Last year for Christmas, my husband took all of his late father's WWII films that he shot during the war and had them transferred to DVD's for his 5 siblings. This year, he took his father's films that he shot throughout numerous Christmastides and had them transferred to DVD. We previewed a little last night and it was like watching episodes of Lassie or Ozzie and Harriet. Little children in their PJ's kneeling by their beds while their older sister lead them in prayer before bedtime. Sleepy-eyed children making their way down the stairs to open packages containing dolls, cowboy hats, holsters and plastic rocket ships. The Nativity scene under the tree which each child acknowledged before moving on to the packages. A homemade Italian rum cake decorated with a single candle for the family to sing Happy Birthday to Jesus. The footage from 1960 showed a monstrous snow storm and all 5 siblings joining in to shovel (number 6 had just arrived) amid the backdrop of their picket-fenced home adorned with big old fashioned Christmas bulbs, wreaths and two large candles that sat on either side of the entrance to the house.
It's part of human nature to become nostalgic at times for bygone eras where everything just seemed to be better. In our own household, we tried very hard to make the Holy Family the focus of Christmas, but it wasn't easy. It wasn't just that Santa was coming - it was that on Christmas Eve we'd get together with my 4 cousins, with whom I was practically raised, and enjoy a feast like no other. My grandmother's strufuli. The Seven fishes. The colored lights strewn across Wolf Street. And best of all, it seemed the adults were in the happiest mood ever on Christmas Eve. My uncle would simultaneously entertain us with stories about the time he encountered Old St. Nick on the lawn with warnings about how bad we'd been and should probably expect nothing more than coal in our stockings.
On Christmas Day, we attended Mass as a family and then in the afternoon, headed over to my uncle's diner, where the Banquet Room was transformed into a giant family dining room for about 30 people. His German-born baker would prepare tantalizing sweets ornately decorated for Christmas that were as delicious as they were beautiful. Everyone was dressed to the nines, and there was no shortage of playmates. I'm not sure how much the adults enjoyed it but we kids had a blast. We sang on the microphone, danced and relished one another's company. Believe it or not, for me, one of the most exciting parts of this day was seeing the statue of St. Rita all lit up outside the church named for her. I would think about the nuns in my school and how they probably spent Christmas. I pictured Rosalind Russell carrying a large lit candle into the chapel in the Trouble With Angels.
The best thing about my Christmases past was their simplicity and the joy in family. Sure, we were undeniably excited about our gifts, but there was none of the greed we have today. No fascination with electronic gadgets that have kids typing on keyboards rather than engaging their families and friends. No demands for high-priced items that rack up credit card debt and put families into near-bankruptcy.
Despite the greed that has come to mar the meaning of Christmas, there is no shortage of inspiring stories. My colleague at Pennsylvania Hospital, and her husband, who go out at 4 am on Christmas morning to deliver packages to homeless people living on the streets. Our Jewish friends who volunteer in hospital cafeterias so kitchen workers can spend Christmas at home with their families. The secret Santas that never make the news - cops, firemen and ordinary citizens who make sure children they've never met find something to smile about under the tree. And this infectious generosity is not something that happens just once a year for these folks - it's they way they live their lives every day of the year. Surely, they know the Reason for the Season and they carry Him with them everywhere they go, not just on Christmas Eve.
A Blessed Christmas to all and best wishes for a peaceful and healthy New Year!