Forty years later and I still remember smoke pouring into the room. It was Christmas Eve. My sister and I opened the door and looked out the window over and over-again. I got so wound up that a major breathing attack was triggered every Christmas break. The tree was up and decorated, candles lit, fire burning, mom smoking. Not the ideal clear air quality for a little asthmatic kid. I wheezingly anticipated the arrival of friends and relatives.
Mouths watered as we waited on the viands. Kugel was coming, chopped-liver checking in soon, breads and fruits, crackers and cheese. Coffee percolated in the kitchen as cousins and friends began to arrive. Hors d'oeuvres were unwrapped and set out to eat. My dog Sam the Samoyed told, “No! Get in the kitchen.” He knew somehow that his persistence would pay off and was soon back amongst the food and the children.
The main course arrived later year after year. We were hungry for dinner and antsy for presents. Plus it was past bedtime-but tonight that didn’t matter. After dinner everybody adjourned to the big white couch in the living room. Mom and Aunt Rhoda fought the yearly battle over doing the dishes because ‘guests don’t do dishes.’
Every family has their gift-opening tradition. At our house the youngest passed out the gifts and we tried to open them one-by-one. Christmas music was turned down as Pacehelbel gave way to presents. I don’t remember what everyone got that year though that my cousin, ever into music, got a Neil Diamond record. As the evening wore on white Christmas faded into Hot August Night.
One by one the gifts were opened. Meanwhile the children began throwing wrapping paper into the fireplace. Different papers inspired flares of variegated colour; greens, blues and reds; big flames and fiery ignitions. Then it happened. A wrapping paper tube was set into the blaze. But only partially. Smoke, instead of going up the chimney, went up the tube and into the room. Children screamed for parents. Easily remedied the tube was pushed all the way into the fireplace.
Many Christmases have past since then with many changes, death and sickness among them. ‘Long lays the world in sin and error, longing for His appearance’. Fires of life and darkness of death have taken many family members over these forty years. This year I celebrate with different family and new traditions. Every year I still look to Christmas with bated (and still a bit wheezy) breath ‘A thrill of hope; the weary world rejoices.’ An opportunity for new and rich memories, and treasured old ones. And hope for the future.
‘For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn. Christ is the Lord!
O praise His Name forever,
His power and glory evermore proclaim.’