Looking back upon the Christmases I’ve known, a few stand out prominently from all the rest. This doesn’t mean those Christmases were necessarily the most enjoyable, only that they were more memorable.
The last year I believed in Santa Claus, I was 7 or 8 years old. That Christmas Eve, I was so flushed with excitement and visions of elves and magic and morning presents under the tree, sleep was more or less impossible, which accounted for my getting up 15 or 20 minutes after I’d gone to bed. I allegedly wanted a glass of water, but that was just an excuse to check the backyard for reindeer.
Lo and behold, old St. Nick had already come and gone, leaving his bountiful wonders behind! Gee whiz, Dad, didn’t you see him?
“Well, not exactly,” he explained. “But I thought I heard something in the living room.”
After an awesome surprise like that, there was no going back to bed. So I experienced the splendid excitement of Christmas morning on Christmas Eve with both my parents. (It was quite unusual for my father to witness such frenzied happiness because he drove a milk route every morning and was always gone on Christmas mornings.) The family finances must have been especially lucrative that year because there were a large number of gifts.
But that was nothing compared to the first Christmas I spent with my ex-wife’s family. Admittedly, it was a large family and my ex seemed intent on buying presents, however small, inexpensive or silly, for everyone. Consequently, she and her mother ended up with an entire guest bedroom in the family home filled with gifts. I’d never seen so many presents outside of Macy’s and I found myself wondering what kind of moneyed, materialistic windfall I’d stumbled into.
Then there was the first Christmas I spent in New Orleans, which was memorable not because of any gifts or other holiday traditions. At the time, I was making a ridiculous amount of money and living in a gated community with a backyard pool, where I’d often swim on weekends and occasionally take a quick dip before going to work. It was no different Christmas morning and that’s what made this particular Christmas unique. Somehow, swimming on Christmas seemed blasphemous. Thereafter, I clearly understood the disillusionment and yearnings of Irving Berlin and made a solemn oath never to spend another Christmas in warm climates.
Which accounts for my ex and I spending the next Christmas in New York City. If you haven’t visited Manhattan during the holidays, you’ve probably seen TV specials from Rockefeller Center, especially the lighting of the famous tree – which, I admit, is always kind of hokey – or glimpsed views of the place on the evening news. But to actually stroll through the colorful decorations and the traditional music that surround the ice rink and line the corridor toward St. Patrick Cathedral is truly a wonderful and mind-boggling experience. Strange as it may seem, on Christmas Eve, the Center Lounge was open until 10 p.m. and there wasn’t a better place anywhere in the city to absorb the holiday magic over a hot buttered rum.
Closer to home, there was my first Christmas in a downtown Seattle hotel. Joyce and I had spent the afternoon shopping and the evening strolling through the twinkling lights along Firth Avenue, snacking on roasted chestnuts and enjoying a splendid dinner between drinks in any number of cozy, little clubs. Then, instead of disrupting our tranquil mood by driving home, we simply crashed in the Mayflower.
If you can afford the tariff in these lean financial times, such an excursion is highly recommended.