Every year, from Thanksgiving to New Year's, I look forward to lights on a tree, the smell of pine, holiday music, having to bundle up before venturing out in the cold, and the occasional bit of snow. This is my favorite time of year; and ok, perhaps there is too much food, too much drink, and too much money spent, but the one thing we're rarely short on is too many good memories! Looking back makes me nostalgic for years past, but also excited to enjoy the season of Christmas Present. So if you don't mind indulging me in a Ghost of Christmas Past-like visit down memory lane, here are a few of my holiday gems that I like to recall from time to time.
1978: Probably my earliest Christmas memory. I was 6. I remember listening to Nat King Cole on the record player, standing by a Christmas tree, looking out the window into the cold night (probably why it's one of my favorite holiday songs of all time). This was also the year I unwrapped all the presents a few days before Christmas because I wanted to see what we got - and then when I got caught red-handed doing it, I promptly blamed it on my 2 year old sister, claiming it was all her idea. Oh yeah, I was crafty even back then.
1979-1981: I was sick each year at Christmas. First sneeze on my birthday - last sniffle on New Year's Eve. It did get me out of church services though (yeah, yeah, yeah...I would appreciate it later in life; but when you're 7 years old and anxious for Santa, 2 hours at a Catholic service on Christmas Eve was THE WORST!!!)
1982-87: When I was about 10, my parents bought a new house on the northwest side of Tucson. It was a new development, so as new neighbors moved into each completed home, we would meet them and get to know the families. One of the best traditions we started on our street was an annual Christmas party - held at different house each year. I'm not entirely sure of the exact order of who's house had which year's party - but I do remember them being lively, loud and wonderful. All of our neighbors crammed into each other's houses, with awesome food, white-elephant games, holiday music blaring on the stereo, sometimes Santa would appear, but inevitably all us kids ended up in front of the TV or someone's brand new Atari system (yes, Atari - oh I was so jealous I never got one). Again, I'm not positive of the year specifically, but I do remember the party at our house when it was our year; along with the food, music, games, and Scrooge (the version with Albert Finney) was on TV, with all us kids watching, sitting by our brightly lit Christmas tree. What I recall most is how beautiful our home looked so packed with people - laughing and having a great time. I don't believe I ever saw it quite that full and loud ever again.
1987: Snow on Christmas Day in Tucson. Don't even remember what I got for Christmas because we were too busy playing in the SNOW...IN...TUCSON! I think it all melted by noon - but didn't care because it SNOWED....IN...TUCSON!!!! Pretty exciting stuff.
1988: OK, aside from the whole turning 16 and getting my driver's license thing, the biggest remembrance I have of Christmas 1988 is the movie Scrooged. On my birthday, we all went out to dinner (Pizza Hut) - and then my father, sister and I went to the theater to see the movie (mom had to work). My sister and I fell in love with that flick from the first time we saw it - and every year afterwards, would make a point to watch it together. To this day we'll call each other whenever we have time to see it, run all the best quotes past each other and laugh hysterically at each other's impressions.
1990: Turned 18, and it was my first Christmas in the dormitory at the U of A. I came home for the holiday (big 20 minute drive, mind you), but I remember staying up late on the 23rd - everyone else was asleep, I was curled up on a blanket on the couch, the tree lights were on, and I was listening to music on my Walkman (yup, there's another time stamp for ya). Everything was so peaceful and warm - I remember never wanting that moment to end. To this day, this is probably my most bittersweet Christmas memory. A part of me wanted to hold on to the last dregs of childhood, but yet at the same time, I was excited to finally be an "adult" and excited for everything yet to come.
1993: Turned 21. Could actually, legally, drink in a bar. Cactus Moon with friends until 1am. Waking up late on Christmas Eve for my on-air shift at the radio station. I made it from River and Craycroft to Oracle and Roger in 15 minutes. Ran in the studio right as Scott cracked open my mic, panting and wheezing as he laughed. No hangover though. Ahhh....youth.
1995: Worst. Christmas. Ever. I was freezing my ass off in Kansas City, and had an absolutely miserable holiday season from start to finish (I shall spare you all the gory details). However, it is important to note that even though it was utterly horrific, I do keep it in mind because (in my opinion) to truly enjoy the best memories you have to have something on the other end of the spectrum in order to keep everything in perspective.
1998: My first Chili Con Carne party in my 500 square foot apartment. 3 attendees made my home filled to capacity. But none of them had family in town, and so - on Christmas Eve - I invited them over to share in food, drink and music (a la - the old neighborhood days), because no one should be alone at Christmas.
2001: After several years of hosting my annual Chili Con Carne party at Christmas in a variety of apartments, it came time to host one not only in honor of Christmas - but to celebrate the purchase of my brand new house! (which also set the reminder FIRMLY in my mind to NEVER move during the month of December). One week was the closing of my house and moving. Next week was spent baking and decorating. The following week was spent roasting 50 pounds of beef (yes, 5-0). And the following Saturday (Dec 22, 2001) was the grand event. To this day, I remember standing on the first landing of the staircase, looking out at all my friends who came to celebrate with me and smiling; remembering the neighborhood parties from years past, and thinking how awesome it felt to have that at Christmas again. I continued to hold annual CCC parties at Christmas for several years later, but this one was my all time favorite.
2002: Turned 30. I spent the evening watching Steelers beat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers while eating chicken wings at Hooters. It's always nice when your team wins on your birthday.
2008: My one and only Chili Con Carne party in San Diego. I had forgotten how much I missed my parties. We had adults, kids and babies in attendance. Memory of that night - somewhere I still have a picture of bottles of wine surrounding a bottle of Enfamil. My how times change.
2009: Driving from LA to Tucson on Christmas Eve to surprise my parents on Christmas morning. I still remember the look of utter surprise on my mother's face when she opened the door and how she didn't want to let go of me for about 5 minutes straight. She tells me I can't do that to her any more because she's not sure if her body can stand the shock - but it was worth it that year.
2010: I remember us buying an extremely overpriced Christmas tree in Culver City - but we had bubble lights for it, and a train that ran around the base - so that made it all OK.
2012: Turned 40. Was surprised with a trip to Napa for my birthday. I remember wonderful wine, a fabulous meal and tasty dessert surrounded by a wonderful weekend. No one had ever taken so much time to plan out a birthday for me in my life. That was a whole series of memories to hold onto.
Which brings us Christmas 2013: Last night, Nick and I went to see "It's A Wonderful Life" at a nearby movie theater. Now I love this movie, and have seen it several times before; but there was something so special about watching George Baily's life unfold on a huge screen with surround sound, sitting in a huge theater with a box of freshly popped popcorn and someone special to share it with. There is a moment last night that I will recall as my memory of this year...but it's one I'm going to keep to myself for a while. Sorry......can't share all the good stuff with you.
Wherever you are, or end up this holiday season, I hope you find yourself with at least one special moment to keep as a memory of 2013. Because in the end, you may not still have the trees, the lights, the music, presents or snow - but you'll always have the images of a life well lived to keep with you until next Christmas.
Merry Christmas to you and yours and all the very best for the New Year!
Now if you'll excuse me, I have an old family memory to honor and tradition to uphold....
Ghost of Christmas Present: Close them! Close your eyes...! And think of snowflakes and moonbeams and whiskers on kittens...
[She notices Frank peeking and goes to jab his eyes with two fingers]
Ghost of Christmas Present: Nooooo peeking!
[Frank blocks the jab and closes his eyes]
Ghost of Christmas Present: Of rainbows, forget-me-nots... of misty meadows and sun-dappled pools. Oh, look! There's Mr Hedgehog. I wonder where he's going? Perhaps to HARLEM!
[She punches Frank]
Frank Cross: My jaw!
Ghost of Christmas Present: Ohhh...sometimes the truth is painful, Frank.
[She slaps his face]
Ghost of Christmas Present: But it's made your cheeks all rosy and your eyes bright as stars!
Frank Cross: If you TOUCH ME AGAlN, I'm gonna rip your goddamned wings off! Okay?
Ghost of Christmas Present: Oh you know I like the rough stuff, don't you Frank?