A Collage of Christmas Memories by SD Gates
The Holiday season for me is a like a collage of memories, all with different traditions. When asked to write this post by my friend Solveig, I had to dig deep into the recesses of my mind uncover the memories of my Christmases past. I suspect if I had lived in the same country, surrounded by family all my life the memories would be more concrete and vivid. Instead I have flashes of scenes, things that stand out in my mind about Christmas.
My first memory of Christmas is so hazy. I was a small child in Canberra, I think, and my parents brought a pillowcase of presents into my room. I don’t remember a tree, and I can’t tell you anything else about it. I do remember another Christmas in Australia, when I lived with my grandparents in Nowra. I remember receiving a parasol for Christmas, and I remember going to the beach with my grandparents, having a picnic and displaying my brand new parasol for all the world to see. My Grandparents were experts on having picnics on the beach. My Grandmother would pack sandwiches, my favorite were cheese and watercress. They had a little stove they brought with them, for boiling water for tea. I would swim as my Grandparents sat in their fold-up chairs, reading the newspaper and relaxing. My Grandfather always wore a linen blazer and I distinctly recall it being covered in black flies on the back. The flies didn’t seem to bother them at all.
My next memory of Christmas was when I lived in England. Again I was living with my Grandparents in Essex. It seems most of my Mother’s family lived in Essex and so that Christmas was filled with visiting relatives. I loved that. It seemed to be a constant round of going to various relative’s houses, having tea and biscuits. Of course, my Auntie Hilda knew how to do tea right, she went all out, with crumpets and scones, and little sausage rolls and mincemeat pies lightly coated in powdered sugar. We would play charades and eat Marzipan (not one of my favorites) and pull on Christmas crackers, spending the rest of the evening wearing silly little paper hats. I remember the warmth of the fire in the fireplace made everyone’s cheeks rosy red and their smiles and laughs originated from the cheer of being with family. The one thing I recall NOT liking about Christmas in England was the Christmas pudding, topped with warm lumpy custard. It’s a texture thing.
My next memory of Christmas was in Chicago. I fondly recall going downtown with my best friend to see the display in the Marshall Field’s windows. We lived on the South Side, in Hyde Park. We would take the train downtown, to see the displays. Marshall Field’s was known for their amazing Christmas displays with moving Santas and Snowmen, trains that ran the whole length of the windows on State Street. I remember it being so cold and blustery standing outside, the wind seemed to whistle down through the streets, off of Lake Michigan. But the beauty of the displays, with the sparkling lights and decorations seemed to protect us from the cold lake wind.
Then things become blurry. I don’t really recall much about Christmas for quite an extended period of time, until I had my own children. The Christmas that stands out most in my mind, is my oldest son’s first Christmas. This is not a fond memory for me. He was four months old and we were living in Japan. We had managed to find the most pathetic, anemic looking Christmas tree, a real Charlie Brown Christmas tree. But my son became ill right before Christmas, and I still have the memory of him sitting in his little swing, in front of the Christmas tree. He loved the lights, the sparkling of the ornaments. But he became ill, at first it was the runny nose, which developed into a horrible cough. I took him back and forth to the Emergency Room, for three days straight over that Christmas. Each night, his breathing became more labored, and his eyes were filled with fear, he looked at me begging for help, for air. The final night, the day after Christmas, I told the Emergency Room physician, I was not leaving the Emergency Room, until my son was admitted. He was admitted with RSV, and pneumonia and spent the week in the hospital. That will be a Christmas I never forget because I really believe if I hadn’t been so forceful and adamant about him being admitted, we would have lost him.
But my oldest son has grown big and strong, as has my youngest. We have had many magic-filled Christmases with them. I think my favorite Christmas was the year I left the majority of the shopping to the very last minute. I am sure it was December 23rd when I finally decided to go tackle the malls and the lines. We were living in Georgia at the time. I made up a story about how I had to go visit Santa, and they believed me. I think they were 3 and 5 years old at the time. I was gone for at least 12 hours. When I arrived home the boys were quite curious as to why it had taken me so long just to go talk to Santa. I think I told them a story about how Santa was having labor issues with the elves. They were angry at him for working them so hard, they felt they were not being treated with fairness, and they were demanding more breaks, more leave. They had talked the reindeers into striking, refusing to fly. It was a real mess, and with only 2 days until Christmas Santa could no longer ignore the issues brewing up at the North Pole. He had left his Santa chair at the mall to fly back to the North Pole and have a talk with the elves. I told the boys we had waited patiently for Santa to return. The line had become so long, with people wanting to speak to Santa, it had trailed out of the mall courtyard into the parking lot and around the building. The thing the boys were most curious about, was whether I had actually spoken with Santa, whether or not I had told him what they wanted. I said I had and Santa had announced to the throngs of people waiting for him that the elves demands had been met, and Santa had even sprung for pizza. That turned out to be a wonderful Christmas.
Christmas time is a mellow time around our house. Now living in California, separated from our families by the thousands of miles, who live on the other side of the country, it is not a big event anymore. No more sneaking around, making up stories to explain my lengthy absences while frantically shopping for presents. I have found, the earlier the retailers start advertising for Christmas, the less interested I become in the season. It doesn’t hold the magic, or the warmth it used to hold. It seems to be all about standing in lines on a cold Thanksgiving evening, waiting for the Black Friday sales and money, money, money. I don’t feel the same cheer I used to feel, that has all slipped away.
We have a Christmas tree. It is a beautiful tree, but it is naked. It has not been decorated. It stands forlornly in front of the living room window. I kind of wish it was still in the forest, with potential for future growth. I apologize in my mind to the tree, for having brought it into our living room. I keep promising myself I will decorate it, that maybe WE will decorate it, but that hasn’t happened. I need to get back the magic, the cheer, make this another special Christmas, like the ones I so fondly think back on.
I was born in Australia and probably travelled around the world several times by the time I was 10 years of age. I have spent my Christmases in Australia, in England, in the United States and Japan. I now live in the Central Valley of California with my husband, my two boys, a Great Dane, a Golden Retriever and Shirley, the turtle.
I served in the United States military for 18 years. I am employed as a Pediatric Nurse Practitioner, but dream of someday being a full-time writer. I published my first book titled “From Cornflakes to Eternity” this year which my friend Solveig so kindly reviewed. I am working on my second book, with a working title, “The Gardeners of the Earth”.