This is the season of giving gifts and the season of remembering life’s gifts.
I can’t count the times I’ve been asked what I want, can you? It is always the same answer for me, the one the the listener is never happy with – I don’t want anything. I’ve given this inner feeling to one of my characters, a grandmother talking to her very young granddaughter in the new short story “Last Birthday”. It is coming out in Mike Macartney’s new short story collection “Cassandra’s Roadshow” this winter – this story was based on memories of family and the issue of gift-giving.
At Christmas times I remember childhood, as many of us do, from the scents of pine,from fragments of familiar church songs, from colors and sparkle. But when it comes to gifts, what I wanted at this time of year was never the question. In an odd way it was the anti-question. If I said I wanted something around that time of year – and I was a talkative child so it did slip out now and again – I was sure not to get it, as a deliberate decision on the part of both my parents. In some families asking if Santa is real is taboo, in our family asking for “things” was. I assumed it was to keep me from being annoying. It probably had a better purpose, and certainly had a better effect in the long run.
I’m continually surprised at life’s gifts. Life has given me so much more than I ever would have thought possible, let alone wished for, that “wanting” has become completely irrelevant. When I think about life’s gifts, I enter a steady state of wonder.
A child’s Christmas in my childhood home, as I remember it, did not mean making a wish list for Santa. It meant making cookies for Santa, if Santa came into it at all. I did a lot of baking to share, making little things for gifts, writing poems for cards. But really, my main memories of Christmas in childhood are not of gifts or toys or Santa, but of a quiet place about two miles from our house – the neighborhood church. It is a small wooden structure with towering stained glass windows. The church would be packed on Christmas Eve and with the lights turned off then, the most beautiful moment – the lighting of the candles, small white candles we each held in our hands. The tall, the short, the old, the young, all of us held a wax candle and lit them one from another all the way around the small church. Being part of this congregation in the interior of the church as it filled with candle light gave a feeling of being immersed in hope. We sang, and I thought we looked like a constellation of stars in the night sky.
Afterwards, the lights came on and each child passed by the big man wearing red on the way out – the man who rang the heavy iron bell on top of the church on Sundays. He gave an orange and a colorful box the size of an orange wrapped with a white ribbon tied in a bow to each small child. It was a gift, yes, one natural and one sweet, and yet I’m quite sure the joy we carried in our little hearts on the way out came mostly from the sharing of the light and all the love.
What are your happiest memories of the holiday from childhood?