"It's the most wonderful time of the year!" I love the energy that comes from the holidays, be it the crowds out shopping, the holiday parades, the decorating of houses, and of course the baking/eating of all those great cookies and treats. The major thing that seems to tie all these activities together for me is Christmas music. It maybe in the background during all these events, but it’s a constant presence that helps me get into the spirit of the season.
This love of Christmas music goes way back to when I was very young and my mom and I lived at my grandmother’s house. Christmas with my grandmother was very special because we had a lot of fun traditions. After dinner on Christmas Eve, we’d all gather in the living room where my grandmother had a giant stereo and she’d blare old time Christmas records while we’d decorate the tree. My grandfather would come in at the last minute and put the star on the tree and then we’d turn off the house lights and plug in the tree and hope that all the decorations would light up!
After the decorating, the music would still be blasting and the neighbors would come over and visit and have a few eggnogs, (or other adult drinks) and we'd all sit and listen to stories of Christmases past. Eventually my mom would make me get into my special Christmas PJ's and we'd wait for our one neighbor with the Santa outfit to come over, so I could sit on his lap and tell him what I wanted for being a good boy all year. He played it up well, always saying that Christmas was full of surprises and that I'd definitely get some surprises when I awoke Christmas morning. They were good times.
When I was old enough to know the "secret" of Santa, I still enjoyed participating in all the traditions while not ruining the surprise for my younger sister. But Christmas really started to loose it’s luster for my family when my Grandmother died when I was about 12. So we'd still decorate the tree, and we'd make some cookies, but none of the energy was there. It eventually just started to become like any other day, except when I woke up I got a bunch of presents. This feeling got worse as my mom would actually end up in the hospital several Christmases in a row and I was left alone with my grandfather. I could have gone with my sister to my stepfamilies for Christmas, but that didn’t feel like Christmas and I stopped getting into the spirit.
One year when I was about 15 or 16, while my grandfather was sleeping on the couch, I grabbed my walkman, found the local channel playing Christmas music, put on some very warm clothes and went out for a walk on Christmas Eve to look at the Christmas decorations. I sang the songs to myself and I got to take a long look at the efforts that others families put into showing their Christmas spirit. Even though I froze my butt off, it was a really fun experience. It was like caroling for the intensely shy, but it definitely got me in the Christmas spirit.
The following year I had a car at Christmas and I was able to drive around, which allowed me to hit a much wider area of houses and I was able to sing along out loud to the carols the way I did when my grandmother was alive. At first, I used to get a little jealous because driving around on Christmas Eve, you get to see not only the decorations, but you get to see other families and friends gathering around like we used to at my grandmothers house. Fortunately for me, I started dating Joanna around Christmas time and we each shared in a couple of traditions, I went with her and her Dad to Christmas Eve service at his church and she came with me for my Christmas Eve caroling drive. I don't know if it's a tradition that Joanna enjoys or not, but she's been doing it with me for the last 15 Christmases, so I thank her for that. We now bring Michael along and sing and sometimes have hot chocolate and go oooh and aaah at some of the truly great decorations. It's one of the things that makes Christmas feel like Christmas for me. To truly get into the spirit, I need to see Ralphie in a Christmas Story, I need to hear Nat King Cole sing the Christmas Song, and I need to drive around and look at Christmas lights while singing along badly to Christmas Carols. So if you see a car moving slowly through your neighborhood and stopping every couple of houses, don’t worry that your house is being staked out like in Home Alone, it’s probably just me and my merry bunch of modern day carolers enjoying your decorations!