May Christmas still hold surprises

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By Pat Hibbs

Chris Festo’s recent column about his experiences at Toys ‘R’ Us brought back memories about Christmas when I was a child. It’s a very long time ago.

Hearken back, those of you who can, to the early 1950’s. I was nine and my sister Kathy, five. (We were born on each side of WWII). On Dec. 23, Daddy’s birthday, he put up the tree (a real one) and the lights, and then we decorated it. Traditional tree balls, special ornaments, and tinsel, one strand at a time (I’ve always hated tinsel).

On Christmas Eve we gave our parents their gifts. Mother, a great cook, loved kitchen utensils and pots and pans and I’m afraid Daddy always got ties and tie clips and “monogrammed” handkerchiefs. They were, of course, delighted.

Mother always provided stockings at the end of our beds so we’d have something to do if we woke up too soon. We lived in a close-knit neighborhood in Philadelphia, so it was hard to sleep anyway, as our parents had a neighborhood party every Christmas Eve. That usually lasted well into the night.

Then finally it was the big day. I think that six o’clock was as early as we were allowed to waken our sleep-deprived parents. In our youth, there were piles of presents, but the rule was that Kathy and I opened them, one at a time and everyone ooohed and aaahed. . There were books, toys and games as well as other surprises. But in those lean days, a pair of pajamas, beautifully wrapped, was a joy. Underpants and socks were a staple, but they were wrapped and they were a gift.

The floor was soon strewn with paper and tissue and ribbons and breakfast was special. After we took naps, it was off to our grandparents’ house for dinner with the whole family, cousins and all, and more gifts for everyone.

As we grew older, the gifts were fewer and more sophisticated, but the anticipation and the fun were never diminished. Even after I finished college and had my own place, I spent Christmas Eve “at home.”

I know that it’s changed. There were no “I must have” gifts then. Whatever Santa brought was just fine. I do remember going through the Cabbage Patch doll era many years ago with a college friend, whose daughter is now 42.

I think it was more fun in my youth, and somehow more genuine.

I hope, in this small town of Williston and in its environs, that the old spirit of Christmas lives on. That it’s not how much a child gets, or whether it’s the latest thing, but that someone really thought about it and spent the time to trim the tree and wrap the gifts, however small, to make it a really special day.

I hope that the tradition survives in some form and that children are not deprived of the joy of the surprise gift, not necessarily the fulfillment of a list that they “really wanted.” They’ll get used to it and, like me, remember it gratefully when they are older.

Merry Christmas to all of you.

Pat Hibbs is a freelance writer who covers the city council for the Williston Pioneer.