I have many wonderful Christmas memories but by far the memory that is still the most vivid to me occurred when I was about twelve and felt as every child around that age that I was grown-up. In my case that feeling led me to wanting to throw a surprise anniversary dinner for my parents on Christmas Eve. .
When I was growing up in mid Michigan in the fifties and sixties it seemed winter began on the first of November. As we sat in school learning a song that spoke of going to grandfather’s house for Thanksgiving riding on a sleigh, we could look outside into the gray skies and see snow falling.
It was with this in mind that as one particular Christmas rolled around, warmer than any other Christmas I could remember, that I started cajoling my parents into spending Christmas at our cottage.
The cottage wasn’t far from our home in town, but was a world away in feeling: surrounded by trees and overlooking a frozen lake that was usually a kaleidoscope of activity; with bonfires, ice fishing sheds, children ice skating and playing hockey on rinks shoveled in front of various houses creating a patchwork of ice and snow.
There was of course one problem with my idea, the cottage was built for summers, not our cold Michigan winters. In early fall my father had drained the water pipes and of course turned the heat off. Then there was the fact that my parents each had a store to contend with, Since we sold furniture and appliances the days before Christmas were extremely busy.
I persevered, promising that I would handle all the details of the Christmas celebration; they had only to drop me at the house Christmas eve day with the heat and water turned on. I would clean the house and have everything ready when they arrived at the cottage. After much discussion of what we would need to keep warm in a house that had heat in only one room, and just what we would be able to haul out, they finally agreed.
Christmas Eve morning arrived and I was dropped off at our cottage. The weather that had been in the twenties with snow falling daily had changed a few days before with temperatures in the forties. The result of this was instead of the pristine white snow I had envisioned we had brown mud with a foggy drizzle. Even so nothing could dampen my enthusiasm to be in the country.
My day went quickly cleaning and getting things ready for my parents’ arrival. I no longer remember exactly what I did that day, I’m sure there was no tree to decorate, but all these years later when I think about that day I still get the same warm glow that I had getting ready for that Christmas, and more importantly for my parents anniversary that fell on Christmas Eve.
I did surprise my folks when they got home. I remember that we had a good dinner and that they enjoyed their anniversary surprise. Since there was not a lot to do at night in the cottage except stay warm, we went to bed early.
I woke bright and early Christmas morning to see the world outside our house turned into a fairy land with the newly fallen snow glistening and the trees standing like sparkling sentries above it all.
The result of that holiday we spent at our cottage is the knowledge that I have carried with me all these years, that in celebrating Christmas, the important things are not the decorations, or the food, but rather the people you spend it with.