Wednesday, December 23, 2009

An Okie Christmas

When a person thinks back on his/her childhood, often Christmas memories are the first to spring to mind.  Whether we grew up rich, poor or in the middle, most of us had parents or caretakers who did their best to deliver a happy Christmas, even in the worst of times.  At some point after I was grown I came to the not-so-happy realization that the Christmas tree and gift opening is largely all about the children, and Christmas is never really the same once you graduate into adulthood.  But, ahhhh, those memories!!!

How did you celebrate Christmas when you were a kid?  Here's how I did it in Oklahoma, back in the day....

I grew up in a tiny Oklahoma town populated largely by my relatives and good friends.  My parents and I lived on a ranch about a couple of miles from my two sets of grandparents and two sets of aunts and uncles.  Other relatives lived within 10 miles, so Christmas back then was a terrific blend of lots of family and lots more family.

The Sunday before Christmas meant lots of Christmas songs and the Christmas story at our church instead of the usual stuff, which excited me a lot more than normal.  This was the one day of the year that I actually paid attention at church. 

We celebrated Christmas on Christmas Eve, for some reason.  Lunch was at my maternal grandparents, with all the aunts, uncles and cousins.  We always looked forward to the arrival in December of my Uncle Larry and Aunt Juneiva, who seemed to always be moving further and further north - from Oklahoma to Colorado to Montana and finally, Alaska.  But they always managed to drive back with their kids and dog Digger every Christmas.

My dad would be the last to arrive for lunch, usually at exactly noon, shedding his coveralls and dirty boots at our house (and unbeknownst to me, putting Santa's gifts under the tree) before driving to my grandparents' house for lunch.  Anyone who grew up on a ranch knows that cattle don't celebrate holidays and need to eat, regardless of the date.  In mid-winter, it's critical that they are fed every day, so my dad would spend the morning tending to that task before celebrating the holiday.

After lunch the race was on to the living room for gift opening.  This was always a flurry of colorful gift wrap flying like confetti, while the adults kept an ear toward the television in the den that was blasting the Dallas Cowboy game.  Later everyone would crowd into the den to give their full attention to the game - men, women and kids - everyone was a fan.  Oh, and we always had to take the obligatory family picture (which I really appreciate now).

When it started to get dark, my mom, dad and I made the 30 second trip to my other grandparents' house (yes, my grandparents were neighbors - how great is that?), where we gathered with another group of aunts,uncles and cousins in the living room for gifts.  However, this gift-opening was a bit more stressful.  My grandfather, who loved kids, would offer a dollar to every kid that stood up and sung a Christmas song.  Of course, we all did, but it was always a little nerve-wracking.  I never liked being the center of attention, but I did like dollars....

I started bothering my parents to go home soon after the gifts and songs, because I knew that Santa had been to our house by then.  My parents convinced me that Santa came early every year to Oklahoma, because he had so many places to visit, and Oklahoma was one of the first stops on his intenerary.  Of course, I bought it.  And why not - there were always wondrous gifts under the tree!  I loved seeing my parents open their gifts from me more than opening my own, although thinking back on it I believe I chose pretty lame gifts.

All of this added up to tradition - it wasn't a fancy, regimented tradition but it was a tradition all the same....A secure, happy, and dependable tradition.

If we were lucky, we had snow before we went back to school, but usually it was just bitter cold.  If we did get a good snow, I would meet up with my best friend Diane and her brother Jimmy, who lived about a mile away.   We did a lot of slipping and sliding on frozen ponds (yes, terribly dangerous!!) and hitching up numerous makeshift sleds to Jimmy's old horse ( a small ladder worked best).  I'm shocked now that we all survived.

At some point after I was grown and far away from Clarita, I realized what an incredibly lucky kid I had been to grow up in Oklahoma and be raised by the village that was my family.  Like every other kid, I always focused on the prizes at Christmas, but in the process, my family surrounded me with security, love and memories to last a lifetime, and THAT was the most important thing.

So, how did you celebrate Christmas as a kid?  Please comment and let us know!

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