Holidays are undoubtedly a busy time of year. Even my friends who abstain from holidays find themselves drawn into the fray — invited to holiday parties, being handed gifts and cards and of course, the radio, television and Madison Avenue never let you forget that you’re smack dab in the middle of biggest revenue generator of all — Christmas.
Here at the Anthony household, we’re not particularly religious (we do have our spiritual side but that has a lot more to do with nature than with ancient books and rituals.) My husband and I were both raised in households that identified as Christian (his family actually went to church — mine, only went one time during my entire childhood and it was a drive-in church but that is most definitely another story.) In any case, we both grew up with the tradition of Christmas in our homes and all the trappings that go with it. The gifts he received as a child and the sheer number of them, were much more lavish than any my father’s modest earnings could match. But the holidays were no less magical in our house, as we were growing up.
I credit this to my mother, for whom, most holidays were an all-out affair but for whom Christmas was the pinnacle. We may not have had a lot of money but my mom always made our holidays amazing. Volunteering at the schools gave mom access to the large pieces of colored butcher paper used for classroom bulletin boards and each year, as became a family tradition, my mother would talk someone in the office into letting her have one great big piece of it — enough to create our own bulletin board-sized mural on the living room wall. She’d bring it home and work on making little snowy villages out of construction paper, cotton and glitter. Then she’d people it with Christmas-colored elves and peppermint poles.
She’d also invite us to join in her in the crafting of the holiday mural. We’d sit chattering to one another about what we were making, maybe noshing on a few goodies she’d made in advance or sipping cocoa and when our pieces were complete, we’d assemble our mural — together. Placing houses and villagers just right — sometimes with Santa flying over head or slipping down a chimney or receiving foot rub, post-deliveries from a couple of his trusty elves.
Not only was the end product fun and festive, but the time spent doing that or one of her other crafty holiday projects (like hand-painting and gluing holiday scenes onto blown-out eggs to create the unique ornaments my mother loved) was worth more than any fancy, “hot for this season” toy we could have received. And mom cooked. She baked cookies, and pies, whipped up puddings and candy — there’s nothing my mother couldn’t make — an all of it, delicious!
When I look back on my childhood, I don’t lament all the “things,” I didn’t have or receive each year. In fact, I can’t really remember a one. What I do remember is the year mom saved her pennies to get us each a ceramic to paint and the acrylic paints to go with it. (I got a rainbow mirror — I still have it!) She also picked a ceramic bank for each of us, that she painted (I got an ice cream cone, lovingly painted to perfection and replete with tiny multi-colored sprinkles that must have taken her forever to finish — I still have this, as well.)
It was during the era of Reaganomics, the year dad got laid-off from his job as a machinist and the Christmas that the Sheriff”s department came knocking on our door to serve us an eviction notice. I remember how apologetic that man was, how hard it was for him to look my father in the eye and how he told my dad that he’d asked to wait to serve it until after the holidays but that his request had been denied. I also remember my father assuaging the man’s guilt and wishing him Merry Christmas before he left.
My point is that, like now, times were hard — we ate a lot of beans — but they were also some of the happiest and most memorable days of my childhood and I remember those gifts because of what they said about my family — that we were in this together, that we may have been short on cash but we were long on love and that, to quote Dr. Seuss’ from How the Grinch Stole Christmas, “It came without ribbons! It came without tags! It came without packages, boxes, or bags! . . .Maybe Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store. Maybe Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more.”
I’m not rich in coin this holiday season either, but like my parents’, our household is rich in love, creativity and homemade goodies and I hope my son is learning the lessons I learned back then, of resourcefulness, togetherness and most importantly love. This is what the holidays, no matter your denomination or lack-thereof should be about — spending time with those you love, letting them know you care, no matter how far away and wishing them the best for the coming year.
From our home to yours, Happy Holly Days and Merry Winter ~ May your New Year be bright and always, filled with love!