The Christmas season is upon us. A time for family, friends, presents, food, and music! I have several favorite Christmas songs, traditional and contemporary. I like to sit in the living room in the evening with only the lights from our Christmas tree for illumination and listen to my Christmas playlist. It conjures a perfect atmosphere for nostalgic remembrances. My Christmas playlist consists of the following holiday tunes: “A Charlie Brown Christmas: Linus and Lucy” by the Vince Guaraldi Trio. It is not Christmas until I have watched Linus tell Charlie Brown that the Angels bring “tidings of great joy.” “Happy Christmas…War is Over” by John Lennon and Yoko Ono. I can almost forgive Yoko for interfering with the Beatles…almost! “I’ll be Home for Christmas” by Sara Evans. Always makes me miss home. “Holly Jolly Christmas” by Burl Ives. Well…it’s just a happy tune! “All I want for Christmas” by Mariah Carey. I am not a big fan of her music, but Mariah’s Christmas album is one of my favorites. “Silent Night” by Sinead O’Connor. She simply sings the song beautifully. “Christmas, Baby Please Come Home” by U2. I’ve been a U2 fan from the beginning and their version of this song always hits me in the heart. “Please Come Home for Christmas” by the Eagles. See my explanation for the U2 song! “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” by Bruce Springsteen. Bruce is an all-time favorite and this song takes me all the way back to those snowy nights in Kansas (I guess it’s the sleigh bells). “The Little Drummer Boy” by Bob Segar. No one sings this one better than Segar. “White Christmas” by Bing Crosby. A classic…so smooth. “That Spirit of Christmas” by Ray Charles. Very nostalgic and Ray never disappoints. “The Christmas Song” by Nat King Cole. Also a classic and the definition of smooth. Lastly, “O Holy Night” by Josh Groban. The song speaks for itself.
So this is Christmas, and what have you done? Another year over and a new one just begun. -Lennon/Ono
One of my favorite songs at Christmas time is the John Lennon/Yoko Ono song “Happy Christmas (War is Over)”. It is a haunting reminder of where I am and what I have not accomplished at year’s end, but it is also the spirit of possibility that renews my hope that the New Year will be different. A chance to start anew and do things differently. A stark visitation of the ghosts of Christmas past, present, and future all rolled up in one song.
When that stark Ghost of Christmas Past invites me for a visit, I gladly accept. I have very fond childhood memories of Christmas. Christmas Eve was always celebrated at my Grandma Moody’s house. My aunt Karen (my mom’s sister), uncle Herb, and my cousins Tod, Kimberly, and Rob were always there. Also in regular attendance were my great aunts Mildred and Esther and my great uncle Harold. Uncle Harold always gave the same gift every year and if memory serves, he gave each child an envelope with a $5 bill inside. That was a lot of cash for a kid back then! This roster of family adorned my grandmother’s house every Christmas Eve for a multitude of years. We always gathered together to celebrate the birth of Christ, create family memories, eat great food, exchange gifts, and to see Santa Claus. Yes, Santa Claus made an appearance at my grandmother’s house every year! The same Santa knocked on my grandmother’s front door from the first Christmas Eve celebration to the last. It was always an evening of family fun. Grandma would assign a “Santa’s Helper” to pass out gifts. Once everyone had a gift, we would all open them at the same time, wrapping paper flew and fell like snow. And just as we were all having the time of our lives, the time would come to head for home so we could all be in snuggled in our beds before Santa made his delivery of presents.
The evening always ended with heartfelt goodbyes and the always fun, but not really funny, farewell chant of “See you next year!” Once home, I had my own Christmas Eve tradition to observe: to see if animals really could talk on the Holiest night of the year! There is a little known Christmas cartoon in the early Seventies titled “The Night the Animals Talked”. I remember being mesmerized by the cartoon and truly wished I could talk to our pets and farm animals. So, every Christmas Eve, I would stay up until midnight and then ask our dogs (Lad, Skeeter, Pepper, or Lady) if they liked living with us or if they desired different food or play toys. Sadly, they never answered me in voice, but they always looked at me with love!
On Christmas Day, my brother and I would always awake early, much to the chagrin of our parents, and eagerly await the “green light” to investigate the lighted tree and begin unwrapping gifts from mom, dad, and, of course, Santa.
I have to pause here.
I pause here to send a message to my father. LG, if you are reading this, my message to you is simply, “Thank you for always making Christmas a joyous occasion.” Even though finances at times were often lean, you always made sure we had a great Christmas. I know that meant you and mom had to sacrifice and I want you to know that sacrifice did not gone unnoticed. And with my birthday on December 21, you and mom always made my day special and totally separate from Christmas. Thank you. I love you.
That said, let’s continue!
After the flurry of opening presents, we would go outside to do chores and then head back inside for a Christmas breakfast of biscuits and sausage gravy. After breakfast, we would head over the hills and through the timber on Highway 116 and head to Ruthie’s house (aka Grandma Vessar). I called her Ruthie because that is what everyone called her, except my dad; he called her Mom.
When we arrived at Ruthies, we would walk into the kitchen to be greeted amid the lingering patches of cigarette smoke that always hung in the air. She would put her cigarette in the ashtray that always sat in front of her, stand up, walk over to us and say in a raspy voice, “Give your old grandma a hug!” And we would. She would beckon us into the living room to see her Christmas tree and then hand a gift to each of us. Her house was always full of people (my dad has ten brothers and sisters) and it was always a great time catching up with aunts, uncles, cousins, and family friends. We would stay and visit awhile, eat some cookies or candies, and then head for home. Once we were back home, it was time for the Christmas feast. More often than not, some of the family and friends we just visited would end up at our house to help with the preparation and consumption of a Christmas ham or turkey with all the fixins and a cornucopia of Christmas desserts!
Christmas Eve and Christmas Day are moments I treasure. My brother and I have very fond memories of spending time with our cousins, aunts and uncles on both sides of the family. We all lived within driving distance of one another and saw each other often, but the holidays were always special. No matter what had transpired over the year, when everyone was together at Christmas, it was like we were washed clean and renewed. It is easy to become nostalgic when you are a long way from home and family. Songs like “Happy Christmas”, “I’ll Be Home for Christmas”, and “That Christmas Spirit” really tug at your heart strings. Those songs take on a new meaning and become very personal. A sort of holiday melancholy sets in and suddenly you are homesick. So, wherever you find yourself this Christmas, I hope you relish in the Spirit of Christmas nostalgia. Hug those you are with and contact those that are out of arm’s length to let them know that you are thinking of them. Merry Christmas and in the words of Tiny Tim Cratchit, “God bless us, every one.”
© 2018 Gregory Vessar