Sunday, December 09, 2007

Christmas Traditions

My earliest memories of family Christmas traditions are clear; as if they were only yesterday, an advantage to never having grown up. My folks would have us write a letter to Santa which would include a list of items we thought we might want him to bring. The lists were placed on a plate along with some cookies, usually ginger bread, and either a glass of milk or a bottle of Coke. This was done close to Thanksgiving or the first part of December.

We were told that Santa would visit during the night to read the letters. One way to know he’d been by our house was that he’d eat the cookies and drink the milk or Coke, leaving the empty bottle or glass that contained the milk. The best part was seeing the other evidence, the charred remains of our letters which would be left on the empty plate. We were told that Santa’s mittens were magical and caused the letters to be incinerated as soon as they’d been read. There would be a slight discoloration on the white china, tar left from where the paper burned on the dish.

On Christmas Eve my folks had Oyster Stew, one tradition which I will not impose on my children. I couldn’t look at the stuff, a milky mess with chunks of oyster floating in pools of oily butter. It was the kind of torture that only a parent could dream up. I was able to convince them that tomato soup was a permissible substitute and didn’t have to gag on the oyster stew.

We went as a family to pick out a Christmas tree, the colder and wetter the weather the better it seemed. It didn’t matter if the tree wasn’t perfect in shape as any deficient part would be on the back side where the corners of the walls would mask imperfections. When we were very young the tree was placed in the living room without having been decorated on Christmas Eve. We all had to go to sleep so that Santa and his helpers would come; put lights, ornaments and tinsel along with any toys so that on Christmas morning we would be surprised by the magic which had taken place. It was a big deal for Dad to go into the living room in advance of us; his plugging in the cord so the lights would be on when we entered to see the tree all decorated for the first time.

We also had individual stockings that would magically appear on the end of our beds sometime after we’d gone to sleep. They would be from Dad’s sock drawer and a piece of twine provided the anchor. In the dark of early morning when we’d awaken, that was the first evidence of Santa’s visit that we would search for. There was always some possibility that the lumpy items inside the stocking were coal; a just reward for having been a disobedient child, in the dark it made perfect sense as I took inventory of the past years events.

In my teenage years I can remember hearing Dad coming down the hall with the intent of quietly entering my room to leave a stocking. I heard the bulky mass as it clunked against the end of my bed and couldn’t resist, “Goodnight, Santa”. Dad stumbled mentally as he formed his reply, “Ahhh, Goodnight, Son”.

The last Christmas tradition to share this go around had to do with police work. Many years ago I had the pleasure of training rookies on night shift for the Houston Police Department. I posted this on my blog a couple of years ago and called it, The Night Before Christmas, GOA. For all you police enthusiasts, GOA means Gone On Arrival. This time of year working night shift as a training officer I would save Clement C. Moore’s classic bedtime story for my probationary police officers. I had it printed out as an assignment to be completed as part of the training.

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