On Tinsel and Other Holiday Magic
I was going through some of Mom’s old photos yesterday, picking out special ones to send to my sister, when I came across what was a gold mine to me- photos of my childhood Christmas tree, in all of it’s over-tinseled glory. Next to the tree in the photo was my old upright piano, horribly out of tune, as Mom never could afford to hire a piano tuner. Seeing these photos flooded my mind and heart with so many special memories, and reminded me of what makes the Christmas holiday such a magical time to me.
Money was tight or non-existent when I was growing up, and yet I have few memories of feeling deprived of anything. Mom always found a way to get what we needed to live, and Christmas was where she shined even more brightly in her efforts. She loved Christmas with the unbridled joy of a child all of her almost ninety-three years, preparing all year by carefully shopping at yard sales and flea markets to find just the perfect gifts for her loved ones, often storing them away in her mahogany chest. I remember receiving strong warnings not to go into her bedroom once the season had begun, and I never did. The thrill and excitement of Christmas morning made the torture of waiting well worth it.
We had a second-hand tree from one of the wealthy people that Mom cleaned houses for. On it we placed the special ornaments she had from her time in Germany, along with the old large-bulb lights and tons of tinsel. I don’t know what it was about tinsel, but for some reason I thought more was better, and Mom let me cover the poor tree in silvery spaghetti. It was perfect. Underneath the tree, she would place many presents, all individually wrapped to make it look like there was more, each present thoughtfully and carefully chosen for its recipient. Mom truly loved to give more than to receive, finding great joy in pleasing her family and friends with something from the heart.
Christmas morning we had a deal- as long as I had her coffee pot going, I could wake her up as early as I wanted to open presents…and I took great advantage of this, sometimes getting her up as early as 2:30am, with the cry of her childhood, “Christmas gift!” (She and my Aunt Sara always vied to see who would call the other first to say that.) When I opened my bedroom door, the living room was transformed, lit just by the light of the tree and the old softly roaring gas stove. Santa had come, I had no doubt, believing in the magic way longer than I should have. The stockings were stuffed with creative small gifts, and always included an apple, an orange, an English walnut, and peppermint patties. Santa’s special gifts would be placed artfully around the tree and the old piano, truly magical considering the sacrifices she must have made to make it all happen.
We would sit and open our presents, exclaiming and laughing about each gift, and would end by sitting at the piano, singing our favorite carols as I played. Winter Wonderland was one of our very favorites, and we would add in the requisite “Ooh, Lawsy,” and “Ooh-whee” at certain places, laughing as we leaned against each other on the piano bench. I remember recording us on a cassette player that Santa had brought me, and I so wish I still had the tape.
Even when Mom was on her death bed, she worried about getting Christmas presents to her loved ones, telling me where each gift was and who to send it to. She embodied the spirit of Christmas to me- full of love, magic, and selfless giving. She saw the beauty of the little things, the things that don’t cost lots of money and aren’t fancy or high-tech. She saw the beauty in old traditions, in simple rituals, in using your mind and creative spirit to pull off some magic. If I had children, I would have done my best to give them that same gift.
Christmas will be very different this year without Heavy D in the middle of it all, though I have no doubt she will be with us in spirit. Dan and I have decorated the house to the hilt, turning on all the lights whenever we are home to enjoy every moment of the holiday. We don’t give gifts to each other per say- we stopped doing that several years ago, as we have what we need, and we give things to each other throughout the year. Our true Christmas gift to each other is enjoying the warmth and magic of our home and each other, gathering with friends, singing favorite carols, and sharing our childhood memories of Christmases past with each other. It is magical to me, still, all thanks to the foundation of love and magic given to me by my mother.
This Christmas morning, I can see it all so clearly; I will wake up very early and be the first to call out to Dan with “Christmas gift!”, then will go downstairs and turn his coffee pot on. We will snuggle by the fire with the animals, enjoying the twinkling lights, and sharing memories old and new, watch old movies as we sip on eggnog. I will miss going to pick Mom up at The Home for Wayward Seniors, but there is no need. She will be right in the middle of it all, her joyous spirit filling our hearts and our home with the magic of Christmas morning.