Ghosts of Christmas Past

Santa Overlooks Trunk Bay

While the picture above is actually NOT of anywhere in Pennsylvania, it is still true that we have been having a strangely warm Christmas week here in the northeast. Around the neighborhood of the Chateau Working Stiff temps were in the mid 60’s on Christmas Eve and raging close to 70 on Christmas Day! Very warm for this time of year.  I must readily admit though – it is nice to not have to be thinking about snow shovels or ice melt stuff yet!

We had a mostly quiet week and holiday with just the wife and I for both the eve and the big day. Christmas was very low-key and mostly lazy.  Just a few presents to open, a few bottles of wine to open, lots of corny Christmas music, and a wonderful dinner of that traditional Christmas classic – Chicken Piccata.

My wife’s extended family arrived on Saturday for a warm afternoon and evening of good food and good visiting. I was chatting with my father-in-law at one point and I’m not sure what led up to it, but he related a few thoughts on a fondly remembered Christmas of his youth with his parents and younger brothers.  That conversation started me thinking about past holidays and what I remembered most or had liked most about them.

I can’t pinpoint the year, but I remember one Christmas when we had done all the traditional activities, centering on the usual morning frenzy of flying bows Christmas2015_3and tearing paper. There was a fire in the fireplace and a dog sleeping on the rug.  After the presents were all opened and the family had disbanded to cook breakfast, try on the new sweater – whatever – I was in the living room alone with the beautiful tree and the pile of torn paper, and I remember feeling a sadness that seemed out of place and confused me at the time.  The feeling weighed on me for a while but did pass as we got on with the other festivities of the day.  I must have been 14 or 15 years old or close to that.

It wasn’t until I was substantially older that I realized that what I had felt on that day could be filed under “growing up”.   I had started a gradual journey of understanding that all the gift-giving was not the most important thing.  To a little kid, flush with the innocent selfishness of little kid-ness, tearing open the presents as early as possible in the morning is everything, but now as an adult, it really isn’t that important anymore.  What I think is more important is visiting with friends and family and connecting or re-connecting by some means if not able to actually be together. Reminiscing about simpler times.  Listening to all that cheesy Christmas music, eating too many cookies, maybe some champagne or egg nog, playing games, watching those awful holiday TV shows – that is the golden stuff of which the best memories are made. Mrs. Working Stiff does like her stocking though, so I always make that a priority!

On a lighter note, I remember one wonderful Christmas in particular that to me has come to most represent what the holiday should really be about. It is one of my fondest Christmas memories.

I must have been in my late teens or maybe 20 or 21. I lived in Cape May with my father and my stepmother.  In Cape May, they did not do much about celebrating Christmas in the traditional ways (preferring to host a big family gathering on Thanksgiving), so in general I would travel to be with my mother and stepfather for Christmas.  My mother and stepfather had a tumultuous relationship that spanned some years and was on-again / off-again several times.  The events of this story took place during happy times.


Not more than 2 weeks or so prior they had moved to Providence, Rhode Island where they had found a large craftsman-style apartment on the top floor of a big old house. They were busily unpacking and setting up a new household.  As mentioned earlier, it was my default to travel to be with them for Christmas when possible, but I suppose that knowing they had just moved to a new apartment in a strange town solidified my travel plans.

I left Cape May on a Thursday, bound for my sister’s house in Maryland. We had a 24-hour holiday visit and then I set off for Providence, loaded with a few wrapped gifts, lots of cookies, and a roasted and ready-to-slice turkey breast.  It was Christmas Eve, a Friday, it was starting to snow, and I had about a 400 mile drive.  It was going to be my first time in Providence for any reason, and I would be the first family to visit them in their new place.  I don’t remember the trip as any sort of ordeal, but the increasing snow did make the travel slower and more careful as I drove north across Connecticut and towards Rhode Island.  It was late as I got into the Providence area but I did manage to find an open tavern where I was able to buy a few bottles of sparkling wine.  With a few wrong turns thrown in, I managed to follow my mother’s directions to their apartment and join them for a late Christmas Eve toast and celebration.


My stepfather, always having the creative eye, had used a simple string of plain white mini-lights to decorate their potted ficus tree, along with just a few colorful hanging ornaments to elegant effect. It was a higher state of a Charlie Brown Christmas Tree!  The snow had stopped but there was enough already to ensure that there would be a White Christmas.  I know they were both very grateful that I had gone to all that effort and they felt to some extent that I had brought Christmas with me.  We had good food and wine, a beautiful tree, music, my sister’s homemade cookies, and even a few gifts.  What more can you ask for?  I will always remember that year as being, for me anyway, pretty close to the true essence of Christmas.  Trimmed down and un-gilded.  I think my mother and stepfather would have agreed.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!


The Working Stiff



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