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The value of two memorable Christmases

A few weeks ago before an EAGLE staff meeting, some of us were sitting around discussing Christmas.

How we came to the topic of our favorite Christmas escapes me, but I had to stop and think about it for a moment.

Two Christmases came to mind: the year I turned 9 and the only thing I wanted was my own bicycle. It’s not a very notable gift, especially in a world where four-year-olds have iPads and iPhones, but it is one that I wasn’t sure I would get.

At the time, my mom told me it was because I was sick and facing a daunting surgery (which was true, and a story for a different column). Santa, she said, didn’t need to bring me a gift that I wouldn’t use.

I promised Santa in both letters and our visit at the local Walmart that I would ride the bike if he would just deliver it on Christmas. Santa, naturally, told me to be very good and he would do his best.

As kids, we tend to miss the bigger picture. There are so many things that my parents said no to over the years that would leave me  boiling mad and/or crestfallen because I just knew they were being unreasonable.

Hindsight being what it is, I know now that they had some pretty good reasons for those responses.

I was never angry about not possibly getting a bike for Christmas that year. Just anxious and confused about my parents’ reluctance to readily agree that Santa Claus would bring me one.

The reality for my parents came down to money. My mother spent a good bit of time trying to talk me out of a bike, and giving me reasons why Santa might not bring one, because she wasn’t sure that they could afford the purchase.

We never had a lot of extra money when I was a kid. There were times when we wouldn’t have had meat on the table if my dad and older brothers weren’t hunters. My maternal grandfather, as well as my paternal aunts and uncle, kept us supplied in a steady stream of fresh vegetables. But I never wanted for necessities. I had warm clothes and a bed to sleep in, I had toys to play with and books to read, there was always food on the table, even if it wasn’t what I necessarily wanted to eat. Most of all, I had a family that loved and cared for me and did their absolute best.

That Christmas was one of a couple where construction projects had been few in number and meant that my dad wasn’t earning a full paycheck. There was another year, I was five, where the plant where my mom worked closed down just before Thanksgiving and on her last day she came home to learn that my dad had also been laid off.

That year, Santa Claus brought me surprises – at the recommendation of my mom – which turned out to be several baby dolls, a Barbie or two, clothes to dress them in (most of which were handmade, including scraps of cloth that matched clothes I already owned), a couple dresses, a grocery shopping set, a porcelain doll, and the VHS of Disney’s Peter Pan.

I’m sure there were some other things in there, too. But those are the items I remember and what is heaped around me in the photo I have from that year.

All in all, that Christmas probably cost my parents about $50 and I played with all of it until it broke or I outgrew it. I still have the porcelain doll and the VHS.

There’s no doubt that the world has changed. My cousin’s 7-year-old wants an iPhone, my nieces got their first iPad from Santa at ages seven and eight. Barbies and grocery shopping sets are on the decline in letters to Santa, and that $50 that bought me a pile of gifts in 1990  won’t even buy you a Hatchimal today.

Advances in technology and the exposure of kids to STEM toys, educational gear and the like is wonderful but sometimes I find myself wondering if simpler isn’t better.

But regardless, I know that I appreciate that bike and those dolls all the more today because I know how hard my parents worked to ensure that they were waiting under the tree on Christmas Day.

Donica Phifer is managing editor of the EAGLE. You can reach her at donica.phifer@oxfordeagle.com