Preparations began long before Christmas with the detailed cleaning of the house. This was when we brought out the toothbrushes and attacked the floor boards, nooks and crevices along the stairway and the higher shelves over the living room mirror. Singular punishment on every level.
Being the youngest and the smallest in the house, much of this duty fell to myself; little enough to climb the ladder, small enough to kneel on the floor, smart enough to keep my grumbling to myself. These chores occupied the Saturdays leading up to Christmas and I did this while my aunt made cookies. Tons of cookies. Every kind of cookie imaginable. And they were carefully and skillfully layered in huge Utz potato chip cans, nestled lovingly between sheets of wax paper. The cans were perched on high shelves in our walk-in dining room closet so they couldn’t be accessed before Christmas.
The tree went up about a week before Christmas. Seeing it come in the house made me cringe at the countless pine needles it would deposit in various places throughout the coming Spring. It also made me shudder at the minute instruction and correction that would ensue concerning tinsels that were not hung individually with perfection. Tinsel’s first. Then the lights. Following with the balls and other ornaments; some older than dirt. Did I say we also had to replace the tinsel in the original package with precision so it could be used the following year?
We always got toys, never a bike, always a book and the obligatory doll. I loved dolls. I took exquisite care of them, down to their wardrobe that I made with help from my cookie-baking aunt. I gave my entire collection to my little sister when I got married. Thought later I should have saved them for my girls. We also always got clothes and a new coat. The coat was for church and the former coat could now be worn for school. Same process for the new shoes.
And the house was filled with smells. And food. And cakes and pies to add to the cookies. Another aunt made the best coconut cake under the sky and it shared space with all the other baked goodies on the buffet in the dining room. When company came they were always bombarded with egg nog and dessert, including the fruit cake. Fruit cake. Never quite understood it. But it was always there, long after the holiday was over.
But it was the best time of the year, especially when cousins came and stayed and played and the day was warm enough to go outside and play. On Christmas. The laughter was heartier. The love was lovelier. And everyone was happier. Filled with more joy. With more hope. With more goodwill toward others. With more enjoyment of each other and determination to carry all this into the new year.
Merry Christmas! Happy Birthday Jesus!