My mind is a hodgepodge of memories around the holidays – some joyous others sad. Although you wish for your days to be merry and bright, life does not take a vacation over the holidays. When you are very young, you experience nothing but euphoria over the holidays – Santa Claus, holiday parties, presents under the tree, beautiful decorations, snow falling – the list goes on and on. As you get older those memories are still vivid, but they are tempered by years of experience, things that have changed and people who are now longer with you.
I have a very vivid memory of watching television with my father on Christmas Eve. Every year we would sit and watch Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye sing about following the “old man wherever he wants to go…” and watch how Bing and Danny singlehandedly save General Waverly and his Inn. You guessed it – the movie was White Christmas. Every year we would watch it. Maybe we would drink hot chocolate, maybe not, sometimes I would go to bed immediately afterwards and other times I would stay up and go to midnight mass. But every year father and daughter would sit together and watch White Christmas, a precious holiday memory.
My father’s favorite Christmas song was The Christmas Waltz. We had a big band album that had a fabulous version of that song and every year my dad would play it and ask me to sing along with it. He always seemed to do that when I was making cookies. My dad felt that song typified the spirit of the season and he would get this huge grin in his face when I would sing it – another precious holiday memory.
Although we had our tradition of going downtown to shop on the first Saturday of December, there was always at least one more shopping trip my parents and I did together. Every year on that trip they would ask me what I really wanted for Christmas. Sometimes I knew exactly what it was, other times I needed to be inspired by what I saw. I have to admit I was spoiled. Anytime I asked for something, I got it. From clothes to housewares, to electronics – my parents always gave me a special gift or gifts at Christmas. Years and years of hugging them in the stores, thanking them for the gifts, smiling and laughing – feeling such joy – another precious holiday memory.
Then there was Christmas morning. When we were very young we always got up before our parents – after all we couldn’t wait to see what Santa brought. As we got older the roles reversed and my dad would get up first, sneak into the living room and put on Mitch Miller’s rendition of Joy to the World. The song starts out with church bells gloriously ringing and then a choir joins in singing the song. I can still hear those bells ringing in my mind – the signal to get up, gather around the tree, find joy in each other’s company and celebrate the best day of the year – another precious holiday memory.
So many memories over so many years. My dad died in 1998, my mom in 2006. I miss them both every single day and I know both of them would want me to continue to have joyous holidays. Sometimes easier said than done. But I try to make new memories and traditions to honor them and all that they gave to me. Every year since I’ve lived in Colorado I make a donation to a dinner at Denver’s Children’s hospital. A friend’s son was diagnosed with leukemia over the holidays several years ago. He is now cancer free but every year his family brings a holiday meal to the hospital on Christmas Eve to feed the parents who are going through a similar experience. I bake a ham and make a huge plate of Christmas cookies to help them, in a small way, get through the terrible time they are facing. I do this to honor my mom. To honor my dad, I donate to the Salvation Army – one of his favorite charities. I also do holiday music postings every year on Facebook in his memory. My dad was a music fanatic and he gave me my love of music. He would have gotten a kick out of seeing what song I would post every day. Just a few little things done in the spirit of keeping my parents alive over the holidays. It wouldn’t be the holidays if I couldn’t share them with my parents, the two people who created so many magical times and memories for me.
We are now in the home stretch of the 2011 holiday season. The next week will be frenetic and in that frenzy many new Christmas memories will be made. Memories that will last a lifetime, precious memories both happy and sad. I would not change any of mine for the world. Thank you mom and dad for having made past Christmases bright and for creating the memories that continue to light the way. And in the spirit of what you created, I share with all of you the song that my dad played to wake us up every Christmas morning – Mitch Miller’s Joy to the World.