Thursday, December 20, 2012

Rudolph, "and Other Christmas Favorites"

This month I listened to albums that haven’t been played in over 25 years. Yes, albums – records – that are scratchy and old and skip a word now and then. I had forgotten how a record player works – gently lowering the needle onto the record, hearing the satisfying scratch that indicates when the last song is over, watching as the arm rises up, then over the record, and over to rest on the armrest with a thump. When I was a kid I would stack more than one record on top, and they would plop down one at a time, the 70’s equivalent of a multi-disc CD player.

The record I’m enjoying this week is “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” and it fills me with the feeling of being a kid in cold and snowy rural Southern Indiana at Christmas, when the air was thick with the excited anticipation of the holidays. The songs were old even back then, recorded in the old-fashioned style of 1950’s singers and choirs. Jimmy Durante sings and narrates the title song, making jokes while having a conversation with Santa. A Lawrence Welk-sounding woman sings “When Santa Claus Gets Your Letter,” and each reindeer introduces himself in “We are the Reindeer who work for Santa Claus.” Even though it has been 30 years, I still remember all the words.

I couldn’t yet read when I first listened to this record, because Mom drew little pictures in ballpoint pen on each side of the record: a little reindeer to show me where to find Jimmy Durante, little bells for Jingle Bells, and a Santa for “I Dreamed that I was Santa Claus.” I must say it was nice for her to let me use the record player at that age.

Nothing brings back the simple warm feeling of Christmas as much as these songs. When I hear other people say they can’t “get into” the season this year, I realize how lucky I am to be able to bring back that feeling so easily. (And how lucky I am to have such warm fuzzy memories to look back on.) Singing together at the piano. Shopping for just the right tree out in the cold grocery parking lot. Cookies in the oven. Making gingerbread houses. Making a gift list. Feeding the birds. Sending Christmas cards. Watching Rudolph and Charlie Brown on TV. Reading to the light of the bright Christmas tree. Wrapping presents. Playing in the snow. Wearing dresses and red tights. Gathering with family, together in a more special way than normal. Feeling part of the bigger picture, knowing kids all over the world were waiting for Santa at just the same time, just like I was.

The feel of all that, captured for me in one album. Not bad.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Santa's Workshop

Our living room looks like Santa’s workshop right now, which is cliché but true. In an effort to save money, I moved my sewing machine in there so I could make Christmas gifts while watching Jude play nearby. It has been fun - I put old Christmas albums on the record player that I haven’t listened to in 25 years, and Jude plays with his trucks and toys, or pulls ornaments off the tree, while I work. It’s very festive.

I wish everyone made each other gifts at this time of year. Even though many people do search for just the right gift to purchase for each friend and family member, most seem like gifts bought because they had to – not because they enjoyed the gift process.

My Mom and my Grandma taught me to enjoy the gift giving process, and I have to say it’s more fun than the anticipation of getting gifts – not because I’m such a goody-goody, but because I was taught that finding just the right thing was fun. And when “just the right thing” was something I made, it was even more perfect.

Every year, Grandma still makes gifts for everyone, even though she is past 80 years old and not as mobile as she used to be. But she will put a basket of yarn next to her, or fabric and thread, and she will create a little something for each person, just because she cares. Homemade things mean so much more than something quickly purchased in a store, don’t you think?

It is our family tradition to take a wacky family photo every Christmas, posing with an item we received as a gift. (This gift is usually put on our heads for the photo, but that’s another story.) In those photos I can see many of the gifts Grandma made through the years – potholders, stuffed animals, vests, sweaters, quilts, crocheted Santas – and in my house those items are still used, still a keepsake from a loving woman and a memory of Christmases past. These homemade gifts bring gift-giving down to where it should be – a simple statement from one person to another that they matter to the gift giver.

So I’m trying to get creative this year. I’m making Advent calendars – elaborate sewn things that I throw together without a pattern, framed photos, and homemade cookies that I’ll put in tins with a bow. Jude will receive a few handmade things as well. We need to keep the tradition going. And someday I hope Jude will make me some glitter pipe cleaner ornaments or finger paintings or potholders. Handmade by him, it will mean so much more.