The changing face of Christmas

by David McGee

Let Christmas not become a thing merely of merchant’s trafficking, of tinsel, bell and holly wreath and surface pleasure. But beneath the childish glamour, let us find nourishment for soul and mind.

Let us follow kinder ways through our teeming human maze, and help the age of peace to come from a Dreamer’s martyrdom.

— Madeline Morse

You remember it, don’t you? The way your be-socked feet slid across the kitchen floor as you ran into the living room, bright red poinsettias on display alongside the glittering, ornamented fir that had the whole house smelling like an evergreen forest.

I do. I remember it like it was yesterday. I remember the way that my brothers, sisters and I would vie to open their presents first. We’d speculate as to whether my brother got another sweater that year or the Hot Wheels that he’d been pleading his life for. We’d all spread across the carpet with a fire in the hearth, ready to burn the wrapping paper as it came flying from all directions.

One year, in particular, stays with me. What I remember most about that morning in Winston-Salem when I was 9 or 10 is not the gifts and food, although I’m sure they were thoroughly enjoyed, but that reassuring sense of security that comes from having family all around you. That feeling of knowing your parents are close by, maybe in the kitchen working on a pie or poultry, or in the garage getting sleds prepped for the big hill. That knowing your siblings are lounging around the house watching Chevy Chase or Snoopy save the day and are willing to help with whatever might have to be done around the house to keep the holiday spirit alive, whether it’s seeing who can eat the most turkey and ham or chopping wood to feed the fire. Yet as we all know, the years tick by; the obligations and miles grow, making lives busier and further from one another.

Eight years later, my parents had moved to a Caribbean island named Dominica where my father was teaching. One brother was stationed in Hawaii and another was away at college in Florida, while mysisters were busy with their lives. I was a sophomore at UNC-Pembroke.These days, traveling and the horror stories that come with it — suchas being stuck in the Puerto Rico airport and sleeping on a McDonald’sbench — become conversation fodder as we hike through lush rainforestand dip in the aquamarine ocean. No longer does the culinary spreadinclude 25-pound turkeys and spiral-sliced hams, but fresh-caught fishand lobster cooked in coconut milk with sweet bread and plantains. Thedynamics and whole concept of Christmas have changed, as these kidsonce sliding across the kitchen floor in stocking feet are now in boardshorts, and the fir tree has been replaced with a palm tree wrapped inglowing white lights reminiscent of a Corona commercial. But whatremains the same is the dedication and warm glow that comes from seeingthose same faces, albeit more mature and lined, laughing and carryingon about who gets to open presents first.

AsI sit today the Christmas experience is changing once again as themiles apart shrink closer together slowly. My mother and father are ontheir way to Pennsylvania for an exciting new teaching position; mybrothers are pursuing their fields of interest in Texas and Floridawhile one sister climbs the corporate ladder and another finishes herstudies at ECU. I’m busy building a career and traditions of my own forthe holidays.

Thisyear my sister acts as the gathering fo as the celebration will be heldin Greensboro for the first time. There’s no telling what everyone willshow up wearing — board shorts unlikely — but it’s reassuring to knowthat the same smiling faces will be waiting to greet me at the door.

TheChristmas holiday is such an interesting season of the year because ofwhat it represents and how it reminds us of what is important in lifeand what has come and gone. Many of my Christmases have been spent onthe road and in between destinations or new locations. For some,Christmas is a time of feasting and rejoicing, big parties and shinypresents wrapped and ready for the raid that comes on Christmas Day.Sure these are nice and make the cold days go by, but at the center ofit all is family. And that should matter the most.

Sowe’ll gather again by a fire stoked by Christmas wrapping just like theold days. It will be cold outside, to be sure, though we probably wontybe skidding across the kitchen floor in our socks. But I still want toopen my presents first.