On this Christmas Eve, we’re sure everyone is running around like those proverbial chickens with their heads cut off, and the last thing on your mind is reading a perfume review. So, all the elves at the Posse decided to give you, dear readers, a Christmas present: some holiday memories from the vault. We hope you enjoy them. Merry Christmas.
ANITA: I’m not a huge fan of Christmas. For one, it’s a whole lotta pressure for One Day – what if you wake up and you are Not In The Mood? What do you do then? For another, I don’t like hanging around in my pajamas – really! I’m That Kinda Gal. A shower-get dressed (WITH SHOES) kinda control-freak gal. I didn’t use (used) to be like that, though? All those photos of me and my brother, in our pjs, having a great time….
Growing up we had some great Christmases…my favorite memories are of specific ornaments – y’all have any of those wackadoo ornaments that mean nothing to anyone else in the world…but mean the world to you? Mine was this delicate porcelain-headed angel. She had a pink maribou skirt (cardboard underskit) and she was a thing of beauty. My brother’s, equally beloved, angel was this incredibly cheesy styrofoam cutout with glitter…don’t ask.. mine was a thousand times better…but you couldn’t tell it by the bliss on both of our faces, as those angels were stuck on that tree.
I found my brother’s angel ornament a few years after my mom passed and I finally got around to unpacking our family Christmas decorations. The thing was a shell of its formerly shell-like self (this was cheap styrofoam, remember? – I wonder who gave him that tacky thing – and why he loved it so) .. anyway, it was headless and had only 1/3 of a wing left…but it took me back to 1962, when the world was still all about What You Got for Christmas and did mom make enough corn pudding to go around and would there be snow – please let there be snow…and……cliche, I know, but it really was a simpler time.. I got such a kick putting it up on tree again. Alas, it was the last year it went up on the tree. I did say cheap styrofoam, remember? The following year I unpacked the ornaments and ….it was foamy dust. But hey! it lasted nearly 45 years! And my brother loved knowing it was on the tree, at least one more time.
Btw – that cheesy angel outlasted my chic angel by 20 years, like a mutt v. a purebred. Maribou stuck on cardboard….somewhere, that cheesy angel is laughing his headless self right into Cheesy Angel Heaven.
MARCH: I was late arriving to the annual holiday chorale at the local Presbyterian church on Sunday. It’s this time of year when I feel most acutely the distance between my desires for my life and reality. The sun was just setting, it was bitterly cold, and the church was jam-packed. I ended up sliding in near the front, two pews from the Christmas tree, next to an elderly gentleman who was already nodding off in the toasty warmth.
I was wearing Mandragore, simply because that’s what I’d put on that morning; Victoria at Bois de Jasmin and I have chatted about how we’re drawn to cologne-y scents this time of year, they seem so refreshing and hopeful. The church had run out of concert programs so each piece was a surprise. I settled in. I smelled the familiar church scents from my childhood Christmases – the fir tree, candles, old wood and wax, and knew myself both blessed and happy.
Toward the end they dimmed the lights so that only the lit Christmas tree was visible. I thought, this cannot be more perfect. And then the choir began to sing, a capella, in the darkness, Christina Rossetti’s simple, beautiful words, rendered in the old hymn: In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan, earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone… Best Christmas present ever.
NAVA: As a Jew, I’ve never technically celebrated Christmas, but I did love going over to my next-door neighbors as a kid, in my pajamas, to watch them open their gifts. There was always one under the tree for me, and it made me feel like part of the family to sit there in my jammies watching them open their gifts. My mother would always send over some latkes with me, sharing a little bit of Hanukkah with our Italian-Catholic friends. There was nothing religious about it, and it always gave me a warm, fuzzy feeling to be included. I still think about those Christmas mornings every year, and the memories never fail to warm my heart. Then, it’s on to a movie and some Chinese food.
PATTY: Christmas Eve growing up is when our farm world came to a stop. Yeah, we still had cows to milk that night and twice the next day, but my parents wound down and stopped giving us extra chores, so it was a huge vacation for us. Every year, we had all spent a couple of Saturdays at the Baptist Church (I converted to Catholicism later in life), learning our parts for the Christmas Eve program, which always included “We Wish you a Merry Christmas” with lots of hissing ssssssssss’es. And every Christmas Eve, my mother would bundle us all up, my dad would wave goodbye to us since he wouldn’t step foot into that church again — oh, there’s a story there. He used to go every week as a kid, and one Sunday when he was probably 13 or 14 he and his friends and probably a brother or four were sitting in the back, someone farted – not him, oddly enough – and he laughed, as did most of the other boys. His uncle was the preacher, stopped whatever barn-burner sermon he was on, and said, “Dick, since you can’t behave with your friends, you’ll need to come up front and sit with your mom and dad.” He was mortified, but figured he deserved it. But when Uncle Curly didn’t call out any of the other boys who had laughed, he just got mad. He had an overdeveloped sense of justice and was willing to do the time for his crimes, but wanted to make sure everyone else did theirs. He swore from that moment on he would never set foot in that church again. And he didn’t, except for funerals of his parents and brothers and sisters and, finally, his own funeral.
So he stayed behind while all five of us kids and mom went to that little country church out in the middle of nowhere. The real tree they had scraped the ceiling, and the smell of pine was everywhere. Back then they had those bubbling oil candles on there – I think at one point they had real lit candles! on there – and big ornaments, and underneath the tree was what seemed like a mountain of presents – one for every child in the Christmas program. And when we were done, they’d pass out the presents, and also pass out a little brown bag of goodies – milk chocolate stars, orange slices, peanuts, walnuts, ribbon candy. They always gave us one extra for “Uncle Dick.”
When we arrived back home, throwing off our coats, running into the house, we’d give Dad his little bag, which he was hollering for when the door opened, just to make sure we didn’t make off with it. He’d paw through it, pulling out the orange slices, which he loved, and the peanuts. Then we’d each have to hand him our sack, after we’d taken out the stuff we really wanted, and he’d take out the peanuts and things he wanted that we didn’t care about. This took the rest of the evening as we happily chomped through our Christmas treats, told stories of who had screwed up during the Christmas program, laughed, until we fell into bed, waiting for 4 a.m. when the house would be alseep and we could sneak out into the living room and start unwrapping presents.
But those two days, my parents were both soft and sweet – it was like Christmas waved a magic wand over them, and no matter how little we had, how few or many presents we could afford that year, they would set aside all the worries of the farm and never-ending work and stress. It was their gift to us.
TOM: Christmas in my family was a Big Deal. Not so much about the presents, since my parents didn’t believe in giving extravagant gifts on that holiday. We didn’t get bikes on Christmas (which since it was December in New England would have been more torture than tribute), we got model cars (me), Barbie detritus (sis), and radio-related stuff (big brother). Luckily they didn’t give necessities as gifts the way that some of my neighbors did: there were no passive-aggressively wrapped packets of underwear masquerading as Christmas presents at my house, thanks. The big deal was about the decorating. The tree wasn’t real. My mother I think didn’t want the mess of a real one. In my re-written family history I tend to paint her as a tireless defender of the forest, standing up to the needless slaughter of conifers by using and reusing a fake tree every year. Surely that had to be the reason since the particular tree in question was basically a thick green-painted wooden pole into which different sized individual branches were placed, a process that took about four hours. Of course this also meant that at the year end the tree had to be carefully packed back up, lest the various lengths of branches got mixed up making next years set-up like a jigsaw puzzle that’s all one color. Other boxes of ornaments and lights were brought down from the attic tested and inspected, new ornaments and light strands were added as old ones wore out or the theme for this year was changed. The tree could be all blue lights and tinsel one year, white lights and red ornaments another, colored lights and hodgepodge a third. What never varied was the placement: in the large picture window in the family room facing the small park on the corner that lent out street its name. The eaves of the two porches were strung with lights, electric candles were in all the street-side windows and I’m sure if she could have engineered it that would have been a Santa ho-ho-hoing on the roof. The first thing anyone cresting the hill on Pine Street would see was our house, blinking blinding holiday cheer. People made a point to drive by. There were also parties, open houses for the neighbors with cocktails and the particularly lethal eggnog we were allowed just a taste of, mostly to keep us from ever asking to again. New neighbors would grudgingly accept a cup, taste that it had more bourbon in it than the state of Kentucky and happily quaff; we thought it disgusting. It was the 70’s and people still drank, and a small town so not many needed to drive.
Christmas morning was sheer torture. We had to get up and eat breakfast before opening our gifts; everything in it’s proper order, thank you. Standards, you know. I think it might also have been punishment for having previously opened our (well, mine certainly) gifts. My parents and my siblings and I had a running, unspoken years-long war over the idea that gifts should be a surprise. When I became about 9 or so I started to stealthily unwrap my presents and wrap them back up rather adroitly. Just one end, so I could see what it was. The next year preventative measures were taken; the gifts were double wrapped. Then boxed up and wrapped. Then wrapped and hidden in the attic. One memorable year, they were secreted someplace in the house and despite searching every corner of two attics, 15 closets and every room in the cellar we were stumped. Until it occurred to me: the car. The wagon was out- all open space. But Mom’s Oldsmobile? Massive trunk, closed up. Of course we didn’t have the keys to that massive trunk. Dad and I used to play chess and in my head I heard “Check”. But in one of those rare moments as in chess where you realize your opponent on the board has made a fatal error, I tried the driver’s door. It was unlocked, as it would be in a closed garage in New England in the 70’s. Then I tried the glove box. Unlocked, giving access to the shiny black button that popped the trunk for you, something Dad forgot. Check and mate.
Sadly between Thanksgiving and Christmas the next year my father had a fatal heart attack while on business in Germany. Token gifts were bought, but until my mother died and the house was sold that tree never left the attic. My last several Christmases were spent with the family of my godchild, reliving decorating the tree (real this time), making the over-the-years more hilariously complicated holiday cards (so complicated one year they were finally in the mail in February) and invariably receiving a 7am phone call to please come over now because said godchild wants to open gifts but refuses to do so until I am present. It’s the only 7am phone call I’m ever happy to get.
I’m even finally old enough to enjoy the eggnog…