There was no Elf on the Shelf. No Tickle Me Elmo or Zhu Zhu Pets. We had Slap Bracelets, not Silly Bandz. We had Nintendo, not Playstation or Xbox. Those ugly Christmas sweater parties that have been all the rage the past few years … Yeah, we actually wore those sweaters with pride to our school and for our family portraits.
Christmas has changed so much since I was a kid, even more so since my parents and their parents were kids. It’s logical to say that most parents want their children to have more than what they had growing up. It seems like a large majority of kids these days are like Veruca Salt from Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, screaming, “I want it now!” or “Give me that!”
Every year at our small church back home in Alabama, we would have a special Sunday night service before Christmas. It usually consisted of our annual children’s Christmas play followed by a glorious buffet of homemade fixings from every female member of the church. Toward the end of the meal, children would hand out gifts to everyone. (Many families would come together and bring at least one gift for another family member; Sunday school teachers would give gifts to their students; members of the church would bring gifts for the pastor and his wife—which happened to be my grandfather and grandmother—etc.)
One thing that I’ll always remember is the closing of the night: When guests and members would leave, my grandfather (“Pa” or “Pa Ganey,” as most of the children of the church called him) would hand everyone a brown paper bag that contained one apple and one orange. I asked him the significance of that once, and he told me that times were rough when he was a kid growing up during the 1920s. He said it was considered a great gift for him and his siblings if they received an apple and/or orange at Christmas because it was rare to have those types of things during that time. Sometimes he might receive a handmade wagon from someone or his sisters would receive a handmade doll, but it was a real treat to receive any one of those items that most would take for granted nowadays.
My mom recalls receiving her first Barbie doll, which she still has stored away at home (probably in her dresser). My dad, being the youngest of five boys growing up, remembers his parents always making Christmas extra special for the family. One of the most beautiful sights to me as a child was turning off the overhead lights in the family room and gazing upon the splendor of the twinkling Christmas tree lights.
I miss that. I miss the innocence of waking up on Christmas morning, hoping Santa brought you that special doll, your favorite stuffed animal, or your sister’s coveted New Kids on the Block cassette tape (just saying). I miss the shock after finding out that Santa ate every cookie but didn’t have room in his stomach for those last two bites. I miss our family gathering together on Christmas night with aunts, uncles and cousins, showing off our new clothes and accessories and playing with our new toys.
But, I am fortunate to celebrate Christmas with another family this year—my new little family. I’m excited to start new traditions in my house with my husband and daughter. I wish you all a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!