Memories Roasting on an Open Fire

As we near the finish line for the 2014 holiday season (which could happen this week for you or possibly next week, if you’ve got big New Year’s plans.), I’ve been thinking about Christmases past. All in all, most of my Christmases haven’t been very memorable. I don’t mean that as a bad thing at all. Instead, my memories of Christmas all kind of run together into a general sense of happiness and warmth that make it one of my favorite times of the year.

Most families have their Christmas traditions, I imagine. Ours were simple when I was a kid, but important to me none-the-less. First, my brother and I always got to open one present on Christmas Eve. Then on Christmas morning, we’d turn on some Christmas music (usually my mother’s Music Box Christmas CD or something similar), grab trash bags and scissors, and then gather in the living room to go through our stockings (stockings ALWAYS came first) and open the presents. Once we were done, Mom would make French toast, and then we’d spend the rest of the day enjoying our new belongings. Again, there was nothing elaborate about it, but all of those things needed to happen for it to be a proper Christmas.

Now that I’m an adult with kids of my own, I’ve tried to continue some of those traditions while my ex-wife added some of hers, such as making sure the kids have advent calendars leading up to Christmas day (Something I still do even though she and I aren’t together anymore). One thing that has changed is that we rarely have just one day of opening presents. With traveling and two sets of grandparents, some years, we end up with three different days of presents. Oddly, the kids haven’t complained.

While I’ve been very fortunate to have year after year of good Christmases, I’m going to do a little ranking anyway:

Fondest Christmas Memory – When I was 11 years old, I finally figured out why I could never find my presents in our house.  Yes, I looked…a lot.  I was a bit of a know-it-all as a kid (and that might be a wee bit of an understatement.), so I assumed that I would be able to outsmart my parents and find my gifts.  Countless searches over the years turned up nothing.  Just before our final Christmas in that particular house (we moved the following Summer), I learned that my parents were hiding them at the neighbor’s. I discovered this when I was playing outside one day and watched my parents drive out of our garage and go three houses down, at which point they started taking packages from my neighbor’s house and putting them in the trunk. It wasn’t like I solved the mystery myself, but I still felt like Encyclopedia Brown once I had the solution.

Best Christmas EVER – About five years ago, my parents took my wife, my kids, my brother, and I down to Disney World for a wonderful week. We stayed in a gorgeous rental house, hit all the Disney parks and Universal Studios, and had a fantastic time. On Christmas morning, I found some instrumental Christmas music on an Internet radio station, we pulled out the trash bags and scissors, and then we opened a few presents that we’d brought along with us (the bulk were still waiting at home for our return). Afterwards, my mom made French toast. And later that day, my son fought Darth Vader and force-pushed a couple of Stormtroopers at the Jedi Academy show at Disney’s Hollywood Studios.  My one disappointment was that they wouldn’t let adults into the Jedi Academy.  Come on, guys!  I wanna fight Darth Vader!  It’s Christmas!  What’s more Christmasy than defeating the Dark Side? 

Worst Christmas EVER – Even this one wasn’t so bad, but here goes… One Christmas Eve in the early 80s (I was probably 9 or 10), my brother and I were sitting on the 2nd floor landing of our house in a spot that overlooked the Christmas tree in the living room below. I was aware of the Santa situation by this point, but my brother was not. We were both excited, as you’d expect. What happened next is a matter of some dispute in our family. Since I’m writing this, I’ll give you my version. My brother, whom I will call Bradley for the purposes of this post, in his excitement, rolled over and hit his neck on the stand of the exercise bike on the landing next to us. The next morning, when my parents and I headed into the living room, Bradley was nowhere to be seen. Mom and Dad found that he was still in bed, at which point he told them that he didn’t feel like getting up to open presents. A child who doesn’t want to open presents on Christmas? Obviously something was very wrong here, so we were off to the emergency room, where I was left sitting for what seemed like hours in an empty waiting room with no magazines and only a muted TV showing religious programming for entertainment. Mom and Dad eventually came out of the back with Bradley, who was sporting a neck brace. The collision with the exercise bike had pulled a muscle in his neck. The pictures from that Christmas all show Bradley, neck brace and all, smiling as he opens his presents. And to this day, he, Mom, and Dad all say that injury was my fault. It’s been 30 years. Over a quarter of a century. I’d like to think that if I was truly at fault for something so minor in the scheme of things, that I’d fess up to it by now. Still I maintain my innocence. I DID NOT DO IT!

That said, I will admit to being a bit of a bastard to my brother around Christmas during one particular year of our childhood. At some point in days leading up to Christmas, I ran into his room early in the morning, woke him up, and told him excitedly that Santa had come early. He leapt out of bed, raced downstairs, and saw nothing was there except a laughing older brother. I seem to remember pulling this at least twice, and he fell for it both times. Adult-me apologizes. Kid-me still thinks it’s damn funny.

But on that note, Happy Holidays to all and best wishes for 2015!

- Alan Decker

@CmdrAJD on Twitter