Monday, November 21, 2011

The Year I Got Christmas Back

When I was a child there was nothing more magical, than Christmas time. The four weeks leading up to it were ones of great anticipation, and when Christmas morning dawned I was filled with a sense of joy and serenity, unlike any other day of the year. Back then the holiday season never seemed hurried or hectic, in fact, it was quite the opposite; it was always over too quickly! I got older though; children came along, and the season began to be something that exhausted me, rather than refreshed me. The words that were written by Glenn MacDonough, in 1903, sadly, began to ring true:

Toyland. Toyland.
Little girl and boy land.
While you dwell within it,
You are ever happy then.
Childhood’s joy-land.
Mystic merry Toyland,
Once you pass it’s borders,
You can never return again.

As a very small child I attended church with my family, at our Lady of Good Counsel parish, in Detroit; not far from City Airport. Back then I didn't count down the days until Christmas on a calendar, but, rather, by how many candles were lit on the Advent Wreath at our church each week. The church itself was swathed in purple, and I think, perhaps, that is where my love for that color first originated from. I think that color is intertwined in my memory, with the feelings of hope and anticipation that I associated with those special days, when throughout the church the melodic notes from the hymn "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel," echoed, in my ears.
A trip downtown to visit Santa at the J.L. Hudson Department store was also, an important component, of the Christmas experience. First arriving downtown, intrigued by all its "big city" hustle and bustle, and then circling the block to look at all the holiday fantasies, supplied for the public to view, in each and every window of that grand old store.  If that in itself wasn't exciting enough, it was followed by an elevator or an escalator ride up to see Santa. The store's lights twinkled, and Christmas magic accompanied us on every floor that we passed. Children were ushered over to sit on Santa's lap by one of his helpers, then once seated we would politely make our requests for the one or two toys that we had so carefully selected.
Each year there would be at least one night, when, under a darkened winter sky and the swirl of gently falling snowflakes, we would jump into our car to go out to look at Christmas lights together. In the case of my family, that usually meant a drive alongside Jefferson Avenue, in Grosse Pointe, that aristocratic suburb, that neighbored our Detroit city borderline. The mansions, wrapped in their elaborate Christmas packaging, were sure to inspire many "ohhhh's and ahhhh's" as we peered out of our car windows, before making our way back home to our more, humble dwelling. Finally, on Christmas Eve my siblings and I would wait in the basement to hear our doorbell ring, and then to hear Santa's heavy footfall, as he left our house. At last with great joy, we would bound up the stairs to savor the moments of gift-giving, and for us, the giving was truly equal to the receiving. The following day was the important one though, for at mass we celebrated the birth of the newborn King, and even as very small children we understood that this was, for our family, the real "reason for the season."
All of those memories began to fade though, and for many years I feared that I would never experience them again. Then a few years ago, my sister invited our family to join hers, as we attended Old St. Mary's Catholic Church, in Greektown. Dressed in our Christmas best we made the drive from Romeo, and a little bit of that old joy came back when I saw the first twinkle of Christmas lights downtown. It was when we entered Old St. Mary's though, to celebrate the 5:30 mass that Christmas Eve, that I was truly transported back, once again, to that magical place that was the Christmas I remembered from my past. The altar was resplendent, with towering Christmas trees adorned with sparkling, white lights and shimmering, iridescent tinsel. As a breeze would stir the tinsel, each strand would reflect the gold from off the altar, making the trees take on an air of quiet, Christmas majesty. The entire expanse of the altar was covered with beautiful red poinsettias, and as I took it all in my eyes opened wide with childlike wonder. Soon the trumpets sounded, heralding in all the hopes of this special day, and with them, my love for the season was finally restored. A sense of peace settled upon me as I listened to the mass, and it remained with me long into the new year, whenever I thought back about my visit to Old St. Mary's.  My sister's kind invitation had given me the one gift money can't buy; she gave me back the Christmas I remembered, so fondly from my youth.
To all of you, whatever your beliefs may be, may this holiday season and the new year that follows it, be one of peace and tranquility....and of joy equaled only to that of your fondest childhood memories.


  1. I love it Janet! It brought back many memories for me too! Like you when my kids were little I got lost in being so busy trying to make it perfect that it all went by in a blur not getting much of a chance to really revel in the true meaning of it all...I promise to try and do better! Thanks for the reminder!

  2. Christmas Eve: A fresh bath and the painful application of bobby-pins in tight, criss-cross pincurls for me and my sister. (the lucky boys only had to shower). After hanging up our stockings, which were actually my Dad's white work socks, the family gathered around the manger scene displayed on the end table, and the youngest child of the family placed the baby Jesus in his straw bed between Mary and Joseph, because it was Jesus's birthday when we woke up the next day. I was the youngest of the family,and remember the solemn responsibility of that job for 6 years.

    That is until my Mom surprised her 15, 13, 11, 8 and 6 year old children with a new baby brother. My job was done, and passed on. I was officially one of the older kids from then on, and we "big kids" all gathered around little Donny each year as he placed baby Jesus in his bed. Now, that same 63 year old manger scene is down in Florida with Don, and his little boy Ben follows the same tradition. :)

  3. what a lovely story, patty...thank you, for sharing it. and thank you, makes me happy that you liked the post.

  4. Another beautiful, blog, Amy! Your Holidays sound just like mine use to be. They r not the same anymore. Seem too commercialized now. This year will be the worst cause of my surgery. :(

  5. thanks, rose! i hope this holiday season you just baby yourself...and that all your loved ones baby you, too. feel better, friend!

  6. ONce again AMy you bring childhood to life. Funny I dont remember the latin but I remember the vestments in different colors in church. We also drive around Grosse Pointe because all of those houses would have their front curtains open and you could see their huge trees with stacks of gifts. Of course we would go to the 12th floor of J L Hudsons to see Santa and all the wonderful decorations. We were always at Grammas on Christmas eve and would get mountains of gifts but then Christmas morning there would be more gifts under the tree I always wondered if I had been that good to deserve all these presents !!! Thanks again

  7. I wanted to add a story that you reminded me of. We had a family that cleaned our offices when I worked at Randolph Medical. They were all such wonderful hard working people . Verna related a story to me about her 3 yr old grandson. The very first time they took him downtown to see the Christmas lights and trees he squealed with delight and said........Mema the Easter Monkey coming The Easter Monkey coming!!! Needless to say everyone in the car was laughing so hard they had to pull the car over . lololololol So when I think of Christmas lights downtown I always think...... the Easter Monkey is coming ♥

  8. thanks, janet! i love hearing about everybody's christmas memories!

  9. OHHHHHHHHH ! Christmas at Hudson's ! What
    a wonderful fantasyland. What a beautiful,
    happy memory ! Thanks for the trip down memory
    lane ! :)

  10. Thanks Amy,Our memories of our past holidays help us to make it special for our children and grandchildren, hoping they will keep the wonder of Christmas! Nancy A.M.