Sunday, December 09, 2007

Christmas Past

A small portion of the huge number of gifts under our tree in the past.

(Note: About 5 years ago, I had my sister send me all of our family photos and I scanned them in and burned them to CDs. I know family photos are boring to those who aren't members of the pictured families and that's understandable, but I'm going to stroll down memory lane alone even if no one else wants to come along with me. )

Despite the fact that my family was relatively poor, every Christmas I remember was a huge blow-out of gifts. My mother always went overboard and almost always went into big debt. I remember her taking out loans and putting items on lay-away months ahead of time. When I was a very young kid, I didn't know or think about the money aspect and my mother didn't share it with us until I was around 12 years old. At that point in time, the lavishness of our Christmas and the toll it took on the family finances complicated my enjoyment of the holiday. By the time I was an adult, I couldn't separate the presence of a plethora of packages from the fact that it represented my mothers shop-aholic nature.

Before I was old enough to know the financial flip-side of the gift-filled holidays we had, Christmas was an absolutely magical time where every wish we had seemed to come true. I think that my sister and I got the bikes pictured above when I was 6 and she was 8. That'd put the year of this particular Christmas around 1970 (but I'm not sure).

This is my sister (on the right) and I amongst a cornucopia of toys and a lot of discarded wrapping paper. One of those items is a generic version of an Easy Bake Oven. The box between us says "magic cool oven set". I guess that using a light bulb to cook tiny cakes must have seemed like "magic" to kids. I remember using up all the kid-size boxes of cake mix and then finding that my mother couldn't afford to buy us more so we'd try to adapt regular recipes but it never worked particularly well. When I discussed this picture with my sister, she said she loved that oven and used it constantly until it broke.

The funny thing is that I don't recall those bikes much at all except for a vague recollection of learning to ride by removing the training wheels on the smaller one that was mine. I only remember the oven in terms of not being able to use it anymore. The thing I loved the most and recall the most clearly, oddly enough, is the tall, plastic poodle which you can see the back of in this picture. I think it was full of bubble bath and could be used as a coin bank by cutting a slit in a slot in the back when the bottle was empty. I remember that there were two of them (one for each of us) and one was pink. It was incredibly cheap, but I really liked it.

The picture above was taken at the same Christmas picture with the bikes. Most kids would probably get the bikes and a few little things or the oven and a few little things, but we got it all. For us, Christmas was like one of those movies where a poor kid miraculously walks into a room full of every delight he could want at the end of the movie. It was quite spectacular. Looking back at these pictures helps me remember just how magic Christmas could be for a child.


mjgolli said...

Fond Christmas memories! I, too, would get vast quantities of gifts. My parents would go into debt, as well as my grandparents, since I was the only child/grandchild.

After I aged, and the meaning of Christmas became clearer, I began to purposefully NOT issue any gift lists. To this day my mother insists on getting a list from me, and I tend to put it off. Her nagging gets to me, so I usually put together an extravagant list...peppered with BMWs, flat-screen TVs and beautiful supermodels. I insist that they need not get me anything at all, and I have everything I need or could want, and just want to be with them and eat well.

While my actual gifts tend to be clothing and practical items, sometimes I get a big surprise. Last year they got me a 40" LCD high-def television. I didn't want it, nor expect it, but they did get a good deal...and I'm not going to turn my nose up at it. I forbade them from anything so extravagant this year, but I have no control over them.

That is the tendency of parents, I think. They work so hard during the year to put food on the table and keep a roof over their/our heads, and to keep the lights on that they cannot often give their children the things they want or what their parents would like them to have. Christmas is the perfect excuse for this kind of extravagance. I think most parents love to see the look on their children's faces when they get what they want. Especially if those children have had to do without throughout the year.

It is just unfortunate that parents have to go deep in debt to make Christmas a happy one.

tornados28 said...

Those are nice pictures. I too remember a huge pile of gifts under the tree when I was little and I loved to lie next to the tree staring at the gifts and the ornaments.

Shari said...

mjgolli: Your points are well made about parents, but, honestly, my mother has a shopping problem that persists to this day (at one point, she had tens of thousands of dollars in debt she hid from my family on a credit card they didn't know she had - my sister eventually took and destroyed all her cards but one). When we got older and didn't want so much stuff, she'd just buy things she had a passing interest in for herself or buy items from herself from her toy party kit. It didn't matter how much we wanted at that time. All that mattered is that she got to shop.

Your point is, however, well-taken and understood. Even when parents are being imprudent, they often do so to make their kids happy.

tornados28: Just that one sentence of yours brought back really nice memories. :-) I loved the tree and the lights. To this day, it's my favorite part of Christmas.

Thanks to both of you for taking the time to comment.