Christmas. Many celebrate the holiday by giving gifts, spending time with loved ones, participating in religious and cultural traditions, and supporting charities. No matter how a person celebrates this winter holiday almost everyone has a favorite memory or two.
My favorite Christmas was the year we moved from Louisiana to Kansas. I was eight years old and we traveled back down to Louisiana for the holiday. It was the last one we spent with Granddaddy. No matter the time of year, I loved visiting him at his home in Bastrop. The huge tree in the front yard that we would climb on every day, trying to get higher each climb became a central focus that Christmas. After a very long car ride we arrived at Granddaddy’s to find a tall and somewhat misshapen evergreen in the corner of the living room beside the piano. Ornaments and garland decorated every branch and wrapped gifts occupied the space below. Mom and dad commented on the tree and Granddaddy casually said, “Oh I cut the top off that tree in front.” Someone asked how he did it, and he said he’d climbed it, how else? One month before turning 72 my Grandaddy climbed a tree that was no less than two stories tall to cut off the top so that we could have a tree for Christmas.
The visit was like any other. We played in and out of the house, pulling out the toys our father and aunts had played with as children. We ate whatever Granddaddy made because it was always delicious. And when it came time for Christmas morning we shuffled into the living room sleepy and excited to see what Santa had brought. And you know what? I don’t even remember what Santa brought that year, because the two best presents I’ve ever received came from Granddaddy and his friend, Miss Annie, who lived down the street.
I remember sitting down on the dark olive green sofa and waiting, impatiently, for my turn to open a gift. When I opened the gift that Grandaddy gave me I sucked in a breath and my eyes widened in excitement. There in my lap sat a pair of AM/FM cordless, battery operated, black and white, headphones. I had never seen anything quite like them. Someone helped me put the batteries in and from that moment on the headphones were glued to my head, only coming off with threat of punishment. I had never felt so cool. I remember giving Granddaddy a big excited hug, and him gently patting me on the back. He wasn’t a very affectionate man and I think my reaction took him a little by surprise.
I didn’t think the day could get any better until Miss Annie arrived bearing more gifts. My brothers and I each received an identical wrapped gift. As I watched one of my brothers open his gift my body began to tremble with excitement and I could barely contain myself. He had just unwrapped a whole bag of miniature chocolate bars (Mr. Goodbar, Krackle, Hershey’s, etc…). Was this what awaited me? When it was my turn I ripped into the paper revealing the same bag of treats. Hallelujah! Hallelujah! The air seemed to sing around me. I started to open the bag, my mouth watering uncontrollably, when mom stopped me and said something about breakfast first. Oh the world felt as if it had crashed around me. Then, the heavens opened again when I heard Miss Annie and Granddaddy suggest that just one candy would be ok before breakfast. My parents relenting, I opened the bag and chose a Mr. Goodbar. The milk chocolatey, peanut-y goodness filled my senses and I was floating on a sugar high.
The long drive home was made more pleasant with my super cool headphones on. I still remember the disappointment on that ride when moments of static filled the air waves as we passed through areas between towns. I would diligently turn the tuning dial bit by bit searching for a clear station, and feel like I had struck gold each time one would be found.
I think back to what it was that made that Christmas with Granddaddy so special. Was it the gifts? Well, yes, in some ways. As an eight year old, that’s what I knew, what I understood. But, since then, every time I remember that visit it’s not just the gifts that stand out. It was the whole experience that seemed magical. The tree and Granddaddy’s story about cutting it down for us. The smell of his house and his hand patting me on the back. Eating at the table together and listening to the grown ups talk and trying to join in. The sound of Miss Annie’s sing song voice when she spoke to us kids. And, I suppose, that it was the last holiday I spent there with him, because two and a half years later he would leave this earth. All of these things and more make this my best Christmas ever memory.
We all remember events in our lives differently. Talking with children about how they remember events is a great way to gain insight into what they focus on and how they feel in certain situations. It is important to know that how a child (or adult) feels about events or situations is not wrong, it’s just how they feel and feelings can change. Having conversations with your child helps build skills in relating to others and continues to strengthen the foundation of trust in your parent-child relationship.