The cold had chapped my chubby thighs. I could feel the rash through my white tights matching the scratchy lace on the Christmas dress mom made for me. Over the dress went the wool coat, stocking hat and mittens. Earlier we had sat on the piano bench in birth order with Daddy to the side for the Christmas photo. I wonder now from the look on my Dad’s face if he knew even then something was wrong with his body?
Outside the air was biting, the snow hard and crusty, the sky was overcast. The yard light illuminated the drifts and hid the dirty pockets melted and frozen during the day. The car was warming up, the exhaust curling into my nose as I surreptitiously sniffed. I loved the smell but had been warned it was poisonous.
All four of us girls huddled in the back seat without seatbelts. We nervously practised our memory verses and wondered what Santa would bring us tonight.
It was magic happening on Christmas Eve. We had our Christmas program at church and sometime during the evening, while we were singing and reciting memory verses, Santa would come with our presents. When we left the house it was empty under the tree but oh, when we came home there were presents!
The church was Bethlehem Lutheran in Sylvan Grove, KS about 8 miles away from our farm. The pastor was Pastor Peter, the principal Robert Degner, and the teacher was maybe Mrs Kruger. The program, published by Concordia Publishing house, consisted of the Birth of Jesus Christ broken into parts with each child given a piece to memorize. Interspersed would be Christmas hymns sung by the children and the congregation, “O Come All Ye Faithful”, “Hark the Herald Angels Sing”, O Little Town of Bethlehem”, “Joy to the World”, and “Silent Night”. The cutest would be the little ons singing “Away in a Manger”.
The excitement and fear of forgetting lines in front of the congregation, mixed with the anticipation of gifts, was almost overwhelming. I knew what was expected of me though. I never forgot a line. I think this was the beginning of my training and interest in theatre. Memorizing Bible verses was great training for memorizing scripts.
After the service, the Elders stood outside in the foyer with brown lunch bags filled with an apple, an orange, peanuts, walnuts, almonds, hard ribbon Christmas candy in bright reds and greens, and thick peanut brittle, to hand to all the children. The peanut brittle was my favorite.
When we got home, the scraggly fir tree, adorned in tinsel, bubble lights and ornaments,would have it’s base buried under Christmas presents! I can’t remember who handed out the presents, but we took turns unwrapping one present at a time.
One year it was a talking Beanie Boy. We all had matching blue velvet dresses that year which we wore with white socks and our Sunday shoes.
Another year I received a china tea set. Then there was a Penny Brite doll and another doll I called Marsha, who I left outside one night and the farm dogs chewed up her face. I remembered one time I gave her a haircut. (What is it with little girls giving their dolls or themselves haircuts?!) Poor thing, she looked like a battered orphan with her chewed up face and raggedy hair cut. Probably much like I looked like after roaming the farm all day in hand-me down clothes, mismatched with rips and tears from climbing barn roofs, trees, haystacks, and roaming buffalo grass pastures.
Ironically, as much as I treasured my gifts I was intensely jealous of what my sisters received. One year Jan got a white fur muff! Oh I wanted that muff! ) and red velvet shoes. Another year she received a doll bed. Terri got a Chatty Cathy, and Susan a Barbie doll.
Forever in my mind is the potent memory of Christmas on the farm with mom and dad and my sisters, the church program at night and opening presents on Christmas Eve. Christmas day almost seemed anti climatic.
Later we replaced those memories after my dad died. There was still always the Christmas Eve program and opening presents on Christmas Eve. My mom had to replace the hole in our family from my daddy’s death with different memories. We would go out to eat and watch a movie on Christmas Eve after church. (Chinese food and “Green Slime”)
After I started my own family things changed. Christmas programs were no longer on Christmas Eve but Sunday mornings usually 2 weeks before Christmas. I directed a lot of those programs. We joke about who would get to say “Quirinius” each year. I have permanently etched in my brain my sons’ voices saying ”Let’s go to Bethlehem…”
We opened one present on Christmas Eve and the rest on Christmas morning except for the years I worked as a waitress and worked on Christmas morning.
Now everyone is gone and I mourn the loss of new Christmas memories. For years I put the tree up by myself, decorating it, and singing Christmas carols. This year I could not even bring myself to decorate a tree. I wasn’t even going to put one up because I figured there would be no one to celebrate the tree this year. At the last moment I bought bubble lights like I always wanted and brought in the potted fir tree. No ornaments just lights.
Sometimes I wonder if I’ll ever have the joy of new Christmas memories with a family. I know Christmas is about Christ and that should be enough. I can’t help though looking at other families and being intensely jealous of their Christmas families. Sometimes Christ is not enough to keep me from crying.
Christ is enough though to keep me going. Sometimes that is all I have to hold onto during Christmas.