Christmas, Past and Present

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Back in the day, but not THAT long ago, celebrations of the season seemed to have a very different vibe than they do today.

And when I say "celebrations", I mean even as simple as those animated Christmas specials that we looked forward to each year. The snowfalls and the activities that followed, decorating the Christmas tree, and Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, all seemed to jingle their way into our hearts just a bit differently. 

 A T.V. Guide from the early 1980's

A T.V. Guide from the early 1980's

I remember scanning the TV Guide with my younger sister and mother, searching for our favorites: The Year Without A Santa Claus, The Grinch, and Santa Claus is Coming to Town. And on those days they aired, we were ready as the clocked ticked closer to 7 p.m. Hot cocoa in mugs, we headed downstairs with blankets to claim our favorite spot on the couch, and then tune the television into either CBS, NBC, or ABC. As our animated Christmas favorites began, with whirling wind and snowflakes or Burl Ives singing Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, we cozied into our blankets all the while sipping hot chocolate. This is when an hour-long show was sixty minutes. There was no fast-forwarding through commercials or a DVR.

We simply waited, watched, and enjoyed.

Growing up the snow had a different feel, as well.

First, it snowed ... all the time. Didn't it? Or did it just seem that way? We had piles and piles of it.

 Traffic comes to a stop on Ill. Route 53 at Schaumburg Road as efforts continue to dislodge vehicles from snow drifts during the blizzard of 1967. (credit: unknown)

Traffic comes to a stop on Ill. Route 53 at Schaumburg Road as efforts continue to dislodge vehicles from snow drifts during the blizzard of 1967. (credit: unknown)

Winter break from school brought snow angels carved deep into backyards and forts made into secretive hideouts and sleds that actually slid fast and furious down hills. Ice skating wasn't a constant, but if ponds were frozen to six-inches thick, we were on them.

I've lived in Chicago my entire life, and I know cold. But back in the day, when I was growing up, it never seemed cold. My sister and I, and our friends, played for hours. We came in with sweaty necks and wet socks because after all, the plastic bags that we wore to protect our feet from freezing never quite worked. 

 Me, Santa and Daphne, 1974

Me, Santa and Daphne, 1974

Decorating the tree was always so much fun. We brought home paper gingerbread ornaments or other fancy ornaments of sequence and tassels pinned into Styrofoam balls to hang on the tree. At home, we painted wooden ornaments from a kit or baked Shrinky Dinks in the oven. We strung popcorn. Yes, with a needle and thread. Eat a piece, string a piece. It took hours, but it was so much fun. I wonder how many families string popcorn these days?

 My dad, James Michael Meagher, Jr. playing Santa in the late 80s

My dad, James Michael Meagher, Jr. playing Santa in the late 80s

On Christmas Eve, we rolled out dough to make sugar cookies. Then, cut out Santa's and snowmen and angels. Baked the thin cut-outs into golden brown delights. The cookies were left to cool before we iced and sprinkled them with green and red sugars, or my favorite, which were little colored candied stars. Christmas Day brought stocking filled with all kinds of nuts with hard shells, tangerines, and a candy cane. 

 Seven of the ten Meagher kids on Christmas morning, 1962

Seven of the ten Meagher kids on Christmas morning, 1962

 Yes, I love the memories I have of Christmas' years ago, but recent years have brought wonderful memories, too. As you and I have, generation after generation will carry their traditions into the lives of their own children. Being the ninth child of ten, even my younger sister, Daphne and I experienced Christmas somewhat differently from our older siblings. They received pajamas from elves on Christmas Eve. Daphne and I did not. Santa left a few gifts, like dolls and skates unwrapped in the earlier years at our house, but only larger items, like sleds, were left unwrapped in the later years. Traditions change by bringing the old and new together.  

So, it's not really about the television shows, whether the T.V. antenna was positioned just so or if the DVR is now programmed; or the boots, whether plastic bags lined the inside or fur; or the stockings, whether they were filled with fruit or now stuffed with expensive gadgets; or the decorated tree, whether it was wrapped in popcorn strings or now glistens with garland ropes.

The holiday season is about so much more.

It's about family.

It's about friends. 

It's about being together in the spirit of the season.

It's about the jingle that makes its way into our hearts, no matter how young or old we are.

There are so many wonderful holidays celebrated in December. Whichever you celebrate, may your days be cheery and bright.

 Me, Mike and Bo in the Illinois winter snow

Me, Mike and Bo in the Illinois winter snow