With Christmas drawing near it naturally evokes many feelings and emotions in those of us who have seen a few of them come and go. In my case, more than a few.
Christmas, I think, is lived in stages in the hearts of we humans.
We begin as children, with the mystery of Santa Claus. No matter what religious persuasion to which you belong, Santa fits. He’s the epitome of unselfish giving. The uncanny being who can somehow make it around the world in only one night in order to pass out gifts to “good little girls and boys”. His existence alone during the first few years of my life, kept me from committing many awful offenses.
I solidly believed in him. I revered Christmas. Of course, being Baptist raised, I also knew the story of Jesus’s birth in every different gospel version. I knew every Christmas hymn by heart by the time I was eight. (I knew the entire Baptist hymnal by the time I was 12, and still don’t need a book for 99% of the songs if they do the first, second and last stanzas)
But Santa was my hero, and Christmas was my big day. I kept a handmade calendar, which I drew on notebook paper, using a ruler in order to keep the lines straight, just so I could X out the days one by one starting the day after Christmas every year. I kept a calendar even after I knew there wasn’t a Santa, just because I found it reassuring to be able to visually see the days, and be able to make notes on special occasions. For many years after I got out of school, I still had those calendars, along with my genealogy charts that I had compiled with information gleaned from my Grandparents and my Great Grandma Locklear. There was some invaluable information that got gone forever when I lost the big huge notebook that contained all that hard work. I still hold out hope that I’ll be going through some long packed up box someday and find them. They might possibly still be in the attic of the old house on ninth street if somebody hasn’t thrown them away. Wonder if they’d let me in to look?
I remember quite a few Christmas Eve nights spent at my Moms’s parents house in Blue Ridge. Cold, cold nights sleeping upstairs under piles of quilts so tall, that turning over was almost impossible. You see, Grandpa Stewart only had an old pot bellied stove back then, which was a wood burning hog. He shut the air flow down at night and there was no heat at all upstairs. By midnight you could see your breath on those frigid December mornings. By six a.m., the cold had penetrated those six quilts, and as soon as I heard grandpa’s feet hit the floor, and hear the old heater start to go swoosh with heat, I was gone! Besides, it was Christmas morning! I had heard Santa downstairs during the pitch black night going “ho, ho, ho” and I wanted to see what he’d left me.
Those were the younger years, the magical years before I knew the “secret” of Santa, and became a part of Santa myself. Those were the years of the Lionel train set when I was 8….one of the few years we didn’t go to Blue Ridge, and the only year I can remember as a child when my Mom woke me up to say “look out the window, there’s snow”. There was. Those were the years before Mom got sick, before the mental illness which would haunt her the rest of her life, embedded it’s claws into her.
The years before that one had been wonderful Christmases too. I remember the set of Hoppalong Cassidy cap guns, and his replica outfits. I remember the red Radio flyer wagon, which I hauled rocks, dirt, dogs and toys in until it literally rusted through. I remember marbles in drawstring bags, matchbox cars, and tootsie toy trucks. I remember a bow and arrow set with rubber stoppers on the ends of the arrows. Then there were the comic books….usually Superman and Uncle Scrooge. I was a lucky little boy those first eight magical years.
After the first nervous breakdown Mom had when I was a fourth grader, Christmases were fraught for a few years. By the time “normality” returned, I was twelve years old. I looked at a photo of myself the other day from the sixth grade. I was on the end of one row, and had a sad, hollow look in my eyes. As I moved on through the next couple of years, and across the street to the High School, Christmas took on new meaning and understanding.
I had left behind the mysterys of Santa Claus by the time I was an eighth grader. I knew years before that about the secret. Santa Claus only existed as the spirit of Christmas. He was the joy of children, provided by the largess of the familie’s grown ups. I don’t remember exactly what day, or the exact hour I stopped believing that Santa Claus was a real person. I just remember it being a sad day. A day of disappointment. A day of numbness. How could such a thing actually be true?
I think during my High School years I actually became more affectionate of the holidays, and of Christmas. After I got over my initial disappointment at there being no “real” Santa, I began to realize that those of us who knew Santa’s secret actually became Santa ourselves, for those who still did believe. I remember thinking how I would never want to disappointment a child who still believed.
When I grew up and married, and had kids of my own, I wanted to always make sure that Christmas was a most special time of the year for them. I tried every year to make them happy, and to make my wife happy. Perhaps I went overboard on the gift giving at some points, but I didn’t care. My philosophy has always been to make the ones you love happy while you can, because you’ll never know when the day comes that you won’t have that chance.
As the Kathy Mattea song says:
… “Time passes by, people pass on
At the drop of a tear, they’re gone
Let’s do what we dare, do what we like
And love while we’re here before time passes by…”
Its never more important than it is right now, today, this year….to let people know how you feel. Let the child in you who once believed in Santa Claus take over. Approach life one more time with that innocence and awe, which made you believe in Magic
The magic is still there in most of us….I can’t say all, because I believe the joy of life and love are absent for some people, and that’s beyond sad. Some vessels are empty, and some are corrupted . I pray for those people, I pray they are not beyond redemption.
For this year, this year 2018…I wish all of you my friends and family, a very Merry and Magical Christmas.