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My thoughts about Christmas then and now
Christmas Day always seemed like the longest day, when in fact it falls soon after the shortest day of the year. This is the benefit of being a kid. All time is warped. Nothing feels quick when you are a kid, except maybe that hour before bedtime.
A school year feels like an eternity. The week before your birthday feels like a month. And the month before Christmas feels like a year. And then the day comes, and everything, naturally, stands still.
My two older brothers and I all had bedrooms upstairs. We waited together at the top of the stairs to go down together and spy what Santa had left for us. This was usually at 4 o’ clock in the morning. By 9 o’ clock, when my dad made a big breakfast with eggs, bacon and biscuits, it already felt like a full 24 hours had passed. But we still had the whole day.
I never got out of my pajamas, unless it was to ride my bike down to my friend Leslie’s house and see what she had gotten. Sometimes, even then, I just threw a jacket over my flannel pants and shirt and pedaled in my slippers.
By lunchtime, I had already opened all of my gifts, and I was waiting for my dad to put everything — Barbie houses, baby doll equipment, a new bike — together. We still had the whole day ahead of us.
I would say things like, “If I was in school right now, I’d only be in math!”
Dinner usually passed unnoticed. We picked at leftovers and padded around the house with new games and books tucked under our arms. By bedtime, it felt like a week had passed.
I loved Christmas Day.
Today, Christmas Day seems to sneak up on me. It arrives too early‚ — soon after the Halloween catalogs have gone in the trash — but the advertisements and sales linger all month as a visual reminder: It’s coming! Christmas is coming! You’d better hurry and do your shopping! There are lists and projects and a million different ways to let people down.
Didn’t get the Christmas cards done in time? Check.
Ordered the big-ticket gift too late for Christmas delivery? Check.
Had a headache and couldn’t attend that holiday party? Check.
Whereas the month of December once felt like a year all by itself, these days, it goes by in a flash.
And I’m beginning to think it’s because we adults know too much.
We know Christmas is just 24 hours. We know the world will be still for just that amount of time, and then it will whiz past again. Worse, we know that not everyone is happily surrounded by family, gifts and celebration.
Indeed, we know that for some adults Christmas is the longest day for a different sort of reason: it’s painful and lonely, and December 26 can’t come soon enough.
Last year I had a hard time celebrating. In the wake of the tragedy in Newtown, where six educators and 20 first graders were killed at the Sandy Hook School, Christmas trees, candy canes and gifts seemed irrelevant. I put on a happy face for the kids, but all morning, I couldn’t stop thinking about the unwrapped gifts under the trees in Newtown. How would those parents ever celebrate again?
Almost a year later, my friend’s husband died in a helicopter crash during the final weeks of his deployment. I’ve seen her Facebook updates about getting and decorating a tree alone, and I can’t get it out of my mind.
Last month, a young photographer died of lung cancer.
Last week, a house burned down in our city.
When I was a kid, I never suspected any of this about the world.
December, and especially the 25th, seemed totally insular. It was a cocoon, and, happily, it seemed to go on forever.
And yet, back then, Christmas was pretty easy, too (although probably not for my parents). It was about presents, staying in my pajamas, and eating a big breakfast. Most of us know that isn’t the true, adult meaning of Christmas. December 25 exists not to give us a “pause” button for the world, but rather to remind us Christians that in a flawed, troubled, human environment, there is hope. Christmas happens among the sadness and despair, not despite it.
I know now that as we grow older, we delight in our children’s innocent excitement waiting at the top of the stairs and then rushing down to the tree for this exact reason.
They are our cocoon from the fact that on December 26, we’ll get dressed and carry on in a world that will never be as perfect as it once seemed on Christmas morning when we were kids.
Here’s another dose of Sarah ...
After a month-long string of serious columns, my youngest son, Lindell, 6, has brought it to my attention that I haven’t yet addressed the most pressing issue of all: the fact that his stuffed bird, named Lindiddy, needs a bath, and no one can bring themselves to do it. Because no one wants Lindiddy to fall apart.
All of my children have had favorite stuffed animals during their childhoods, but none of those other “pets” have taken on the life that Lindiddy has. Lindiddy is effectively the seventh member of our family (with our dog Sparky bing the sixth, of course). We don’t speak ill of Lindiddy. Sometimes, he joins us at the dinner table. And if there was a fire, someone would probably grab him on the way out the door.
Lindiddy is not your typical stuffed animal. He’s not a classic teddy bear or dog. He doesn’t have a sweet face and sparkling eyes. No, Lindiddy is a lime-green jertin. Specifically, he’s the jertin in the curtain from the Dr. Seuss book “There’s a Wocket in My Pocket.”
When he first came to us four years ago, Lindiddy had fluffy fur and a mohawk of green on top of his head. Through the years, his fur has become mashed, the mohawk matted. His eyes are sewn in, but the eyelids are drooping. His yellow nose is crooked, like he flew into a window. He has long, orange legs that are bent at the knees, and flopping wing-like arms that are too long for his body.
When Lindell was still a baby, he carried Lindiddy by his long neck, pushing the stuffing up and down and leaving a hand-sized dent in the middle. Today, Lindiddy’s head won’t stand up straight due to this long ago injury.
Lindiddy came from the check-out counter at Kohl’s. Dustin brought him home because “There’s a Wocket in My Pocket” was, at that time, Lindell’s favorite book. If I remember correctly, the purchase was partially a donation to a children’s charity. Meaning: Lindiddy and his kin are not regular stock at Kohl’s, nor anywhere else. Parents with kids with favorite blankets or stuffed animals know what this means: no replacements.
These are the facts as I know them.
According to Lindell, however, Lindiddy came from his parents’ nest, which fell during a tornado. That’s how Lindiddy broke his neck. He flew to safety at Kohl’s, which is where Dustin found him. There is some speculation that Lindiddy once flew in World War II, but Lindell says that was just Lindiddy telling fibs. He has spoken to Lindiddy about this and says he won’t lie again.
Sometimes, I wake up in the morning to Lindiddy “talking” to me: “Lindell’s Mommy, you need to get up. It’s 7:00.” At hotels (yes, Lindiddy travels with us‚Äîin his own suitcase), Lindiddy hides in the curtains so that Lindell can say, “Look, he’s a jertin in the curtain.” Before we leave, someone always asks, “Does anybody have Lindiddy?”
Ford, 13, and Owen, 11, both had stuffed dogs. Ford’s was named “Rocket,” and Owen’s “Just Puppy.” I remember putting baby Ford and baby Owen to bed and resting their puppies in their arms before pulling up the blankets and tucking them under their chin. It was like a Christmas card. Putting Lindell to bed has an entirely different, Suess-y feel: he snuggles up against a lime-green bird with a mohawk on his head.
In preschool, Ford’s “Rocket” fell in the toilet. We bought a replacement. Owen’s “Just Puppy” stayed in the hospital during Owen’s tonsillectomy and had an emergency hot bath afterward to get rid of the germs. “Just Puppy” didn’t survive the bath, so we got a replacement.
One of my greatest fears is that Lindiddy, with his bent neck and matted mohawk, would one day meet a similar fate and there would be no replacement. It’s Lindell’s fear, too.
So Lindiddy doesn’t get bathed, though he desperately needs it. His fur smells soured from years of drool and sticky fingers mixed with the dirt and grime of travel. He’s been accidentally stepped on in the car and left on the bathroom floor.
Recently, I decided it was time to save Lindiddy from becoming a biohazard. I convinced Lindell to let me give Lindiddy a bath. It would be a “bubble bath,” we told him, and very gentle. Lindell’s older brothers rolled their eyes as if to say, “He’s just an old stuffed animal!”
“I know, I know,” I whispered to them as I walked by.
But then, in the basement, as I got ready to throw the stuffed bird into the washing machine, I stopped. I pictured Lindiddy’s drooping eyelids staring out at me as they go round and round in the soapy water. I pictured Lindiddy banging on the glass with his oversized wing-arms to get out. Then I pictured him staring at me again from the dryer: “Save me! It’s hot in here!”
I came back upstairs with Lindiddy cradled in my arms.
“Mom!” Ford and Owen yelled.
“Hey, if you saw the way Lindiddy looked at me,” I told them, “you couldn’t do it either.”