts, the treats, the nativity scene — meant that they went without something. But that’s what they did, because they were parents, and that’s what parents do for their children. 

Its fashionable today to say that Christmas has become too commercial, and it can be, if that’s what you focus on. But I urge you to ignore the television commercials and mail order catalogs. Concentrate instead on God giving us the gift of his son, or the smile on the face of a five-year-old getting her first Barbie doll set. It’s a uniquely happy holiday.