My favorite 1960’s Carlsbad Christmases

Christmas is my favorite time of the year. I love the festive music, the beautiful decorations, the love in the air. It seems the world is decked out in my favorite colors of red and green. I love the scent of fresh-cut pine, the myriad of colored lights and familiar ornaments, the popcorn balls and toffee. I love the art of Christmas; Handel’s Messiah, The Nutcracker ballet, the loving painted renditions of the Nativity. Love; handcrafted, wrapped and delivered. It seems mankind’s greatest talents and best efforts are expended at the celebration of Christ’s birth. He was an artist and artisan, I’m sure he appreciates all heart-felt generosity.

I was born two days after Christmas. My little five foot tall mom delivered her first baby, all 8 lbs and 14 oz. of me. My poor mom almost bled to death, I still feel bad about that.  I was wrapped in a blue blanket because the hospital had run out of pink, bother. I don’t remember much, I heard a comedian say that he kept a journal from his birth. The first entry was; “still tired from the move.” But I’ve always loved sharing my birthday with Christmas. Except in seventh grade. My mom was single and there was never had enough money for extras. Two of my good friends had June birthdays – they received cool things for summer: radios, beach towels, new clothes – girl stuff. It occurred to me that my gift season was the middle of winter – no cool summer things for me.

Otherwise I LOVED Christmas. My Mom was an excellent cook and possessed the valuable skill of being able to create something wonderful out of not much. I loved her colorful M&M cookies, fudge and pecan sandies rolled in powdered sugar. Christmas music filled our house; the air was scented with bayberry candles. It seemed the whole world was filled with hidden surprises. I loved the joy and security of gathering with my favorite people and sitting as a family to share the story of Christ’s birth. My mom played carols on my sister’s toy organ, I displayed the nativity cut-outs I received in Primary at church and we sang. Our church put on a Christmas party every year. I think there was a dinner with lots of children running around while their parents visited. And Santa always came. I was nervous that I hadn’t been good enough, but he smiled and twinkled and I felt somehow reassured that my stocking would be filled and I would receive something special – he always came through.  He gave each child a small white paper bag; one year containing a popcorn ball, tangerine, a warbling bird whistle and a few little Christmas-shaped chewy candies. And a small candy cane. There was always a candy cane.

I loved the way the whole town seemed to light up to share the joy of the season. From the second-grade Christmas plays, I mean plays put on by the second grade; the colorful construction paper chains and Christmas trees, covered with stick-on stars, cotton balls and glitter to the class parties. We would drive around looking at the lights and Christmas displays in the neighborhood and downtown. Every year at the fire station,  the trucks were cleared out and Santa reigned from his sled in the midst of a winter wonderland. Sleepy the Travelodge bear was at the fire station. (A celebrity in the village – how did he get there?) We shopped downtown; picking up small gifts at the pharmacy and T.G. & Y. for teacher and my younger siblings. The only mall was a half hour away in San Diego, very distant and exotic.

I worked hard at discovering the location of hidden gifts; I have never really like surprises. I wanted what I wanted – no extra frills please. Regardless, there was always a pleasant surprise. I remember shopping with dad when I was very young to pick up surprises for my mom when they were still together. He was a good sport and bankrolled the operation. He built a swingset for us in the backyard and helped with the kitchen magic. When Dad was around Christmas was more enjoyable.

I learned that being with family was the greatest gift. The Chatty Cathys and talking Mr. Ed puppets, and doctor kits and other stars of my childhood Christmases have long been put to rest. Time spent with my parents and family is the most valuable gift. Christ’s gift of the promise of an eternal family is one of the kindest things he has done for me. No wonder the world still rejoices at the memory of His birth.
(This was probably at a Christmas bazaar at our church in Los Angeles
– it still makes me happy! Check out my cool plaid number.)