Ah, the anticipation
One of the things that makes the celebration of Christmas special is the anticipation of the day itself. I am tempted to say that the only thing that might rival it is the anticipation of the arrival of a new baby —but, then, isn’t that what the holyday celebrates?
An editorial in the Welsh Rice Belt Journal made the point 100 years ago this week, noting that “Christmas is lived a thousand times before it comes.” I think that would have been an understatement when I was a youngster.
When I was a kid, the anticipation began with the arrival of two catalogs: the big Sears catalog full of Christmas toys and the Miles Kimball catalog from which I could select gifts for everybody on my list. Then, as the day grew nearer, a large part of my anticipation became bound up in what has come to be known among my cousins as the ritual of The Great Shaking.
In our family, from time immemorial, Christmas Eve was celebrated at my grandparents’ house, where a score of aunts and uncles and cousins of all ages gathered to share good food, good company, and, most important, exchange gifts.
Most of them brought their gifts that day and put them under the big pine in the room that—even in summer—was known as the “tree room.” But a handful of kin who could not attend always sent their gifts ahead of time.
After school each day, a dozen cousins raced to the tree room to see if any new gifts for them had appeared — and to probe them and feel them and shake them to try to figure out what might be hidden beneath the wrapping paper. The ritual and the excitement would grow until Christmas Eve when — finally — we were able to open the packages and find out what was in that oblong package with the curious rattle, or to confirm, with much consternation, that Aunt Tee had, once again, shown no imagination and sent the boys belts and the girls handkerchiefs.
Another part of the ritual, at least on my part, was to carefully place each of my packages close to the front of the tree, with the idea that Grandpa would pass them out first. I think I’d gone off to college before I finally realized that Grandpa always began from the side of the tree, not the front. Presents in the front were actually handed out last.
The Rice Belt Journal editorial noted something akin to the ritual of the Great Shaking, pointing out that “the Christmas presents are reveled in before Santa Claus puts them on his sled.”
But the writer also found more to the anticipation: “The human spirit impatient under the restraints of the clock breaks away and lives Christmas before the prosaic almanac grunts permission,” he says. “How poor the world would be if deprived of the pleasure of expectation. Good things would lose half their virtue if we could not enjoy them before we get them into our hands. .
“Imagine, if you can, dropping into Christmas in the twinkling of an eye, without the privilege of tasting it in advance! Christmas becomes the great day of the year, because it is preceded by such elaborate and long drawn and loving preparation. To cut off all that preceded Christmas would be like shearing the sun of its beams. The whole year becomes brighter to everybody who has Christmas to look forward to.”
In the days leading up to Christmas, we are too often too apt to get involved in the hurly-burly of trying to make the holiday special. It might be helpful to realize that this can be a time of wonder and anticipation, and that if we take the time to enjoy the preparation as much as the day itself, it will be made special all by itself.
You can contact Jim Bradshaw at firstname.lastname@example.org or P.O. Bix 1121, Washington LA 70589.