Days like today always have me looking back to special moments of my life.
Christmas Eve, in particular, is a day fraught with whispers from the past.
If only the Ghosts from these Christmases past could visit us!
Still, their memories are so vivid fifty and sixty years later.
Decorating the tree with my mother’s guidance making sure I didn’t just toss the tinsel onto the nearest branches.
Getting ready to decorate a beautiful real tree with my brother Michael but was forestalled by a phone call to my father alerting him that an artificial tree was on its way, and then being directed to open the living room window for an early dispatch of our soon to be, but never quite making it into a beautifully decorated real tree.
Whoever threw out a real tree on Christmas Eve?
Then there were the years when I got older, and we started exchanging gifts on Christmas Eve.
Midnight Mass was often one of our usual Christmas Eve rituals that were actually held at Midnight.
Two, in particular, Midnight Masses remain joyful memories.
In 1970 a bunch of the guys, some of whom were home from college, collected as we usually did at Al’s Wine and Liquors for our holiday libations. However, since the store would be closing long before Midnight, we made our way to PJ’s house, our alternate meeting place.
At PJs, we made short shrift of our Al’s Wine and Liquors purchases and proceeded to sing along to the rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar.
This, plus the spirits we consumed, put the gathering in a festive mood, making them more receptive to my suggestion to go to Midnight Mass, where we rejoiced and sang hymns and carols with gusto and reverence. Afterward, we returned to our homes and continued the celebration with our families.
In 1971, I started going out with Eileen, and we decided to attend Midnight Mass. The idea caught on, and the rest of her family joined us, and after our religious obligation was satisfied, we returned to her house for a Post Midnight Mass Breakfast.
There’s something about eating breakfast at two in the morning while watching Scrooge as his own Ghosts haunt him.
Then there were the many Christmas Eves with our children and going to Midnight Mass at six PM in East Quogue.
But one Christmas Eve in those years was truly miraculous.
When Sean was four, he had a bad cold aggravated by asthma.
We had an extremely busy GP who hardly had time for us, but he could prescribe the appropriate medication. However, Sean could not tolerate the drug, became sick to his stomach, and lost all benefits the drug was supposed to provide.
Eileen then called a pediatrician who she knew from the hospital. He said to meet him in the Emergency Room, which we did.
Sean was admitted and put on an IV containing the same medication previously prescribed. Because it was slowly administered, he was able to tolerate it.
The bad news was Sean had to spend Christmas Eve in the hospital.
That afternoon Santa appeared and wanted to make our little boy happy. Instead of greeting the jolly elf with open arms, we shouted at him to stay out!
We explained that we weren’t telling Sean that today was Christmas Eve or that tomorrow was Christmas. We would just reset the calendar and celebrate the holiday one day later.
We then settled in, and while Sean was watching television, there was a commercial for a particular toy that elicited an “I hope Santa brings me that ” comment from Sean. Eileen gave me the eye that, indeed, Santa was unable to fulfill this hope.
As I was going to be visiting a local McDonalds for Sean’s dinner, I said I would visit the two toy stores in town just on the chance that one of them would have the toy.
With Happy Meal in hand, I proceeded to the toy stores.
The first store had already closed as it was nearing five pm.
I went to the second and rejoiced that the store was still open.
Realizing that time was short, I went straight to the cash register to ask the young sales clerk if the store carried this particular toy. I was stunned to hear her say that it was right behind me.
I nearly jumped for joy and started to tell the young lady why this was such a great thing to find. I continued my tale as I pulled my Mastercard out of my wallet.
Seeing my card, the young lady informed me they didn’t accept credit cards.
I was dumbfounded. I had all my cash back with Eileen in the hospital, but I could never get there and back before the store closed.
My young sales clerk was upset, too, and we were overheard by someone in the back of the store.
I looked up and saw an elderly woman slowly make her way to the register where we were standing. She asked what the problem was, and the clerk explained that I really wanted this toy for his son in the hospital but that I only had a credit card.
It was at this point that my Christmas Eve Miracle occurred.
“We can just bill him.”
“You can just bill me,” I refrained.
The woman explained, “Give us your name and address, and we will send you a bill, and you can send a check when you receive it.”
I did as advised and made my way back to the hospital with the toy that would make my son’s Christmas and a tale that I love to share every Christmas Eve.
It’s the memories we had as young kids.
It’s the memories we had as young parents making memories for our children.
It’s the memories we have of our grandchildren as they stand in awe of the Christmas tree and the gifts that will greet them on Christmas Day.
The great thing about Christmas Eve is that it really is the start of a forty-eight-hour celebration that began over two thousand years ago in a little town known as Bethlehem.
Merry Christmas, everybody.