Growing up in a middle class family, I still always had the best holiday experiences. My parents never let an Easter go by without a basket of goodies, a Valentine’s Day pass without a heart-shaped box of chocolates, or a Thanksgiving dinner begin without first reminding my siblings and I to appreciate the homemade spread of food before us. Christmas was no exception.
With modest means, my parents sought to provide my brother, sister, and I with the things that we wanted on December 25, even though, as young kids, we tried not to ask for expensive toys, pricey electronics, and fashionable clothes. As we grew older, our mindsets evolved into what wishes we could fulfill from our parents’ lists and focused less on what we might find for ourselves under the Christmas tree.
My parents used pennies to stretch our family budget, and one year, money was especially tight. My siblings and I knew that Christmas would reflect that downturn, and I knew that I had to take matters into my own hands.
I’ll never forget that year when, with a teenager’s meager salary from working nights at the local library, I decided to hand-make all of the Christmas presents that I would give to my family. I stuffed an old pair of panty hose to create a doll with sewn-on button eyes for my baby brother. I sketched out and embroidered Disney characters for every letter of the alphabet onto fabric squares and then stitched them all together into a quilt for my mom. I drew a portrait of my dad, one that wasn’t entirely accurate and crudely constructed with my non-artist’s hand, and I made a mix tape for my sister of all her favorite songs.
On Christmas morning, with tears in their eyes, my parents told us that Christmas is not so much a holiday for opening gifts but rather a celebration of life and love. I believed that then, and I still believe it now. Although that Christmas was different from all the others, I will always recall how honored I felt to be a part of a family that cared more about the time we have with each other than about material items from department stores.
Living in these difficult economic times now makes me remember that special Christmas often. I try to carry on the memory of that time by making some of the gifts that “Santa” brings for my own four-year old daughter. I realize the importance of the little moments spent with the people that I love, over the shiny wrapped gifts tucked snugly around the tree skirt.
My father passed away in 2009, just a few months before Christmas, and now his presence during the holiday is sorely missed. I will cherish all of the holidays that came before, with the memory of exactly what Christmas means to my family always a part of my life.