I believe in Yesterday’s Christmas
Maybe I’m just nostalgic. Maybe I’m just getting older. I don’t think so (nostalgic, I mean). But I believe in yesterday’s Christmas. In a spiritual sense Christmas over the last fifty years has changed. There actually were Advent wreaths and families lit them and said a prayer in preparation for the coming of the little king. Mangers were put in a strategic place where a family could offer adoration well into the Christmas season.
Today, the baby Jesus takes a back seat to electronic games, sports, and fantasy. We bow down to the god of material commercialism. Inappropriate dress, of which Our Lady of Fatima warned us against, dominates fashion. Things are expected not worked for.
But it wasn’t always like that.
I was eleven-years-old in the winter of ’66. Things were scarce for me because we hadn’t any snow yet that year which put a dent on my snow shoveling business and thus on my income. My news paper sales, one hawking the morning edition of The Trentonian to steelworkers on shift duty, and the other delivering afternoon home sales of The Philadelphia Bulletin, gave me some money for personal use but was mainly paid to my parents for room and board. It was like that. If you made money you paid a portion of your earnings to mom. Keeping ten children warm, fed, and clothed cost everyone something.
Evenings were spent rushing back to school to practice with the boys’ choir for the big Christmas show and Midnight Mass. I still had a prepubescent, unbroken voice and I sang like an angel.
Everyone was busy cleaning, cooking, baking, and decorating the tree with garland, lights, and tinsel. Everything was in preparation; everything, that is, except the wrapping because there weren’t any presents under the tree. My older siblings were unconvincingly satisfied with mom’s answer that “your father will be home soon.” The younger of the ten of us were placated with “Santa Claus is on his way.” Although I saw some tears in my older sisters’ eyes, I was enchanted by the flurries kissing our front-window pane.
Somewhere out west, in the plains I think, a major storm had developed. It was powered and fueled by a massive cold front. Off the coast of Virginia another storm was taking shape fed by warm air and water from the Gulf Stream. Upon collision the storms formed a classic nor’easter and it was already circling above our heads. Buckets began pouring down as I bundled up and headed off to church. An usher there informed me that Midnight Mass was cancelled and I’d better trudge my way home if I expected to see Christmas Day. Later, I heard he had called and spoke to my mother to make sure I was safe and secure (people did that back then, it wasn’t unusual for another parent to watch over someone else’s kids, even strangers.)
As I unbuckled my boots and removed the plastic trash bags covering my socks, I noticed my mother had been crying. Something was terribly wrong. Then I noted the obvious. There were still no presents underneath the tree.
The snow came down in bands so thick we couldn’t see out the window at all when dad got home clad in white but with his arms empty. My folks went into the bedroom where I heard words from dad and pleading from mom. I was sent directly to bed. Instead I laid on my belly at the top of the steps where I could hear what was being said. Apparently, dad was waiting for a phone call. Someone started reciting the rosary. Despite the wind howling around our little jubilee, I could hear the beads of the decades being said: The Joyful Mysteries.
The phone rang and my heart skipped a beat. Through a crack in the railing I could see mom and dad scurrying to don hats and gloves and then out the door they went, mom leaving a trail of condensation through the snow. Dad had gotten a check from a late-night lender (more like a loan shark). Now they had to cash the check at the toy store and shop before the store closed at midnight. The manager of the store helped my parents fill their carts, often discounting much of the merchandise. There were essentials like hats and scarves thrown in for free as stocking stuffers.
On Christmas Day mom had all the girls in curls, dad helped the boys with their ties. A hot turkey awaited everyone after mass. After the night before everything seemed so sublime. In Thanksgiving we said a rosary before digging into the pumpkin pie with whipped cream because we were truly grateful for what we had received.
So, cheers to everyone whoever experienced a holiday like the one I had in 1966. Nostalgia be damned. They know that gratitude trumps attitude every time.
If you value the news and views Catholic World Report provides, please consider donating to support our efforts. Your contribution will help us continue to make CWR available to all readers worldwide for free, without a subscription. Thank you for your generosity!