Although new Christmas memories are to be cherished, who doesn’t have one that is the comparison of every other one they ever experience? I know the childhood years put a special glow on those memories, but I have yet to experience or replicate one I enjoyed in my youth.
As far back as I can remember, we had a set ritual for Christmas Eve. while my mother stayed home to rest up for Midnight Mass, my father would take me to visit relatives and to sing a specially learned Christmas song for the nuns at the convent. It was always a very anxious evening for me because when we got back home, the Christ Child would have already been there and we would have Christmas! In our family, the Baby Jesus brought the Christmas surprises.
I could never, however, understand my parents. Why would anyone want to leave the house when this momentous event was taking place. I wanted to sneak a peek at the Christ Child. I figured if we stayed home, maybe the festivities would get an early start. We could have more time before Midnight Mass! My mother, for some reason, was very adamant about getting us out of the house for most of the evening. No matter how I approached my father about the matter, he persisted in supporting my mother in this yearly folly.
I thoroughly enjoyed our Christmas Eve visit to my Great Aunt and Uncle. They had treats, candy and gifts for us to take home. There were exceedingly kind but the visit seemed to drag. The grown ups were very placid about it all and my anguished eye contact and gestures of ‘let’s go now!’ to my father, only received gentle smiles.
The nuns at the convent always welcomed our arrival. They exclaimed over the cookies we brought and seemingly spent hours rounding up the other nuns to listen to my carefully memorized Christmas hymns. I sang carefully but swiftly and was chagrined when the nuns asked for more than one encore.
I needed no coaxing to pile back into the car for the return trip home Our tour of duty was worth it, however, and the hours spent in anticipation of Christmas were forgotten the minute we pulled into the driveway and saw the candle-lit tree shining through the window. I were suddenly shy because the Christ Child had once again been there for us!
When we entered the house, I usually discovered my mother just exiting from the bathroom where she said she had been most of the two hours we had been gone. She was always as surprised as I was to see the transformed living room. She, too, was a bit sorry not to have caught the Christ Child in action. She did say that once she thought she had heard an angel giggle. If only she had not been in the tub, she often exclaimed, she would have checked this out.
When I was eight years old, my father was serving a year-long tour of duty in Morocco. It was the first year our family would not have the holiday together. Having reached the mature age of eight, I was starting to have a few suspicions about Christmas Eve, especially my parents involvement. I was curious to see how my mother would pull off this holiday without an accomplice.
Christmas Eve my mother took me on the usual round of visits. She seemed very calm and not the least anxious. Our last visit was to friends and we spent an enjoyable hour there. I played with their children and talked excitedly about Christmas expectations. Soon my mother appeared at their bedroom door and said it was time to head home.
As we pulled into the driveway, I peeked out the car window and there was the Christmas tree sparkling through the curtains. The presents were there, the candles were lit and I truly believed in it all for a few more years. There was no explanation for our miraculous Christmas Eve.
Years later, my mother became unable to care for herself and I had to find alternative care for her. In cleaning out her home, I came across a treasure—all the letters she had sent to my father when he was stationed in Morocco. I found out how she coped on her own that long year and I found out how she managed that special Christmas Eve.
My discovery didn’t mar my memories in the least. Instead of a bit of magic it was a gift of a childhood miracle. I can’t remember what I received in the way of material presents that year. I do remember the warmth I felt and still feel in the glow of the candle light my mother provided for me.