December is always a month wrapped in memory and beribboned in tradition. We may not say so out loud, but most of us know we deck the halls in more than holly. We deck them in the time-honored ways of our own pasts, hearts full of our family and friends both present and missing. We deck them in celebration not only of the gifts to come, but of the gift of love, of life, of things that can be counted on and considered blessings. The things that last, long after the spirit of Christmas 2012 has become a memory.
Of course, every holiday season—every year, it seems—turns to memory much too fast. We get lost in the hustle and bustle, the preparation and planning, and then in an instant it’s over, like a long-awaited toy that falls unwrapped and forgotten on the living room floor. That’s why I try my best to catch the holiday spirit as soon after Thanksgiving as possible. After all, time is short, and who wants to give up the opportunity to spend lots of money, smile at strangers and whistle “We Need A Little Christmas” outside a production of Mame?
I guess catching the spirit is easier when you’re a child (sorta like a cold, I guess—you just haven’t built up immunity yet). Of course, children have a bevy of grown-ups—from parents to teachers right up to Old Saint Nick himself—working on their behalf to assure that holiday magic is real.
Bright lights, big city
In my case, one of those adults would have to be my grandmother. Granny would not allow a Christmas season to go by without herding the four of us to “The Big City” to drink in the sights and sounds. My grandmother never drove, but she didn’t hesitate to take her four properly bundled grandchildren—at one point, all under 10—on a bus from our small town to the big, brightly lit city of Philadelphia.
Once we hit the streets (which, of course, were always paved with the appropriate amount of soot-blackened snowdrifts), we would head to a huge department store for our annual Breakfast With Santa Claus. From there, we’d take an elevator ride (which was a treat in itself, crowded into that ornate little room while feeling those scrambled eggs drop to the pit of our stomachs) to the eighth floor, to visit the store’s Toyland. We’d check out the displays from the holiday monorail, making mental notes for our personal wish lists.
From there, we’d hike to the old Lit Brothers, where we traveled back in time to the Colonial Village, an almost life-sized diorama of the city in its early days. There’d be a one-room schoolhouse, a candle maker’s shop, and a family celebrating a holiday dinner circa 1790 or so. The village was beautifully and traditionally decorated complete with cottony snow. It was hard to trek past the twenty or so “buildings” and not feel a part of that tradition, of Christmases handed down over generations.
Finally, another department store, where we’d sit by the giant eagle and gaze up at the light show. A magical organ would play holiday tunes, piping in “The Nutcracker Suite” or Rudolph, while animated light creatures danced (or, in reality, blinked on and off in time). Then my grandmother would lead us back to the street to the “King of Pizza,” where we’d fill up on slices before catching a bus back home.
Now, I know a lot has changed since then. The Colonial Village has long been dismantled, and most of the stores I remember have changed hands and names over the years. Still, I can’t help but think that it wasn’t the actual places that mattered. Little money was spent on these trips—just enough for our meals and the bus ride—but the memory they left us remains priceless.
There are a handful of memory-making days until Christmas. But I think we have time enough to revive old tradition or start a new one. After all, there’s no better way to catch the spirit than to share it.