On Where Christmas Went…


When I was a kid, my mother often read Erma Bombeck’s column to me. Mom loved Erma, and I enjoyed the column too, but I never fully appreciated the essays until I was a mother. Erma wrote the following column in 1971 and it was republished in newspapers during Christmas for years afterward. Mom had cut out the article and it was among her things I found when she passed away. She had several of Erma’s essays cut out – probably the ones with which she most identified.

Where Did Christmas Go?

There is nothing sadder in this world than to awake Christmas morning and not be a child.
   Not to feel the cold on your bare feet as you rush to the Christmas tree in the living room. Not to have your eyes sparkle at the wonderment of discovery. Not to rip the ribbons off the shiny boxes with such abandon.
   What happened?
   When did the cold, bare feet give way to reason and a pair of sensible bedroom slippers? When did the sparkle and the wonderment give way to depression of a long day? When did a box with a shiny ribbon mean an item on the “charge?”
   A child of Christmas doesn’t have to be a toddler or a teen. A child of Christmas is anyone who believes that Kings have birthdays.
   The Christmases you loved so well are gone. What happened?
   Maybe they diminished the year you decided to have your Christmas cards printed to send to 1,500 of your “closest friends and dearest obligations.” You got too busy to sign your own name.
   Maybe it was the year you discovered the traditional Christmas tree was a fire hazard and the needles had to be vacuumed every three hours and you traded its holiday aroma for a silver one that revolved, changed colors, played “Silent Night” and snowed on itself.
   Or the year it got to be too much trouble to sit around the table and put popcorn and cranberries on a string. Possibly you lost your childhood the year you solved your gift problems neatly and coldly with a checkbook.
   Think about it. It might have been the year you were too rushed to bake and resorted to slice-and-bake with no nonsense. Who needs a bowl to clean — or lick?
   Most likely it was the year you were so efficient in paying back all your party obligations. A wonderful little caterer did it for you for $3 per person.
   Children of Christmas are givers. That’s what the day is for. They give thanks, love, gratitude, joy and themselves to one another.
   It doesn’t necessarily mean you have to have children around a tree. It’s rather like lighting a candle you’ve been saving, caroling when your feet are cold, building a fire in a clean grate, grinding tinsel deep into the rug, licking frosting off a beater, giving something you made yourself.
   It’s laughter, being with people you like, and at some time falling to your knees and saying, “Thank You for coming to my birthday party.”
   How sad indeed to awake on Christmas and not be a child.
   Time, self-pity, apathy, bitterness and exhaustion can take the Christmas out of the child, but you cannot take the child out of Christmas.

I woke up this Christmas morning not because of excitement of the day, but because of a text my sister sent. “Merry Christmas, how are you feeling?” it read. I had had to leave our family’s Christmas Eve dinner quickly last night due to the onset of a migraine that had me up most of the night pacing with pain. “Well,” I said to the phone, “I certainly don’t feel like Christmas.” With the migraine hangover zapping my energy, I rolled out of bed and made my way to the coffee pot. I noticed the sunshine through the window, it was going to reach the mid 70s today. Nope, not Christmas out there either. My sister and I had made plans for Christmas brunch at her house and she texted that I should not feel like I had to come if I wasn’t up to it. She’s an expert on migraines. and I appreciate when she’s easy like that. My beloved and I went anyway. My niece made strada for everyone. I opted for toast and coffee. We had a nice visit, but it didn’t feel like Christmas, it felt like a random Saturday in April. The windows in the house were wide open and my nephew was thinking about taking a dip in the pool. My niece sunbathed after brunch.

As I re-read Erma’s column this afternoon, I got to thinking about where Christmas had gone. The Christmases of my childhood and those of my children’s childhood are mere memories. Trying to resurrect them is impossible. The traditions of the past do not fit my grandchildren any more than the Christmases of my parents’ childhood would have fit me. “Are you joking?” I would have said, pulling an orange and a peppermint stick out of my stocking.

I spent the week prior to Christmas with my children and grandchildren in South Texas. We went on a hayride in a wagon that seated 50 after standing in line for 45 minutes, through a light show that took months to create with millions upon millions of lights. We drank $5 per cup hot chocolate and enjoyed a funnel cake around a campfire with a crowd of strangers. The line for Santa was long, unless a a Fast Pass was purchased. Turns out there were two Santas, but a single Mrs. Claus worked both groups of people. We had a great time trying to connect with the past. I was with children, and I was seeing through their eyes.

The next day, I gathered my youngest grandchildren around and we made fudge. Each child had a specific job in the process. We laughed, we applauded, we licked the batter. After placing the pan of fudge in the fridge I turned to them all and said “Ok, that was the peppermint fudge, who wants to help me with the peanut butter fudge?” Four voices speaking as one said “That’s OK, Grammy D, can we go play Nintendo?”

I loved cooking our Christmas dinner for my family. Their favorites from childhood, plus some new things. I loved preparing it all, spending most of the day in the kitchen, and watching them fill their plates and come back for seconds. I was exhausted, but it was the good kind of exhaustion; like crossing the finish line in first place. That was Christmas for me.

And I have to do a fact check on myself once in awhile, Christmases past had magical moments for me as a child…. really magical moments. But I also have to remember that it wasn’t constant from Thanksgiving to Christmas Day. I have to remember there were times when Mom had to threaten to call Santa, the times of extreme fatigue from all the running around, failed merengues, gifts wanted but not received. I have to remember the stress of being a parent myself, trying to make everything perfect for my kids, watching the bank account balance get smaller and smaller as December 25 rolled around, praying the Christmas bonus was good this year. I have to remember my parents back then, my grown children now, felt that same stress.

I’ve been quite melancholy in the years since losing my parents, and watching the traditions change and disappear. I’ve been feeling cheated about the loss of the way it once was. I’ve been kind of a brat about it. That’s not fair to Christmas, really. Christmas is still here. It is me who has changed.

My job now is to watch the joy through the eyes of the children I am blessed to have in my life.

New Year’s Resolution for 2022. Celebrate the holidays today, and not mourn the holidays of yesterday. They aren’t the same, and they don’t need to be. They are to be enjoyed, not endured. Christmas didn’t go anywhere. I just failed to recognize it. Next Christmas, I plan to wake up and be a child.

02 comments on “On Where Christmas Went…

  • Danna Barron , Direct link to comment

    Thank you for sharing. One memory I have that brings me joy is going with Mema and Papa to the Union’s Christmas party in OKC & coming home with some hard candy, nuts and oranges. I love you.

    • B. Diane White , Direct link to comment

      and the time Kevin disguised himself so he could get in line three times.

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