Christmas Past
By Paul Lagan

I don’t know why, but about this time every year, as the winter winds begin to blow and a magical spirit fills the air, my thoughts unconsciously drift back to those special times from many years ago. To fond memories, of an age of innocence within our country, and of a small boy in a loving family. The wonderment of it all! I have good memories of Christmas when I was young and sadness for those who do not. I wonder though, just how many children today would feel as I do if they shared similar experiences.

I remember the weather being cold with snow drifting across the fields of our farm in southwestern Wisconsin - the crust being so hard we could walk on it - skiing with skis held onto our feet by rubber bands cut from inner tubes from automobile tires and walking "duck fashioned" with our skis on back up the hill we had just came down. Our boots would fill with snow and cause our ankles to become chapped (we had no ski boots). The icicles from the roof of our buildings seemed longer, more curve-vicious, and more pointed than they do today. Is that my imagination? In the mornings, Dad took us to school, and later in the day we would slide on our sleds back home along the side of the ice-packed country roads. I recall playing football in the snow with my brother, using a paper sack filled with leaves for lack of a real ball.

Usually a week or so before Christmas we would shop in town for a gift for Mother. It was always something she could put to good use, and she always appreciated it sooo much. Every year (after Dad had just broken in his old pipe) we always "surprised" him with a new one. To this day I love the aroma of pipe smoke. Our Christmas tree was decorated with ornaments handed down from my Mother’s family - I’ve never seen replicas.

On Christmas Eve, I remember falling asleep behind the old wood cook stove in our kitchen (it was warm there) while our parents milked the cows (by hand) in the barn. The spicy smell and crackling sound of the wood burning tranquilized the moment. We had no electricity; oil lamps were used in our house, and kerosene lanterns lit the other buildings. A strange sort of shadow was cast throughout the areas they occupied.

Shortly before our parents were finished with the evening milking, I would go to the barn and rest for a few minutes in the soft straw of a manger along with a dozen or so purring cats. Body heat from the cows and horses kept us warm, perhaps much like that evening 2000 years ago. I remember going to midnight mass (the church was usually full), falling asleep during services, and then searching the starlit sky on the way home in our Plymouth , trying to see Santa and his sleigh.

Our coal furnace often could not compete with the near zero temperatures so Mother would heat a brick or stove iron and wrap it in a paper sack and place it under the covers at the foot of our bed to keep my brother and me warm. We never thought about the fact that we may have lacked more modern conveniences. Some of the upstairs windows were loose or cracked, and I remember waking up in the morning with traces of frost or snow on the floor. Before morning the wood stove in our kitchen would burn out and because there was no indoor plumbing, traces of ice would appear on top of the water pail.

I remember Mother taking many hours to prepare Christmas dinner from everything that was home grown. Although it was hard work, she always delighted in the task. We listened to Bing Crosby sing carols through our old Coronado radio (there was no TV to watch). My brother and I usually received one present each, or one to be shared between us - baseball mitts, boxing gloves, skis, a basketball, or a sleigh. I remember the magic of believing in Santa and being comforted by the truth of what Christmas was really all about - of sort of being in awe of something so profound and yet so real.

What do you remember about Christmas when you were young? I hope not a lie? Have you ever stopped to think that’s what most people get? Much of our world celebrate the "holidays" as a time for partying, associated with a warm and fuzzy feeling of giving and receiving. The birth of Jesus cannot be publicly recognized.

What do you want for Christmas? How about truth? Jesus said "I am the truth. I am the way. I am the life." Those who live and die with this confidence posses something money nor success nor family nor fame can offer.

So this Christmas I wish you truth - and with it - life!

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