What I Call Christmas
Feb 17, 1997
I walked into the living room a few days after Christmas and saw four teddy bears sitting on plastic chairs in a row. Seated on an overturned plastic milk carton was my three year old son, Tadin, questioning them.
"What happened to Bambi?" he said, in a serious tone. "What happened to Bambi?"
I watched with great interest. Then Ranin walked up to each teddy bear and squeezed their noses as Tadin repeated the questioning. Bambi was lying on the rug, motionless. I thought to myself, gee, these guys are almost scary. I wasn't sure if I should be proud of them for their investigative abilities, or worry that they'll grow up to be interrogators for military intelligence. I really had to give them credit for making up such an innovative game with their same old toys.
Then there's the subject of new toys! I awoke Christmas morning to the sound of tearing paper. "Wait for Daddy!" I urged my moppets as I shook my husband who was not at all excited that Santa Claus had come. "Another half hour," he murmured.
I let the kids open one gift each while they waited for their daddy. Dinosaurs! A Barbie Horse! A G.I. Joe! An alien! They stood salivating over the pile of gifts as Daddy staggered from his bed and slumped onto the couch. They were about to dive on the presents when Peter said, "Let's say a prayer and thank Heavenly Father for today and let's sing Happy Birthday to Jesus." Which we did, and then Peter, in his wisdom, suggested that we pass the presents out one at a time and watch each person open them. This added to the anticipation of each child as well as lending drama to the occasion. The whole gift opening frenzy was more special because it lasted longer and each gift was savored. This is the first Christmas that Tadin had an inkling of what was happening. His first big gift was a castle with knights and a dragon, which so fascinated him that he declined further toys as they were passed to him. It amazed me that his greed gland hadn't kicked in.
A week after Christmas, the castle had been disemboweled -- all its pieces scattered under the TV and behind the couch. Ranin's pirate ship with cannons and sails was similarly wrecked in the bathtub. Gracie's Barbie dining room with 1000 pieces of matching plastic china was also scattered like seeds in the wind. Only Tymon kept his stuff together in a big plastic box. He spent days chasing Carmen Sandiego across the globe on the computer.
Every year, I find myself grasping for the essence of the holidays that was so palpable to me as a child. I recall the best dishes and linen, the wonderful smells of food permeating the house, and the jovial feeling among the friends and family who visited or whom we went to see. I can't remember the gifts themselves, aside from the faces of my parents who looked so pleased as my brother and I opened everything with enthusiasm. After my brother left home to join the army, I remember sitting up all night alone on Christmas Eve, staring at the Christmas tree, unable to sleep. When I was 10 years old I had a paper route. On Christmas morning, 1965, I delivered newspapers which awakened my awareness to the fact that some people have to work on Christmas Day. A shocking thought! Until then, I had thought the world had the day off.
Most (western) people that I talk with are looking for the essence of Christmas that they remember from their childhood. People from the northern part of the northern hemisphere remember (or want to remember) snow on Christmas morning. Others remember the grown-ups getting tipsy and laughing loudly from the wine or cocktails served with dinner, or they associate it with old movies like "Miracle on 34th St." or "It's A Wonderful Life". Some cherish the celebration of the birth of Jesus and the beautiful, spiritual music associated with it.
There exists in humanity a need to gather as families and celebrate together. I think every culture has such a thing that revolves around a special day of piety or tradition. It links us and creates what we remember as that intangible thing called "home".
When I think of Christmas I think most of my mother, Iris Korman, who tried so hard to give our family a beautiful experience during the holidays. She decorated the house, taught me how to bake cookies, and showed me what the joy of giving was all about. She was a person who couldn't wait to give gifts to people. She enjoyed buying things for people, and she made tremendous effort to give things that she thought each person would really like. She died before Peter and I had children, which is a great source of sorrow to me. One day I was reading one of her diaries from the time when she was lying in bed with bone cancer. I had never known that she felt as though she had become a useless nothing. I wish I had known when she was alive that she had felt that way, because I never adequately expressed to her the gratitude I have always felt concerning the quality of life that she provided. To children, their parents are a given, like the sun coming up every morning. If the parents are good parents, the children may not realize their good fortune until they grow up, see the coldness of the world, and then look back on their early life.
My mother comes to mind often at Christmas time, (all the time, really.) To me, she is the essence of what I call "Christmas". She was generosity, kindness and unconditional love, incarnate. I imagine her looking down from heaven, knowing that despite the final sorrowful years of her life, that she gave something of eternal quality to me, which I am doing my best to pass on to my family, however insufficiently.
So as my boys line up their teddy bears and question them, and as Gracie braids her Barbie's hair, I hope that they remember our times together, and that they can create a warm place for their families in the future, too. Maybe I can haul the teddy bears out of storage someday, and question them to find out if I was ever able to give as much as my mother did. God bless you, Iris.
Kimmy Sophia Brown has loved humor and music and freedom for as long as she can remember.She is especially passionate about the environment and caring for animals.
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