Christmas Was Magic
When I was a small child, my parents would put up the tree Christmas Eve and hang the stockings. So when I went to bed, everything was empty and barren. Coming down the stairs Christmas morning, the tree would be lit up and filled with decorations, candy canes and tinsel. Presents were piled high all around the tree and the stockings were filled, sometimes overflowing. A toy train would be chugging along, tooting its horn as it circled the tree on its metal tracks. It was easy to believe in Santa. The funny thing is I don’t remember any one specific gift that I received as a child, it was the tree that was so
incredibly magical for me.
This was a cherished tradition, passed along from my mother’s family. It would have been wonderful if my children could have experienced this kind of magic, but with marriage comes compromise and their father wanted the tree up early and decorated so that he could enjoy it before Christmas. My parents enjoyed the tree well after Christmas, one year it was still up right before Easter. At that point, it was pretty much a fire hazard.
My children probably wouldn’t have relished the contents of my stocking. Every year there would be a quarter in the toe, an orange and the filling would be mixed nuts in the shell. There would be new socks and a plastic candy cane filled with chocolate candies, but that was it. For me, it was perfect. My kids, they would probably have considered it child neglect.
My favorite Christmas was when I found a twenty-dollar bill at church a couple weeks before the holiday. No one claimed it so the minister gave it to me. That was a lot of money back then and I was able to buy my two older brothers, three older sisters and my parents all presents that year. Watching them open my gifts filled me with such joy. Yes, that was the best Christmas of all.
The Christmas Bicycle
For as long as I can remember, opening Christmas presents at the Ryan home occurred on Christmas Eve. Santa Claus came in from the basement. Odd, don’t you think? Of course, we didn’t have a fireplace. My cousin made fun of us because their house had a fireplace and Santa could come in through the dirty old chimney.
The big mystery on Christmas Eve was “who is playing Santa this year.” It began with John Kenney and ended with Tom Meehan and a few other guys in between. I always waited to see Santa lift his faux cotton beard to take a shot of whiskey that he was offered in the kitchen, out of sight from the kids. I spotted this tradition by accident.
One year, as the presents were being brought up from the basement, I noticed a gift that was too large for wrapping paper. It was a red and white 28-inch bicycle. That had to be mine. I focused on nothing more than that bicycle, waiting in unbridled anticipation of whose name would be called when that present was handed out. The owner of that bicycle was the last name called – Marty.
The bicycle was leaning against the cupboard in the kitchen by the portal leading to the living room, where everyone was gathered. That was the first time I had seen the whiskey tradition. It was my annual ritual from that Christmas Eve until I left home.
But the bike. What a beautiful bicycle it was. The frame consisted of three small, curved bars rather than the solid straight bar most bicycles had of that time. The handlebars were innovative as well. It was sleek. I couldn’t wait to get on it and ride.
I was into assembling model car and trucks at the time, so I had paint for plastic models. Because I couldn’t ride the bike in the winter, I brought it to the basement and carefully painted white stripes on every part of the red bike that made up the frame. When finished, it looked like a peppermint cane. My mom was not pleased. But, hey! It’s my bike! Even though I didn’t believe in Santa Claus, this bike was between me and Santa; mom had nothing to do with it.
I had that bike until I was old enough to drive a car. From the first warm day in late winter to the first cold day in early winter, I was on that bike. It had to be the best Christmas present a boy could want. That boy was me!