There is something just wrong with the co-mingling of autumn’s changing leaves with Christmas lights. It’s like an outfit that doesn’t match. Perhaps it is old fashioned to think so, but Christmas decorations ought to remain in their boxes until the last leaf has fallen, and stores ought not put up their Christmas-themed displays until Thanksgiving, which seems to have been nearly consumed by the ever-expanding Christmas season, is over. So sayeth the Grinch.
When I was a kid, the Christmas season officially began for children with the arrival of the Sears Christmas Wishbook, which we studied meticulously each day and each night, devoting every available moment to memorizing its contents from cover to cover. We savored each delicious page, tasted each image — all the dolls, trains, games, action figures, battery-powered things that cried or growled or sang or even flew through the air.
We imagined how any one of a hundred or more toys might look under our own particular section of the tree — there were three sections, one for me, one for my sister, and one for my brother. We knew that we could ask Santa for one or two “big” toys, and maybe a couple of smaller ones, and that there would be an assortment of shirts, sweaters, or shoes that we didn’t ask for and in truth felt fairly neutral about getting, although we pretended that we had wanted them almost as much as the GI Joe with the lifelike hair and his own helicopter. We held up our toys and clothes, posing for pictures there in the dark hours just before dawn, dad yawning in his chair, mom snapping pictures as if she were on safari and we were exotic animals.
Ironically, because the Christmas season in those days was more compact — much more compact — it seemed to drag on interminably, each day leading up to Christmas an exercise in agony, a cruel lesson in delayed gratification. Long after we had dog-eared and marked up the Wishbook until it resembled some ancient document unearthed from a tomb in Egypt, we continued to stare it, especially at the toys we had finally selected after a painstakingly thorough, but wonderfully exhilarating process, as if by thinking about them very hard we could make them materialize before us.
When Christmas Eve finally did arrive, we were so excited we could barely stand it. If we slept at all, it couldn’t have been more than two or three hours, and by 4 or 5 a.m., we very carefully unwrapped ourselves from our blankets and tiptoed like burglars into the living room, trying to make out any unfamiliar shapes under the tree. If I saw that Santa had indeed already arrived, I would slip into my sister’s room and jostle her awake, whispering, “Come on, come on, Santa’s been here already. Get up, get up.”
Is it pathetically nostalgic to want that magic for my own kids, now that they are old enough to get excited about Santa Claus? It isn’t so much that they don’t get excited, or that we don’t get excited as parents. It’s just that the season is so stretched out, it all seems a touch watered down, and by the time Christmas does roll around, it almost seems slightly anti-climactic.
This year, we are trying to tighten the reins just a bit, emphasizing the true meaning and spirit of Christmas with our kids and not caving into the crass consumerism that has such a death-grip on the holiday. We took them out on Saturday to help pick out a Christmas tree, and we plan to spend the next week or so decorating a little at a time. I will get out my favorite Christmas records — Bing Crosby, Doris Day, Ella Fitzgerald’s “Swingin’ Christmas—and we’ll play them each evening around dinnertime. We’ll write letters to Santa, watch “The Grinch Who Stole Christmas” and “Frosty The Snowman,” along with newer Christmas fare such as “The Polar Express” and “Shrek The Halls.”
And if all else fails, I will see if I can get my hands on a copy of the Sears Christmas Wishbook. That ought to do it.