Mine is the year I played Archangel Gabriel in the neighborhood Christmas Tableaux my mother hosted in our livingroom. I wore the flower-girl dress from her wedding – it was long and white, sleeveless, with a band of gold ribbon around the empire waist and daisies on the bodice and in a strip around the hem. My halo was a scratchy golden band of decorative fabric trim, and my mother made a sheer lemon yellow cape with holes for my hands to slip through that I wore like wings. I remember being coached to hold up my arms when I appeared to Mary, who wore my mother’s blue house coat and a soft white scarf on her little red head. She sat on the flagstone floor of the front hall, stirring imaginary bread dough with a wooden spoon in a ceramic bowl, and I came down the front stairs to appear before her. Our friends took the parts of Joseph, the shepherds, and the wisemen, and my baby doll played the most important role of all, wrapped in a white sheet and sleeping gently on a bed of hay in the wicker laundry basket.
Christmas memories have been part of my writing life this year as I finish work on The Barn and the Book, the next in the Sam and Saucer series. It’s a Christmas story about a boy named Sam, his corgi friend Saucer, some nuns, and the children who play together at the monastery after church. Sam is hunting a Christmas memory of a kind in this story, and as I look forward to the book’s release this fall, I decided to ask some friends about their childhood Christmases.
What is your first best Christmas memory?
That was the question, and the answers were as various and colorful as the people I asked. Although the usual themes appear – family, food, wishes – there’s a plot twist in every one of these stories. I love to be reminded that all of life is unexpected, complex, personal, and interesting.
“I remember my Mom bringing my new baby brother home in a Christmas stocking. ” – Adriane Adams
“I remember most of my 2nd Christmas morning. I remember coming downstairs. I remember discovering presents and my parents’ excitement.” – Elizabeth Calder
“I was the Star of Bethlehem in the Christmas pageant when I was ~5ish. I shone. I beamed. (The big kids and my older sisters got to be the angel choir, because they could read lyrics, and at first I was jealous of them.) Proudest moment of my first 10 years.” – Cynthia Long
“The Anglicans have a tradition of starting Christmas Eve with “Once in Royal David’s City,” with the first verse being sung solo by a boy soprano/treble. When I finally got the chance to do it, that was a real highlight.” – Jonathan Hill, Orthodox Theology of the Beautiful
“I was adopted at Christmas, brought home on Christmas Eve when my older sisters were sleeping. My parents put me in a little Moses basket type thing under the tree. My middle sister spent the next many months at least ABSOLUTELY BELIEVING that Santa had granted her wish and brought a baby sister JUST for her! Obviously, I don’t remember this actually happening, but my family still breaks out the picture and story every year.” – Maria Powell
“Christmas for me always meant my dad taking my brother and I to ToysR’Us. He was (still is) a workaholic, and while he loved us very much, he missed a lot. But on that evening, he would go, and we would walk up and down. Every. Aisle. And he had this big yellow legal pad, and he’d write down Every Single Item we said we liked or that we wanted (along with the price). It sounds materialistic, but this was uninterrupted time with our dad, where we could talk about our likes and dislikes, and our interests. Afterwards, we would sit and write out stars (or sometimes lots of stars) next to things we wanted the most, or cross items off we decided we didn’t really want. We never got everything (I can only imagine what that would have cost! Ha!), but that time is very cherished. I don’t know that that is my earliest memory, but it is my strongest Christmas memory. I have other flashes of memories of going to my grandparents’ across the state, or big potluck dinners with extended family that I didn’t really know (There were always Swedish Meatballs! We have a strong Scandinavian heritage.), and I remember the person who hosted those had swinging doors into her kitchen like an old wild west saloon, and I thought that was pretty spectacular. I remember it was my “job” to put up the nativity display, and how seriously I took that. And I remember making cookies out of our old Swedish cookbook. But mostly, I looked forward to that time with my Dad.” – Kira Miller
“My mom making waffle sundaes and huevos rancheros on Christmas morning with tamales from a relative on the table, too. I make these things now for my kids, and it means even more after fasting!” – Jessica Archuleta, Every Home a Monastery
“We were at a GIANT family party, and my brothers and two male cousins locked me in a closet, and nobody noticed until I wasn’t there to open gifts. It all ended well! My brothers and cousins had to give me their candy.” – Melissa Elizabeth Naasko
“My earliest Christmas memory is my first memory, period. It is not in English. It was my first Christmas in Guatemala, where my parents were Mennonite missionaries. I would have just turned 3. We invited our friends (and my parents’ house/grounds helpers) Pablo and Erxlinda and their little son Julio to join us. We were eating fresh corn tortillas, called “gua” in Q’eqchi’, the Mayan dialect of the region. (Incidentally, “gua” doubles as the word for food, “gua’ac'” is the verb “to eat,” and if some day you haven’t had “gua,” that is, tortillas, you haven’t eaten at all regardless of what else you’ve eaten that day. Corn is very important to the diet of the region, especially corn tortillas. But I digress…)
My memory is of my parents asking Julio (I think he was 1.5 or 2 at the time) if his “gua” was good (“Ma’ sa li gua?”) to which he answered a hearty and enthusiastic, “Sa, PUES!” (of COURSE it’s good!) And everyone laughed.
So yeah, my memory has nothing to do with Christmas or Christ’s birth, but all the same, I’m delighted that it is my first memory. I was so very blessed to be allowed to grow up in a convergence of cultures, and although my Q’eqchi’ is dormant (it comes back to life when I’m in Guatemala again for a few days), I’m so very glad that my first memory is in that language. ” – Kristina Wenger
“When I was 5 my older brother ruined the secret of Santa for me on Christmas Eve. So my dad started a new tradition of me getting a surprise gift from Elvis instead.” Jill Wojslaw, @TheseParents
“My Aunt Jesse sending us a big box of See’s candy from Pasadena, California each year. We would sneak into it and eat a candy each day, take out the tell-tale wrapper, and wrap up the box again. By Christmas, the 5-pound box of candies probably weighed about a pound.” – Cheri Mullins
“My dad died when I was young, leaving my mom with 5 kids under 7. It was always a struggle financially, but one Christmas, the living room was filled with bicycles – one for each of us! We saw my mom wheeling them over on Christmas Eve – my neighbor stored them in his garage.” – Matushka Wendy
“I remember as a very young girl, going to bed that evening: no tree up yet, no cookies in sight, nothing near ‘Christmas’ ready; when we woke, early the next morning, there would be the tree! the lights! the neatly wrapped presents! cookies! and the aroma of coffee brewing! Amid the torn wrapping paper, we’d play for hours with our new dolls, blocks, and games; our mom always took a nap on the couch nearby. As I got older, my mother’s amazing Christmas cutout (anise) cookie recipe with the royal icing and all were handed down to me; now years later, that recipe is handed down to my 2 daughters. They know how to make them as well as my mother and I once did together. We make so many for gifts to share for our neighbors and friends; family. This year we had a slight emergency with our youngest boy; I was just about to make these cookies (they’re time consuming, too) when an accident happened at home that sent us straight to the emergency room; resulted in a 3-day stay in the hospital. My husband and I brought our boy home Christmas eve; the house was clean and cookies all baked and decorated! Of course, I cried.” – Kelleylynn Barberg
Next time you’re sitting in traffic, choosing apples at the farmer’s market, or waiting for hours at the DMV, look at the people around you and realize anew that every one of them holds a full set of memories, as you do, and a story full of plot twists. Each of us is a mystery. Glory to God!