Christmas was always quite the ordeal in our house. My mother was a church organist, so her entire Christmas Eve was always spent playing music at church. When we were younger, we would go along to the early service, so that we would be in bed in time for Santa Claus to come. As we got older, we started to appreciate the value of the candlelight service, instead.
My mother never liked the idea of Santa Claus. My parents had never planned on using that concept with my sister and I. Alas, the influence of kids at school - once we heard about the jolly old man, that was it. So, my father would stay up late, presumably waiting for my mother, meticulously wrapping all of the presents that were carefully arranged under a beautiful tree. She would come home from church late. The two would collapse into bed in the middle of the night. We would wake up really early, eager to open our treasures.
The gifts were always plentiful, but we were never nearly as spoiled as our peers. We always had enough to make it a special Christmas and learned to be grateful for what we had.
As we got older, the joy and surprise of numerous wrapped gifts was no longer necessary. Santa Claus was a symbol of giving and no longer a man in whom we believed. His name was sometimes signed on the gift tags. And then the gift tags became nonexistent. It was becoming too stressful to wrap the presents for us. Dad was now working third shift at the juvenile jail. Mom was the sole person in charge of buying us gifts. We would try to make a list of things that we wanted/needed, but she always got creative. She could never pass up those horrible tables of special items that only come out at the holidays. And we always got identical, or very similar, gifts. There was the CD holder that was a pop-out drawer that always got stuck. And then the AM/FM radio/keychain/flashlight combo. One of my favorites was the heated ice scraper for the windshield. Only to heat it, you had to plug it into the cigarette lighter of a running car. Chances were, by the time you had the stupid thing heated, your defroster had taken care of most of the job.
Even more amusing was how the wrapping ended up being done each year. One year, Mom had run out of time to wrap our gifts. But they were divided by child in large trash bags. My sister and I took turns closing our eyes and reaching into our bags to pull out a gift. After one went, the other would rummage around her bag, trying to find the similar item. We turned it into a big game that was tons of fun.
In the last few years, our parents had basically given up on buying us any gifts. Instead, we usually went shopping with them to pick out a few things. It wasn't the gifts that we wanted, though. It was the cherished time with our parents.
My other Christmas memories with Mom include sitting around our organ. Yes, we had an organ in my childhood home. Mom had lots of Christmas sheet music. She would sit on the bench with my sister and I on either side and we would sing Christmas carols for hours on end. That was the only time of the year that we really did that. I looked forward to it every year and still enjoy the songs when I hear them on the radio. I miss those days a lot.