A recent media piece asked people to recall their most memorable Christmas gift ever. Was it an XBox? A new bike? Perhaps a trip to Disney World? I can honestly say that not one gift stands out as being particularly memorable for me growing up in the 50s and 60s. Christmas past for me was not about the gifts, which relative to our time were special, but it was about the experience – the events, the smells of real Christmas trees in everyone’s home, the sounds and the tastes. It meant getting together with grandparents, uncles, aunts, cousins and friends who all lived in the same small Ontario town within ten minutes of each other.
Christmas day was about opening our presents and then spending the day with a house full of relatives for Christmas dinner – always the same menu – turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy (on the potatoes, not the meat), mashed turnip, peas and carrots, stuffing, canned fruit cocktail in red jello, cabbage salad, rolls and butter and a little glass of Heinz tomato juice. This feast was followed by home-made mincemeat pies and pumpkin pie with fresh whipped cream, homemade Christmas cake and cookies. As Boomers, we received wonderful gifts like soft new flannelette pyjamas with snow flakes on them and perhaps a new colouring book with a fresh box of crayons. I still get a high when I open a fresh new box of Crayola’s and smell all the wonderful colours.
Every year we looked forward to attending the Christmas party at the Masonic Temple put on by the mill where my Dad worked, or the Legion where, as a veteran he was President at the time. We rehearsed and put on Christmas concerts for our parents at the church. Santa was always the finale of the event and gave each one of us a little bag of hard Christmas candies and gum drops with a couple of chocolates thrown in as a special treat. We wore our very best clothes and sang Here comes Santa Claus, Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer and Jingle Bells.
Christmas present is rather different from what we’ve experienced in the past. We’ve evolved through the years of buying gifts for everyone on the planet, stressing over what to give to whom, entertaining ’til we dropped and getting depressed in January when life returned to normal and our Visa bill came in. My Boomer Broad friends and I are now at a nice point in life where Christmas is becoming more about the experience again. Gift-giving has gone so far over the top that we’ve stopped giving each other “stuff” altogether. With some of us now moving into condos, we’re trying to lighten our load and get rid of material encumbrances. My friend Gail reduced her seven storage bins of Christmas decorations to just one when she moved into a condo and none of us go to the extremes we used to. The grandchildren are mostly teenagers now and love nothing more than a cheque under the tree. I’m no longer prowling the overcrowded, overheated malls in December, grouchy as a bear, searching for that elusive gift for whoever. No gifts = no stress = a very merry Christmas indeed. In these times of affluence we already have more than enough.
The best part about Christmas present is a return to the joy of Christmas past. Once again, it’s all about the experience of setting the big long table with Christmas dishes, surrounding that table with loved ones, whether friends, family or both, and savouring the sounds, smells, tastes and hugs that go with the season. Think I’ll go watch The Christmas Story where Ralphie shoots his eye out with his new BB gun – a little slice of Christmas past to enjoy in the present. And to you – a good night.