I’m convinced that Christmas is so cherished a holiday in part because it fits our oral tradition so well. Gatherings of family and friends to open gifts and share meals is not only the perfect incubator for new memories, but is the ideal venue to share old ones. I’m no different. I am drinking in the experiences of this holiday season, and I find past Christmas’s rising happily unbidden to the surface. These memories come in no particular order, no particular priority of smiles, and they come as naturally as the season itself.
When I was a young man and in my freshman year at Clemson, I remember coming home for Christmas break. I couldn’t wait to see my friends from high school and their families. One of the first things I did was grab some magic markers and a square of cardboard from one of my dad’s dry cleaned shirts, and I made an arrow sign with the words “My Tree” on it. I then got my little brother Greg and my youngest sister Ginny to pose for a picture in the upstairs hallway pointing the arrow sign towards the family tree in the living room downstairs. I then took this sign and my camera to the Lovejoys, the Wilsons, the Barkers, the Campbells, the Whitakers and others. I got that film processed as quickly as possible and put together an album, I just couldn’t wait to do that. I think on some level I intuitively understood that I could only experience these connections that were so critical to my formation this one last time in my life. Beyond freshman year, the centrifugal spin of life casts childhood friends apart towards their individual destinies.
I also recall a Christmas just seven years ago when I was in the car with my grandson, Russell. He was about ten years old. It was Christmas school break and he had been to work with me for the day. We were listening to 850 KOA Sports Zoo on the radio for the long ride home, and one of the hosts was going on an uncharacteristic rant and accidently implied the nonexistence of Santa Claus. I took a quick look toward Russell and held my breath, I didn’t know what to say to him. At ten, some children believe, some don’t, and others are on the cusp. I didn’t know what Russell thought about Santa, and I was frozen as my mind held a veritable traffic jam of scenarios it was attempting to deal with. In the midst of my panic, my grandson placed a calming hand on my shoulder and said, “Don’t worry, Bumpa, I know about Santa.”
This Christmas while listening to carols as my wife and I drove to our daughter Haley’s Christmas party, the radio station played “The Twelve Days of Christmas.” Jean-Marie and I were singing along and laughing as we took turns forgetting how many maids were milking and how many swans were swimming, only sure that there were five golden rings. After a time, we were both struck with memories form a Christmas at least fifteen years ago. We found ourselves hosting a dinner for a group friends from Texas. A dozen of us around a long table, enjoying good food and good conversation. After dinner, Jean-Marie and I served dessert on our brand new “Twelve Days of Christmas” dessert plates. I no longer recall how it started or whose idea it was, but we began singing and laughing our way through that song, each person singing the part that was on their plate.
There have been other Christmas’s and other memories. There will be more Christmas’s and new memories. They will find places for themselves in my brain with no guarantee when or if they will rise to the surface. It’s not that different from looking at presents beneath the tree. You don’t know what lies inside the wrapping, but each box is a gift and a surprise and a smile. Merry Christmas.