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Christmas of now is different from Christmas of old

Now that Christmas is almost here, my children have been asking how the holiday was different in the olden days.

I told them, first of all, I don't remember the Christmas season starting right after Thanksgiving as it does today. We had a week or so to relax before feeling pressured to complete gift lists, bake cookies and decorate the front door.

Choosing the tree was a family affair when I was a kid, and it still is. Selecting the perfect specimen could take a while, and looking back on it, I admire my mother's patience. It helped me when my own children wanted to assess the merits of every tree on the lot before making their selection.

There were some differences in the decorations back then, mainly in the Christmas tree lights. When I was a kid, the lights were large, and glowed softly instead of twinkling, blinking or fading in and out as many today do. We had to have plenty of extra bulbs on hand, because when one light burned out the whole string would go dark.

We used to decorate with substantial, heavy icicles, not those thin tinsel things we use today. The old icicles were made of lead -- not a very safe thing for kids to play with, but they draped over the limbs beautifully. They could also be rolled into small projectiles perfect for flinging at siblings at the most unexpected moments. Those lead icicles are long gone, joining other hazardous decorations like Christmas tree lights that boiled inside their individual bulbs and real candles on the tree. They sure were pretty, though.

We used to decorate with garland made from cranberries or dried fruit. Today, anyone can buy beautiful garland ready to hang, but it doesn't seem quite like Christmas if I'm not nursing sore thumbs from the upholstery needle and heavy thread needed for handmade garlands.

The gifts under the tree look just as pretty, and mysterious, as they did when I was little. My kids enjoy assessing the packages just as much as I did, and there is still a sense of excitement when they rattle, thump or jingle when shaken.

The contents of those packages have changed a bit, though, and seem to inspire less social interaction. Boys who enjoy playing soldier might receive a combat game for the computer instead of an action figure with tiny uniform, gun and hat. Girls who like dolls have more choices than ever, but the modern ones seem to leave less to the imagination. They talk, laugh, cry, and sometimes walk, stuff a little girl playing "momma" used to do for them. Scooters are still fun presents for kids, but those of today might come with a motor attached. The "olden day" scooters were driven by kid power.

My parents always worked hard to ensure we children didn't get too grabby with asking for gifts, and there was always a talk about counting our blessings and remembering the reason for the celebration. My parents were worried that Christmas was becoming too commercialized, and worked hard to impart the true meaning of the day.

My husband and I give that same lecture, so I guess that part of Christmas remains the same.

Web posted on Wednesday, December 22, 2004

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