“One Christmas was so much like another, in those years…I can never remember if it snowed for six days and six nights when I was twelve or whether it snowed for twelve days and twelve nights when I was six.”
Dylan Thomas’s story of A Child’s Christmas in Wales includes a wonderful description of the aunts and uncles: “There were always uncles at Christmas. The same uncles.”
And the presents: “There were the Useful Presents – engulfing mufflers of the old coach days, and mittens made for giant sloths…and pictureless books in which small boys, though warned with quotations not to, would skate on Farmer Giles’ pond and did and drowned; and books that told me everything about the wasp, except why.”
And the Useless Presents: “Bags of moist and many-colored jelly babies and a folded flag and a false nose and a tram-conductor’s cap and a machine that punched tickets and rang a bell, and a celluloid duck that made, when you pressed it, a most unducklike sound, a mewing moo that an ambitious cat might make who wished to be a cow…toffee, fudge, cracknels, marzipan and butterwelsh for the Welsh…and a whistle to make dogs bark to wake up the old man next door to make him beat on the wall with his stick…”
My parents would tell the story of my oldest brother’s second Christmas. Chet was a couple of months shy of two, and it was during the Depression and they managed to get several gifts for him to put under the tree, and after opening them he spent the rest of the day playing with the scraps of kindling wood for the stove, piling them and making his own games with them.
As the family grew, eventually numbering eight children, the presents wouldn’t fit under the tree – they spread around the room, with sleds, toboggans and bikes as well as the wrapped gifts with little name tags that would be read as the gifts were given to each of us. And the stockings – actual socks, that were stuffed with goodies.
My stocking always had a can of tuna fish – my mother knew it was my favorite. But she would never put tuna in brother Bill’s sock – Bill hated tuna, or fish of any kind. So she would squeeze a can of fruit cocktail in his sock. The Golden Rule doesn’t work with gift giving – you have to know what someone likes or doesn’t like, and you give what they want and not what you like!
As we got older and could earn some money shoveling snow for the neighbors who didn’t have kids to do the shoveling, or found other ways to make money, we discovered the great satisfaction in giving gifts to our parents. No matter how many bottles of dime-store perfume she opened, my mother always responded with surprise and delight, as if she had just opened the most wonderful gift in the world, and later I realized she did, but it wasn’t the perfume!
Dylan Thomas closed his wonderful story: “I turned the gas down, I got into bed. I said some words to the close and holy darkness, and then I slept.” May your memories of holidays and loved ones with whom you shared them be a blessing that warms your heart again and again.