It seems like every year the Christmas holiday season starts earlier and earlier. Stores are set up with Christmas trees and decorations in October….way before Halloween. I hear Christmas songs being played on the radio before Thanksgiving. Stocking stuffer commercials are constantly being shown well before Christmas.
For me, with Christmas less than a month away, this is the most wonderful time of the year. As much as I would love to be out of prison surrounded by my family and friends I still love the holiday season. Ever since I was a little kid I absolutely loved this day and considered it one of the best days of the year. My siblings and I would wake up well before sunrise, rush downstairs to see what Santa Claus brought, and then immediately wake up Mom and Dad to begin opening up the presents. There were squeals of delight, cheers of excitement, and smiles and laughter throughout the entire day. It was awesome!!!
It was the Christmas of 1988 that brings back my fondest memory. Every year on Christmas Eve, my family would attend the 5pm church service. Most years my siblings and I would perform in the Christmas program during that service and then after church head to my grandparents to eat dinner and open up gifts from my Mom’s side of the family. At my grandparent’s house, there are a number of memories and traditions that will always stick with me forever:
- Shrimp platters….the only time of the year that we ate shrimp
- Walking down the stairs, activating the motion detector on the Santa Claus head that was hanging on the stairway wall which said, “Ho-Ho-Ho! Merry Christmas” and then played the music to We Wish You a merry Christmas. By the end of the evening my Mom or aunt or grandma would say, “Turn that thing off!”
- When opening up gifts and someone was having a tough time ripping off the tape or opening up the box, my Grandpa would always ask, “Anyone got a knife?” (He always had a pocketknife on him but knew no one else ever did). On one particular Christmas Eve when he asked that question, every single one of us pulled out a knife of some kind from switch blades to pocket knives to Swiss army knives to large buck knives……we had planned this ahead of time. But my Grandpa laughed so hard he had tears rolling down his cheeks. It was great!
- Receiving a calendar from my Grandpa as a gift every year. He went shopping by himself and would pick out a special calendar for each of us…..his kids, their spouses and all his grandkids.
- Measuring our heights to see how much we had grown during the past year on one of the doorframes in their house.
- The cousin picture – every year all of the cousins in the family would sit on the same couch for a picture, in the same seating order and the same body position as the previous year to see how much we had changed from the previous years
- The Old Maid in the jar gift….the “booby” prize when we played Rob Your Neighbor!
On this particular Christmas Eve in 1988 it started snowing during the evening, so driving the 8 miles to and from my grandparent’s house was a little slippery, but made for a true white Christmas. My family would never stay there too late because we wanted to get to bed so Santa Clause would come and Christmas morning would be upon us in no time. Once home, we would quickly get ready for bed, put out the milk and cookies for Santa, and be fast asleep in no time.
As an 8 year old kid at the time, receiving gifts was always a thrill, especially from Santa Claus on Christmas morning. We were only allowed to ask Santa for one gift, so any extra gifts we got were surprises. On Christmas morning my two brothers, my sister and I all got up very early. All our internal alarm clocks seemed to be set to the same time, and we all made our way downstairs almost simultaneously. As we all crept quickly toward the Christmas tree, we could hardly contain our excitement. One by one we saw the piles of gifts that were before us, with an exceptionally large wrapped box that was for all of us in the middle of the floor. Santa had neatly divided the rest of the gifts and placed each of them in appropriate piles as to who they were for. We were doing our best to keep our excitement under control, but for a 10 year old, an 8 year old, a 7 year old, and a 5 year old that was yard to do.
We stood around the giant wrapped gift in the middle of the floor and started to guess what was in there. Was it a television, a basketball hoop, a sled, a puppy? We were probably getting a little too loud, as Mom and Dad peeked their heads around the corner and greeted us with a “Merry Christmas!” I thought to myself, “Let the fun begin!”
My family had always had a tradition of taking turns at opening gifts from youngest to oldest. As much as I was thrilled to open up my own gifts, I was even more intrigued as to the large box in the middle. My mind was going a mile a minute as to what was in it. As we started tearing through the gifts one by one, our piles started shrinking. Soon we were down just to our stocking stuffers which would wait until later.
As the final gift was being opened, we all scrambled to the wrapped box in the middle of the floor. With the video camera on my Mom finally told us to open it up. Within five seconds, the wrapping paper was off and all four of us were ripping the tape off the box to see what was inside of it. It seemed to take an eternity to rip the tape off. I couldn’t wait! Finally, the lid was opened. As we all peered inside, at once our eyes got huge, smiles appeared across our faces, and screams from the top of our lungs could probably be heard throughout the neighborhood. We immediately all started jumping up and down and running around the box. There was no way I could contain my excitement! Santa had just brought us a Nintendo! It was a kids’ dream come true. We never guessed a Nintendo would be in the box! It was a surprise gift for sure!!
We hardly cared about our other gifts we had opened. Dad set up the console for us and we immediately started playing Super Mario Brothers for hours and hours, followed by Duck Hunt, Mike Tyson’s Punch Out and Double Dribble. I thought I was in heaven. You couldn’t pry me away from the system, even to go to the bathroom or eat. I was hooked. Fortunately, some control was restored for me again after hours and hours of being on a high. After a few days, Mom and Dad were forced to set up some rules and regulations over the gaming system as well as a time limit. But I’ll never forget unwrapping the gift that day, and the pure excitement that unraveled throughout my body. As a kid it was by far the best Christmas present ever, and a memory I’ll never forget!
Now as an adult and each day maturing in my faith, I’ll never forget the true meaning of Christmas – the birth of Jesus Christ. I still love the giving and receiving of gifts. That never gets old. But material gifts will never get us anywhere. The one true gift is from God, who gave us the gift of His Son to be the Savior and Redeemer of the world. What more could you ask for? Now THAT is the greatest gift of all time, even better than that Nintendo game 29 years ago. I encourage everyone this year to take time to remember what Christmas is actually all about and that the best present of all is Jesus!