Memories of Christmas Past

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It’s coming on Christmas

They’re cutting down trees.

They’re putting up reindeer.

And singing songs of joy and peace.

Oh I wish I had a river, I could skate away on.

— Joni Mitchell


It is indeed coming on Christmas, ready or not. The other day at Rotary, the Vivian Fowler Elementary School Children’s Choir serenaded the group with Christmas songs. They sang flawlessly and enthusiastically. One little girl in particular danced and gestured with each song, smiling the entire performance. The magic of Christmas really is for children, and listening to them helped propel me into the Christmas spirit.

We decorated our home early for Christmas this year since we were out of town the weekend after Thanksgiving — the traditional start. Actually, my Beautiful Mystery Companion decorated. I just did the heavy lifting, helping haul a few dozen plastic bins out of storage with the utility trailer. My BMC has scoured after-Christmas sales for years, picking up decorations at a fraction of list price. Thus, our house is filled with several dozen Santas, four or five crèches, and “Nutcracker” sentinels, including a couple that are nearly life-size and stand guard in the foyer.

One crèche is in my study, perched on a stool. It is small, the figures only a couple inches tall. Baby Jesus is about the size of a pecan. The creche is made of ceramic with a hole in the roof of the manger into which one can insert a Christmas tree light to illuminate the season. I never bother to do that; there was no electricity at the original manger, after all.

My parents bought this crèche about the time I was born, going on six decades ago. It graced our house every Christmas, first in Allenstown, N.H., and then in Longview. My mother gave it to me a few years before she died in 2011. Someday I will pass it on to one of my daughters as well. It is a poignant reminder of my childhood.


Here is a story I have told before, but bears retelling, also from my childhood.

My earliest memory of Christmas is from more than a half-century ago. We always spent Christmas Eve at my maternal grandparents’ home in Hopkinton, N.H. I was probably 4, maybe 5. The tiny house, built by my grandfather, was filled with cousins bedded down everywhere. I was lying in my grandparents’ bed, looking out the window, which was narrow and near the ceiling, so you could see the stars if you were on your back, looking up and out.

I saw Santa Claus streaking across the night sky, sleigh pulled by reindeer, and realized I had better get to sleep, or the old man might skip this house. My cousins would really be upset with me. Sure enough, in front of the fireplace the next morning were gifts from St. Nick. The plate of cookies held only crumbs. The carrots for the reindeer were gone.

I know. I probably didn’t really see Santa Claus. Maybe it was an airplane headed to Logan Airport in Boston, or perhaps a meteor shower. But it is a powerful childhood memory that has stuck with me for a very long time.


The Christmas season after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 found me in Nacogdoches driving by a tree lot twice daily, going to and coming from work. The lot was set up on a patch of concrete, each tree nailed to a wooden cross that served as a makeshift stand. This clearly was a low-budget affair. Perhaps the owner grew the trees himself. I never stopped to ask. But each morning, as I went to work early, most of the trees would be lying on their sides, blown over by a winter breeze. By the time I headed home, the trees would be upright again, the owner having put them back up.

The scene would be repeated the following morning, day after day. It struck me as a metaphor for our resolve after those attacks, in which more than 3,000 people were killed. We are still standing. We have been knocked down, but we got back up. If we are knocked down again, we will once again rise to our feet.

That seems a long time ago.


My BMC and I recently attended a compline service at an Episcopal church, the first time I have done so. Compline is the final church service of the day, held in the evening. At this church it is only observed on the second Sunday. The sanctuary was nearly dark, the altar dimly lit, the congregation silent as instructed. Five men dressed in black robes ascended to the balcony and began a series of prayers and chants in song while we remained silent during the brief service.

Sitting in silence in a beautiful church sanctuary allowed a measure of peace I rarely experience. I felt grateful for the opportunity.


Christmas will arrive in a few days. I hope you get to spend it with family and friends, that you will take time to reflect on the true meaning of this season, perhaps do a kindness for a stranger, or maybe accept a kindness from one.

In any event, have a Merry Christmas and keep an eye out for Santa. I know I will.


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