As things wind down around here, I'm feeling a little nostalgic thinking about how Christmas was when I was little. Looking back, it's clear that although the morning after St Nick visited was pretty exciting, the real memories are about the lead up.
Things have really changed.
My siblings and I used to go caroling at the neighbors every year. Our scouting troups did it every year too. It was cold and thrilling and people actually opened their doors and stepped out to listen. Does anyone do that anymore?
My grandmother, with whom we lived, was a teacher. She got tons of gifts every year and saved every scrap of wrapping. At some point, she'd drag out boxes (fancy ones) of the wrappings, and we'd get to help her straighten it out and figure out how to wrap all the gifts she had for colleagues and friends. Our family was enormous back then. She was one of 17 children, married to one of 12. That night in her bedroom, with the king-sized bed completely covered with sparkly paper and ribbons and boxes and bows was probably the epitome of the season for me. We had so much fun and everything was so festive.
She was a pianist, so there were always evenings gathered around the piano singing holiday songs. We really did that. Those pictures you see that look impossibly trite and contrived? That was us. There weren't bakers in our household, but there were always cookies that magically appeared along with nuts and citrus fruits, smoked meats and cheeses.
Our grandfather outlined the house with those big old colored lights. On Christmas Eve, he'd actually go out on the roof with jingle bells and stomp around. We'd be rushed off to bed quickly so the adults could get to their Santa work. The tree was always delivered by Santa (because trees are dirt cheap if you go to the lot at the last minute).
Somewhere along the line, many years ago, things changed. If people caroled at my house now, I don't know what I'd do - it would seem so strange.
It is a different time, and my grandmother and her siblings and generation were really the keepers of so many of the old ways that we attempt to recreate with buying more. It was never about the gifts. As much as I hate to say it, it really wasn't about any one religion, either. It was just that for a month out of the year, everyone really pulled together to attempt to bring a smile to each others' faces. All were welcome. We spent time thinking of ways to make people happy, not out of obligation or duty, but because it was an ever expanding spiral of giving that generated good will and happiness.
Little by little, we've insulated ourselves and shrunken our families and loving circles. We don't greet strangers with cheer. We don't sing in public. We've made the season small, exclusionary, tense and difficult. That's a shame.
Just musing and being nostalgic.