Christmas has always been my absolute favorite holiday of the entire year and is today the only one to which I devote much time celebrating.
In my youth, the receiving of presents was naturally the main source of its appeal. But there were other things as well.
Things like homemade candy. My mother did a terrific job of making her own fudge, divinity and even peanut brittle (the latter being no easy feat). Popcorn balls were always to be found in plenty.
Like a poor man’s version of the famous Kennedy clan, football was part of my family’s Christmas tradition. Late afternoon, after presents had been opened and a large, sumptuous meal downed, all the Jones boys would head to the backyard for a little rough-and-tumble tackle football game.
I also always associate music with Christmas. I love Christmas music! Play Little Drummer Boy (the original version, with the Boys’ Choir) for me and I guarantee you’ll see a lump appear in my throat every time.
One song that I suppose is technically not purely a Christmas song but that I always think of in that regard because Mom always played it along with more traditional tunes, is the Ave Maria – specifically the version sung by the great Perry Como.
The song about the Drummer Boy has now come to epitomize for me my own personal credo, especially in a professional sense.
If you listen to that song closely, you’ll see that it never claims that the little boy is the greatest drummer; it never even states that he is a good drummer. So what does it say?
I played my drum for Him.
I played my best for Him.
Then He smiled at me.
Me and my drum.
I like to think that’s what all the many editors I’ve worked for and with over the course of my long career as a writer came to expect they would receive from me.
Not necessarily the greatest story – but the very best story of which I was capable.
As for memories surrounding Christmas presents, I actually have three I’d like to share. I like to think they span the spectrum: one is about receiving, one is about giving – and one is about giving and receiving.
When I was a little boy, one of the most highly anticipated events leading up to Christmas was the arrival in the mail of the Sears Catalog.
Between its covers one would find page after page of wonderful toys available through this retail giant. My father had a good job, working for American Airlines, but he also had a lot of children – so you had to keep your requests for your main Christmas Day presents down to one or two. The process of winnowing down all the options so enticingly offered by Sears and Roebuck was often rather long and arduous.
One particular year (and I honestly don’t remember my age at the time), I had fairly quickly narrowed my focus down to one particular item.
A Fort Apache Playset.
Having grown up during a veritable Golden Age of Western movies and TV shows, I naturally developed a great love of the Old West. I still have it; I’ve written a couple of Western comics, plus three prose novels and a novella.
The Fort Apache Playset consisted of all the pieces (plastic, of course) needed to assemble the fort itself, plus plastic figures of soldiers, Indians and horses. The photo had me practically drooling onto the pages of the Sears catalog.
The one thing I feared might stand between me and my possession of it, however, was what to my young mind was the rather princely price required to purchase it.
If memory serves me correctly, it commanded a hefty $4.95!
Perhaps I’d been a particularly good boy that year – or perhaps the price was not quite so exorbitant as I had imagined. Regardless, I found it sitting beneath our tree on Christmas morning. It proved to be just as wonderful as I had hoped it would be!
For whatever reason, I can think of no other Christmas present that has left such in indelible print in my mind and heart.
Move forward a few years. I was working my first “real” job flipping hamburgers for a chain (now defunct, I believe) called Burger Chef. One of the Christmas presents I had purchased from my $1.10 per hour paycheck had been the latest music album by the Beatles.
The recipient of this gift was to be my older brother “Dink” – the sibling to whom I was always closest and with whom I shared a love of all things coming from the “Fab Four.”
Now, unless you put it inside a box of some sort, it was pretty hard to disguise a vinyl record album’s shape, no matter how may bows you might put on the wrapping.
So, one weekend afternoon a week or two before Christmas, when the parents and all our other siblings were out of the house for a few hours, Dink approached me with a proposition.
Since it was blatantly obvious what my gift to him was anyway (he knew I wouldn’t have given him a record from any other group than the Beatles) – why not go ahead and let him open it? We could enjoy listening to it for a few hours, then re-wrap it and put it back under the tree – and come Christmas Dink would open it again and feign surprise as if he was seeing it for the first time!
So we did, and he did – and as far as I could tell, none of the rest of the family was ever the wiser.
Dink’s gone now – but the memory of that particular gift will live as long as I do. Maybe longer.
Finally, move forward yet another couple of years. It was my first year as a student at our local Community College, and I was working to help pay my way there as a sacker at a grocery store called Warehouse Market.
In the years immediately preceding this one, my mom had insisted on setting up an artificial Christmas tree in our living room.
Now, some artificial trees are very nice, very lifelike in appearance. But this one looked like some alien form of flora. It was all shiny and silver and each “branch” ended in what looked like a small, aluminum pom-pom. Adjacent to this “tree” would sit a sort of light wheel. As the wheel slowly rotated, the light cast through its colored cels would make the tree appear to be red, blue or green.
I hated it.
The store where I worked, like most grocery stores then, sold live Christmas trees. So I used some of my earnings to buy one to bring home – making it a gift I received but also one I gave to the rest of the household.
So tall was it that we had to saw off a couple inches to keep it from scraping against the ceiling of our living room. A room it then filled with that wonderful aroma of evergreen.
I also had enough money to buy nice presents for my parents and the two younger siblings of mine who were also still living at home. I can’t honestly tell you what presents were given to me by others that year – though I’m sure they were great and that I appreciated them. But I still remember the presents I gave.
And I still remember the tree.
It’s been a perilous year for all of us in 2020, but I hope our Christmas is a joyous one for us all. And that we all remember the message that Christmas brings to everyone – regardless of your faith or lack of same.
After all…what could be a better gift for all of us than a world in which we had peace on earth – and good will toward one another?
Merry Christmas, everybody.
And in the coming New Year – don’t forget to Make Mine Silverline!