What is it about Christmas-time that brings out the most warm, fuzzy feelings you might have all year? I love the oldies, the classics, as they conjure those most comforting of memories for me.
Chestnuts roasting on an open fire…1
Regardless of the season (but most especially at Christmas) in downtown Philadelphia or New York City, we’d smell vendors cooking up chestnuts on their portable carts long before we’d spy them on the sidewalk. There was even a vendor or two who had trained capuchin monkeys (wearing vest and hat) assisting their sales. It was a wondrous memory of sight and smell!
And every mother’s child is gonna spy To see if reindeer really know how to fly…2
I was definitely one of those children who glued their noses to the window Christmas Eve, scouring the skies in search of that airborne sleigh with its eight tiny reindeer (prior to Rudolph’s appearance in the tale), waiting to catch a glimpse of its magical appearance.
Oh! And speaking of Philadelphia—oh, my! The lights! Both of our sets of grandparents lived in Pennsylvania. When we’d visit my mom’s folks in Philadelphia’s suburbs, we had to cross the Delaware River from New Jersey into Pennsylvania on mighty bridges. During Christmas-time, Dad would drive as slowly as possible on the Benjamin Franklin Bridge to afford us the magical views below us. The residents of the streets lined with row houses took great pride in decorating not only their homes in gaudy, festive lights and greenery, but they also strung lights across the streets from their second and third stories to celebrate and share the Christmas season with all the travelers to their city!
And, New York City – wow! A trip to that city at Christmas-time had to include a stop at Rockefeller Center to watch the ice skaters (an anomaly in the midst of a huge city). As you looked across the ice skating rink, there was an enormous, lighted Christmas tree that always made me sigh and exclaim with delight. Oh! And for stuffed-animal-loving young me, the BEST part of a NYC visit was stopping by FAO Schwarz! That store was packed with bright, colorful boxes of toys and trains meandering through miniature, picturesque villages. But, most importantly, they had the largest stuffed giraffe I’ve ever seen! I can’t even tell you how many nights I prayed that Santa would deliver that giraffe to me! I’d make room for it somehow!
Closer to home, I remember making snow angels, laughing with my brothers and sisters, throwing snow at each other, noses rosy from the cold. We even made snowmen come alive with carrot noses, sticks for arms, gravel bits for buttons, a smile and eyes, and a scarf and sometimes a hat. Mom would heat up milk on the stove and warm us up with a mug of hot chocolate, topped with a big marshmallow. You’d try not to burn your tongue on the scalded milk while slowly sucking up the melted marshmallow.
All of these memories are an idealized version of my childhood as a whole, but those bits and pieces of warm memories push away any negative recollections during Christmas-time. It’s like my memory won’t allow me to bring up any unpleasantness during this season. I glom onto the good memories and force away negative ones.
I chose to move across the country to California at 18, then onto Alaska at 19, and eventually retiring here in Idaho, but I confess a longing for my Pennsylvania/New Jersey “home” during the holidays. I choke up when Bing Crosby croons,
I’ll be home for Christmas You can plan on me Please have snow and mistletoe And presents on the tree Christmas Eve will find me Where the lovelight gleams I’ll be home for Christmas If only in my dreams2
How about you? Do you get all misty-eyed recalling your Christmases as a child? Does the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ bring such joy into your heart that you feel renewed, ready to face a new year of reality? I pray that it does for you, too!
Merry Christmas, my friends in Christ!
– Emily Rogers
1 The Christmas Song, by Bob Wells & Mel Torme’; I prefer the version sung by Nat King Cole.
2 I’ll Be Home for Christmas, by lyricist Kim Gannon. This was written in 1943 to honor overseas soldiers during World War II. Its flip side was Danny Boy.