Everyone must have memories of Christmas. It can be thrilling for children, though not necessarily. I think adults tend to find it considerably less so. For them, Christmas can be a time of stress, not only in trying to make it wonderful for children, but in trying to enjoy it themselves. Expectations are so high that they can cause depression when circumstances don’t match up.

Cold is part of the season in North America and Europe. And in this country, so is the terrible emphasis on buying gifts for everyone in the family or friendly circle. Some obsess over paying as much as possible for gifts. Toy manufacturers enable by coming up with ever more elaborate and expensive toys. And a great many of them are plastic, to my chagrin (and anyone else with environmental concerns).

But who can blame children for being interested in toys? Complicated and environmentally destructive toys can be excluded, if parents are strong-minded enough, though. A toy doesn’t have to be complex to be fascinating.

I had a plastic submarine in which we put baking powder (or maybe soda). That made it submerge and come back up. Pretty neat for a child.

Another was a rocket in which I put water and pumped the pressure up so it would fly. It wasn’t too well constructed, so I had to keep making adjustments to make it fly, before it just wouldn’t anymore.

These were pretty simple toys, not even requiring batteries, unlike many today. A lot cheaper too, I imagine.

Part of Christmas was either driving to my uncle’s, where we would have turkey with all the fixings. After dinner we might play games or watch TV (my uncle’s family had TV; we didn’t). After my grandmother moved in with us my uncle’s family usually came to our house, and after dinner she would play Messiah choruses on the piano, and we would sing. That was my first exposure to both the Messiah and choral singing, and I’ve enjoyed both since.

As an adult I learned to care less about Christmas, during which I’ve often worked. When you work in a nursing home the patients still need care no matter what day it is, and holidays often pay better, something important if you have a family to support. I’ve been more interested in getting good gifts for others than receiving gifts myself. I can buy gifts for myself; I don’t need others (who often aren’t that aware of my tastes) to do it for me.

This year the best gift I received wasn’t a surprise: my wife got me a book entitled The Silk Roads, which I haven’t yet started, but which promises to be very interesting. Like probably many other Americans I know less about Asian history than European, and the Silk Road(s) takes in a lot of it. I don’t know how early that trade began, but at least as early as the Roman Empire.

Otherwise, my attention was on getting gifts for my grandchildren. I was lucky this year. My wife and I happened to be shopping for something for her when I found gifts in the store I thought my grandchildren would like. They seemed to when they got them. We’ll see if that lasts.

Others seemed to like what I got them too, even if they weren’t totally enthusiastic.

The other things I enjoyed about the day itself were the dinner, which was delicious. I overate to my heart’s content: turkey, dressing, gravy, broiled (I think) potatoes, brussels sprouts, and cranberry sauce. I forgot to fix cranberry relish that we could have taken out of town with us, unfortunately, so I’ll have to do it next year (I’m working over the weekend, so won’t make the effort to do it then).

I did let the holiday go by without playing the old Trapp Family Christmas album we grew up on with additions on the other side of the tape: Corelli’s Christmas Concerto (an obvious one), a Mozart oboe quartet, and a Vivaldi concerto for two trumpets, which I’ve associated with Christmas a long time. I particularly like the Trapp Family album because it has almost none of the overplayed and sung Christmas carols I got tired of even before I became an adult. The Trapp Family sang Latin, French, Spanish, and German songs (at least!) that I only get to hear because of that album, and once a year at most. I feel lucky to be in a choir where most of the Christmas songs were unfamiliar, and really nice, too. Makes singing fun.

I had also hoped to attend a Messiah sing-along, but it happened to be the night before we were headed out of town, so it didn’t seem like a good idea. Maybe next year. I began by following my uncle in singing the Hallelujah Chorus, then later sang in each of the other choruses (I’m pretty sure). I don’t know any other oratorios, but the Messiah stands out because it’s not only exhilarating, but most of it is pretty easy to sing. By the time Handel wrote it he had long experience in writing opera. When opera went out of style he turned to oratorios, writing thirteen of them, but the Messiah was the first, and remains the best known.

Now we get to the dull uncomfortable part of winter. I’ve never cared much for cold, and don’t feel particularly more tolerant as I age. I just hope for no problems at home or with cars. I want to start riding my bicycle earlier next year.


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