Holiday memories stick with us

This is Mike in Christmas 1953 when he was 8 months old. He wishes he still had that Mobil Oil truck to make tons of money on eBay!

You might call this the “ghosts” of Christmas past. That old Andy Williams song It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year speaks of the tales of the glory of Christmases past. Now that Christmas is over, I, too, find myself reflecting on many holiday moments over the years.

On Christmas morning this year, I woke up and shut off all the decorations in front of my home which remained on overnight. Was I trying to increase the profits of National Grid by leaving the lights on all night? No, it was a tradition my sisters and I started back in the 1960s. We never shut off our holiday lights on Christmas Eve. Our thought was if we made out house stand out among all the darkened ones, Santa would be pleased with the light to guide him into our home Because of our gesture of kindness, we expected to get more presents. (Guess we didn’t consider that Jolly Old St. Nick had Rudolph the Red Nosed reindeer at the head of his sleigh). It’s kind of hard to gauge if it did have an effect. But Christmas mornings were always satisfying! In my adult life, I obviously don’t need to influence the man with the bag. Yet, I continue to leave the lights on all night long Christmas Eve into Christmas Day!

Through the childhood years, those same lights we used by my mother to encourage us to go to bed early the night before Christmas. She told us that if we saw any red lights shining in our window, it was probably the glow of Rudolph’s nose. Mom claimed he was also a scout to see if children were still awake when Santa was on his way. Supposedly if the kids had not bedded down for the evening, Santa would bypass your house for awhile. When he came back later, your present pile might not be as abundant. That warning resonated…with a vengeance.

Another Christmas in my younger days, found me restlessly awake anticipating the next morning’s presents. Suddenly I spotted a flash of red light outside my bedroom window. “Oh no! Christmas is doomed”, I thought . For sure, Santa will discover I’m awake. I desperately tried to remove the evidence of not being in dreamland by hiding under the covers and trying not to move! In my mind, it must have worked since under the tree was well stocked with prized possessions the next morning.

Then there comes the time when kids begin to doubt the existence of Santa Claus. I remember very clearly that moment arrived when I was in third grade. That’s because it was the year I started singing in the church choir at Midnight Mass. In the 1960s, Catholic Christmas masses were a major production which lasted about an hour and a half. So by the time we got home it was close to 2AM. My parents would be forced to stay awake at least another half hour to do present duty when they thought I was asleep.

But young mischievous Mike was waiting upstairs in his bed for the sounds of rustling presents. I wanted to catch my parents playing Santa Claus to expose the myth.I then proceeded to stomp down the stairs on the pretense of having to go to the bathroom. I heard my parents say” he’s coming!” They quickly shut off the lights, hustled me into the bathroom, and kept repeating “Hurry Michael and get back to bed, Santa is coming!” The next year I let on that I was hip to whom the real presenters of the presents were.

Poor dad never got much sleep at Christmas in that era. Besides being the master assembler of certain toys, he was also the official photographer with his 8 millimeter film camera come the big day. Problem is my sisters and I faithfully arose at 5 on Christmas morning. Dad once told us he had been up most of the night one year dealing with toys claiming some assembly required. Plus, to get the best quality picture his film camera required him to hold up a huge set of lights. It contained six large bulbs which resembled a football stadium. Between his sleep deprivation and the bulky equipment, it’s commendable he was able to capture those magic moments that are still be enjoyed to this day. (Since the 1950s and ’60s, they’ve undergone transformations to VHS and DVD formats to keep them alive).

Dealing with a non- believer is something I encountered when becoming a parent. One year my daughter was presenting my wife with a logical argument why there definitely could not be a Santa Claus. Without missing a bet my wife responded, “Do you really think your father would buy you all that stuff?” My child immediately embraced that response as making perfect sense.

But the next holiday season my daughter decided to take her detective work to another level.

Along with the milk and cookies, she left a paper instructing Santa to please sign in. She believed if it was not signed that would be proof there is no Mr. Claus. Not surprisingly, the dad rose to this challenge. On the child’s “verification document” I wrote the letters SC in the feeblest handwriting I could muster up … as if the penmanship were that of an old man. Then I put several fingers into a flower pot’s dirt and came up with a print which I thought might have resembled a reindeer’s paw print (at least to a young child anyway!) On Christmas morning, my daughter was as fascinated by Santa’s sign in as she was with her toys. Next Christmas she did let go of the Santa fantasy (but it didn’t stop her from making up a Christmas list of course).

I find it amazing that I can barely remember what I had for breakfast this morning but I can clearly recall these Christmas memories which go back decades in some cases. Even the inconvenient parts of Christmas can turn into a happy memory. For example, one year I was roaming around in the bitter cold hunting for a video game my son wanted. As I traveled from store to store unsuccessfully, I cursed the cold as well as the whole experience. But eventually I did track the elusive video game down. Parts of this experience were unpleasant at the time but years later I’m very happy I did it.

It’s the little things which often become a big part of what we’re all about. Memories define us. Christmas gives us the opportunity to reflect on the things we seldom give any thought to throughout the year. It’s not really a case of living in the past. Memories provide that feeling of hope in times of sadness and stress. Those down feelings can hopefully be alleviated…if we believe in the value of what we have done for others and can continue to do.

That’s what I think Christmas is truly all about.

Mike Igoe is an Assistant professor of Communication at SUNY Fredonia

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