Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Christmas Eve Memories

Before the Thanksgiving leftovers are put away, Christmas music permeates the radio airways. When else can one still hear Bing Crosby, Nat King Cole, Burl Ives, Brenda Lee, and Gene Autry in the regular rotation? Sure, contemporary artists occasionally come out with new Christmas fare, but rarely do they catch on and become annual favorites. Why do we love to hear these same old songs year after year after year? These old songs have a way of transporting us back in time where we recall pleasant memories of family and friends and days gone by.

The celebration of Christmas has always been special for children. The bright lights, presents under the tree, and the anticipation of Santa Claus coming on Christmas Eve make this the most wonderful time of the year for a child. We all have memories of a favorite Christmas. As we get older, it becomes more difficult to recapture the magic. There are very few of us Clark Griswold-types who still go to great lengths make each Christmas a source of new memories. Instead, the traditional carols and we heard as children take us back to that time of innocence. I suspect most of us would say Christmas was better years ago.

I remember when Christmas was really like that depicted in Jean Shepherd’s A Christmas Story or even Frank Capra’s A Wonderful Life. Our town had colored lights strung across the streets in real garland, made of cut evergreens boughs at a local business. What a treat to go downtown shopping at night the week before Christmas when all the stores stayed open until 9 o’clock. There were no shopping malls or big box stores back then. We would go from store to store, each one having a Christmas display in the front window, and clerks who would ask, “Can I help you?” when you entered.

The Christmas songs we heard back then are the same ones we hear today, resurrected each year along with the memories they invoke. Years from now, will people yearn for these Christmases of plastic greenery and light emitting diodes in the same way that I long for real aromatic arborvitae and old fashioned incandescent colored bulbs? Will they still be listening to these same old carols, or will the idea of roasting chestnuts on an open fire be meaningless to them? Come to think of it, I have never done it either.

My favorite Christmas presents were a Lionel Train and a Tonka Fire Truck. I never had the Red Ryder BB Gun like Ralphie in A Christmas Story, but I did have the Mattel Fanner-50 Cap Gun with Safe-shootin’ Shells and Greenie Stickum Caps. Such toys are no longer politically correct to give children, yet they are apparently allowed to play very violent video games. A co-worker of mine recently told of his wife standing in line with their son several hours before midnight, in the cold, on a school night, so he could purchase the first release of a new video game requiring parental consent due to its violent nature. I wonder how many such games will be under Christmas trees this year.

This same family creates their Christmas memories by spending extravagant amounts of money (at least by my standards) on their two teenage boys. This year, they are each getting new flat-screen televisions, and new top-of-the-line cell phones. Last month, one of the boys had over 4000 text messages on the phone bill. Amidst unwrapping all these expensive presents, I wonder if they ever think about what they are celebrating. They never go to church and probably have little idea of who Jesus Christ is or what He did for them. They boys rarely have any need for clothes other than blue jeans or shorts. When it comes time for school pictures, mom buys them nice clothes for the occasion and then returns them afterwards. The father has some Catholic background, but does not appear interested in practicing his faith or instructing his children. I gave him a copy of Pillar of Fire, Pillar of Truth one day trying to plant a seed. He knows I am Catholic and I try to lead a good example in his presence, but the rest is up to the Holy Spirit.

One of the best ways to create Christmas memories for children is to take them to Midnight Mass. Most of them will not get much sleep the night before Christmas anyway, and most Catholic parishes make Midnight Mass a special celebration with caroling and the Blessing of the Manger. Making this a family tradition can go a long way in keeping the Christmas spirit centered on Christ. My family and I will be going to Midnight Mass in a few minutes.

Getting into the Christmas spirit has been unusually difficult in our little community this year. We have had many funerals take place in the place couple of weeks, including a 28 year-old father, a teenage girl with cancer, and a 10 year-old child. Several families have been hit especially hard and knowing they are hurting puts a damper on everyone’s celebration. Nonetheless, we cannot lose sight of the importance of making Christmastime memorable for children while keeping it in the proper Christ-centered prospective. We never know how many opportunities we will have.