It's Christmas! Be Awed!

Some say, its the simple things in life that leave the greatest impression, and I'm inclined to believe that's true, for the older I get, the less impressed I am by showy displays of grandiosity, and the more appreciative I am of the humble, and modest.  Thankfully, each Christmas I'm reminded, that with a little effort, I can still see the world through the eyes of the child I once was, and be awed.  

My grandparents were simple, working class people, who I'm sure, never gave a hoot about impressing the neighbors.  Aside from my grandfather's flower gardening, and Grandma's baking, everything they did, they did out of utility.  I suppose that's why I was so wonderstruck by their home at Christmas.

For a few short weeks each year throughout the 1960s, my grandparents plain, little red brick home, was transfigured, into a vision of silver and blue.  I'll never forget my anticipation as we'd drive the distance from our home out-of-state, arriving long after dark, and well past my bedtime.  I can picture the house today, as clearly as if I were gazing through the frosty windows of my father's Ford Country Squire.

The glow of the cool blue electric candle-lights, bounced off the white aluminum awnings that framed the front windows, illuminating the snow below, so that from the street beyond the hedgerow, the house seemed to shimmer and dance against the night sky.  I was sure it was magic - Christmas magic, that brought the house to life.

I knew that inside the warm, cozy house, my grandparents were waiting - had been waiting - for us to arrive.  I knew there'd be bear hugs, and kisses, my grandmother's rosy-soft cheeks, and my grandfather's accommodating lap.

We entered, as we always did, to my grandfather's deep throated welcome.  Grandma's words often went unspoken, but were easily discerned by the grin on her face. Our greeting took place, as it always did, in the heart of their home, the kitchen.    

Strings of blue lights, framed the living room doorway, flooding the interior with the same hazy-blue-glow found outside.  There were few other decorations to speak of, except for Christmas cards displayed on the wall, a wreath or two, and of course the humble, live, table-top-tree, which occupied the same corner space, year after year.

I'd make a bee-line for the tree, as though to inspect that everything was still there.  The old ornaments that hung from the branches were tarnished, and faded, which made them all the more special to me, for  I imagined my mother, her brothers and sisters, as children, when the balls were shiny and new.  There was no star at the top, but instead, an elongated ornament that slipped over the tip, at the top of the trunk.

The tree was draped in single strands of silver tinsel, each hung with precision, and care.  I thought the tinsel must be the most precious commodity in the world (I was forbidden to touch), for each year, after Christmas, the tree was stripped, and the shiny strands were ceremoniously hung over an ancient piece of cardboard, and packed away for the next year's use.

It didn't seem odd to me at all, that my grandparent's trees never sat on the floor, for on the skirted table-top, just beneath the branches at my shoulder height, sat a tiny, make-believe village.  I supposed my grandparents had planned the placement that way, so my brother and I would have easy access to the leaden cars and trucks, soldiers and buildings.  There were trees and a few bushes, some fencing, a handful of farm animals, and a dry pond, all tired and worn, but to me, they were worth their weight in gold.

I hated to leave my friends in the old village each year, but I was confident they'd be there when I arrived again next Christmas, along with the blue lights, hand-painted ornaments, and vintage tinsel.

The dawn of the new decade, brought forth many changes in my grandparents' household.  As my aunts and uncles married, and began having children, our simple holiday celebrations grew.  New babies in the family, meant that my brother and I were no longer the center of our family's universe.  We'd learn to share, not only our childhood home, but our grandparents' attention, as well.  As small changes were made in tradition, we adjusted.  But nothing prepared me for the heartbreak I'd experience the year our traditionally blue-Christmas, went gold.

A few weeks before, a decision was made, to replace the '40s and '50s era decorations with more stylish, contemporary ornaments.  We arrived, to the glare of garish gold lights in the windows, where the blue bulbs had been.  The table-top tree sported styrofoam balls covered in shiny, gold-and-red thread, red-velveteen ribbons, and gold-garland with miniature red-velveteen balls.  No longer at shoulder-height to the table-top, I dropped to my knees for a view under the tree, and found empty space where the village once stood.  In my eyes, the house was bereft of all that was, and had ever been Christmas.  I didn't recognize a thing.

I ran to the basement in hope of finding the familiar old boxes.  Everything was gone!  Everything, with the exception of two small, clear, tinsel-filled, glass ornaments, which I found in the bottom of a lone box filled with trash.  I remembered them well, as two of my favorites.  What a miracle they'd survived the purge!

I carefully wrapped the little ornaments in Kleenex, and tucked them away for the remainder of that holiday.  I coveted and protected them through the years, until I was old enough to hang them on my own family Christmas tree.

Each year, as I unpack and hang them, I return briefly to that magical time when, as a child, I was so easily awed, by things so simple.  As an adult, I understand, that the lights and decorations themselves were never magic.  It was the people inside the house - my family - and the love we felt for each other that made Christmas magic.

The photo of my family at Christmas, was taken in 1968.  Grandpap took the photo and Grandma was seated out of view, but the little tinsel-draped tree can be seen in the corner.  The other photos are of the tinsel-filled, glass ornaments, as they appear today, on one of my trees.  The little guy at top, is my grandson Richard.


  1. This made me tear up...i felt like I was there too.

  2. beautifully told. and ummm, those red and gold garlands made their way to my parent's tree for many years! I was happy to see them go! LOL Aunt Lynnie's trees were always magical to me- loved how she had TWO! and one had more nostalgic ornaments hanging on it. sweet memories you stir up, karen, so sweet.