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Averyt: Christmas Present

12/23/10 7:55AM By Anne Averyt
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(HOST) Holidays are gaily wrapped in memories.  But as commentator Anne Averyt points out, sometimes those memories come from unexpected moments - even the occasional catastrophe that lives on in family lore.

(AVERYT) Christmas in the middle of the last century - what a frightening way to describe my childhood holiday.  It was the1950s, the era of Slinky and pink aluminum Christmas trees, a time warp before microchips ruled the world, when the only movement under the tree was a Lionel train that was off the track more than it was on.

My Christmas Past arrived with Santa in the Thanksgiving Day parade and the fat Sears Roebuck catalogue in the mail.  That marvel of merchandizing was called the Wish Book, and it stirred high excitement, causing visions of far more than sugar plums to dance in children’s heads.

Early December brought the unveiling of extravagant department store window displays.  Gone were the manikins and in was glitter and glamour, as Gimbels tried to out-glitz store rival Lits, and neither was able to compete with Wanamakers.

At least that’s how it was in Philadelphia.   

And why, you may ask, should anyone care about my stories of Christmas Past?  My sons raise the same question with their eyebrows and a groan.  Maybe it’s that Christmas is the calendar keeping track of our lives, the red Salvation Army kettle of memories.  I don’t remember much about the first day of kindergarten, but I do remember that hard rubber doll with the fixed expression of innocence I received one Christmas morning.  And the sidewalk roller skates a few Christmases later; the year of my fingerprint spy kit; and especially the Christmas morning excitement of receiving T.S. Eliot’s Collected Poems when I was 18.  I still have that gift, and also the memories of my sons’ Hot Cycle Christmas and the year of Peter S. Beagle, our first dog, and our first Christmas in Vermont.

Christmas is a magical memory machine.  We crank it up and ask for joy and good cheer.  It would be easy to say that my Christmas Past was a simpler, better time - which is what, 50 years from now, my children will probably be telling their children.  It’s the myth we all want to believe.  We don’t want to dwell on the inevitable Christmas disappointments, the sadness the season can bring.  We want to keep alive dreams of sleighs filled with toys and snowmen that dance, so we work hard to create memories that will overflow the chimney stockings of Christmas future.

But there’s a funny thing about memories.  The best ones aren’t always those at which we’ve worked the hardest.  Often, they’re the ones we stumble upon, the ones we pick up along the way without intending to.  The year our cat managed to topple the tree twice has become one of our family’s favorite holiday tales.  It’s in this morning of the present that we really find the future memories of Christmas past.  May your Christmas be filled with wonder and memories - intended or not.
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