Two nights before Christmas… along about this time in the McGuire household of yesteryear, a fevered buzz was getting louder as Mom ironed the boys’ cassocks for Midnight Mass and Dad planned his furtive Christmas Eve excursions to Kiddie City for toys and the Penn Fruit parking lot for leftover trees. We always thought their last minute hunt for trees and toys was a grand effort to preserve the mystery of the moment — only years later, after Dad was gone and Mom started telling the stories, we learned that Dad’s boss waited until Christmas Eve to give him the year-end bonus that was his cash to buy the toys, and he picked up the trees for free once the tree sellers had shut down their operations for the year. Dad stayed up late on Christmas eve assembling trikes and trains in the basement while Mom ushered the troops to Mass and then home to bed, no stopping by the living room to check on the presents. Somewhere in all of that the tree was decorated beautifully and stockings were definitely hung by the chimney with great care. We thought everybody did Christmas that way, with only the odd neighbor down the street displaying a fully-lit tree in the window a week or two early. Little did we know that the money was always tight and the last minute frenzy was all about bargains.When I got a little bit older Dad included me in his Christmas Eve ritual — he’d come home from work an hour early and take me with him to Wanamaker’s in Wynnewood so I could help him pick out a present for Mom. No, Dad, not a sewing kit, she won’t touch it! No perfume, either. How about that nice robe and slippers? Such a lovely coral color …. and she returned them promptly the day after Christmas. Year after year!
The guys got Mom the industrial-sized bottle of Jean Nate bath cologne on sale for about two bucks. At least our bathroom smelled really good!
Every family has their own Christmas or holiday rituals, and as the years go by what really separates the adults from the children — or should — is the realization that the size or the price or the “cool factor” of the gifts really are not important, but what counts are the relationships and the symbols of family and community. We all love to complain about the commercialization of Christmas, but whose fault is that? We have the power to control the frenzy of shopping and spending.
All these years later, I cannot remember the presents I craved but never got — I’ve forgotten all about them. What I do remember are the spectacular Midnight liturgies with altars laden with greens and poinsettias, the special delights of caroling in the cold December air, the warmth and loving joy of Christmas morning, the sight of Dad in his pj’s still at 9 am, the boys racing around with their new Tonka trucks, Mom and her biscuit snowmen, and the lovely soft, sweet taste of apricot nectar from the cans we could always find in the bottom of our stockings.
Merry Christmas to all!
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