The Way it Was: Remembering Christmas past, present and yet to come

by John Straka Published:

I write a Christmas column almost every year. I try to make each one a little different from the others and focus on what happened to Christmas since the previous years. For one thing, I'm a year older and that's the best possible Christmas present for anyone my age and for everyone at any age. Life is really an often unappreciated gift.

Last year I wrote about how Christmas has become more of a secular holiday than a religious holy day. I see more advertising every year and it starts earlier every year.

This year many stores opened for business on Thanksgiving Day.

Last year I recalled how midnight Mass used to be the center of the entire Christmas celebration. It was always celebrated at midnight on Christmas Eve. As the congregation at my church ages, midnight becomes an increasingly difficult time for us old-timers to attend, so midnight mass takes place earlier in the evening.

I wrote about walking to church in the cold and snow years ago. Now, in 2012, I get so out of breath I have to park in the handicap section so as to minimize the distance I have to walk. I wonder how long before I won't be able to walk even the short distance from the car to my seat in a church pew.

Every year there are more and more electronic gadgets that cost more than they did last year. When it comes to gifts, there is nothing I need and nothing I really want. That is with the exception of another Christmas in 2013.

With the economy what it is, I wonder if families are spending more or less this year than last year? I think it will be less. One of the greatest differences this year is the loss of some of my friends. So many have died. So many will not be here this Christmas. There are fewer who send Christmas greeting cards and/or make holiday phone calls.

Some thing have not changed at all since last Christmas. I have all the same neighbors as last year and that's good. The weather probably will be the same with gradually increasing temperatures from year to year in the future. I live in the same house with my dear daughter. I drive the same old car, shop at the same stores, and go to the same doctors who prescribe the same pills as last Christmas.

We have the same president we had last year and he will no doubt celebrate his Christmas the same way he and his family did last year.

Every year at this time I think again of a column written by Dick Feagler about the friends and relatives who used to be part of his family's holiday celebration. He wrote that they are still there, on the other side of the glass windowpane. They can see him but he can't see them except in his memories. In that same way I can see my Mom and Dad. They must be so proud of my writing. Sometimes I get an idea for a column and don't know where it comes from. Could it be from them?

Helen must be on the other side of the window, too. She must be thinking of the 54 years that we had been married and reminding me of all the good times we had together. When one of those memories comes to me out of nowhere, I'll bet she has something to do with it. Her parents, her brother and her sister and brother-in-law are all on the other side of that window pane, too. So are my sister, her husband and my brother's wife.

It must be pretty crowded there, with all the cousins aunts and uncles who have gone before me. Uncles Frank, Ed, Joe, John, Rudy and Charlie. Aunts Annie, Stella, Mary, and Julia. Cousins Raymond and Joey, Irene, Adeline, Sylvia, George, Jimmy, Tony, and all the others I can't remember right now.

A letter once written by a newspaper man to a little girl who wanted to know if Santa Claus was real has been one of my favorite pieces of literature. He told her, "Yes, Virginia, Santa Claus is as real as love and generosity and devotion," (or words to that effect). The fact that you can't see them does not mean they aren't real. That letter is well known as the "Yes, Virginia" letter.

There's one major change in the way I celebrate Christmas that is different from what it was a long time ago. My parents, my siblings and I observed a tradition on every Christmas Eve after midnight mass. Since we were all dressed up and gathered together, we would pose for a family picture. I'm not sure, but I think we did that for something like 20 years.

Of course, since we were a Bohemian family, we did the things all Bohemians did to observe Christmas. Most important and most enjoyed was the houska my Mom would make. A houska is a large loaf of sweet bread with lots of eggs, butter, sugar, almonds and raisins. Hanging stockings for Santa to fill was important, too.

A recent column was about my grandmother. While she lived with us, she usually got a piece of coal in her stocking because she had been a "naughty girl" and of course we kids thought that was hilarious.

I hope Christmas never gets to be just a holiday, an excuse to celebrate and to spend lots of money. Already I hear some people say "Happy Holiday" instead of "Merry Christmas." I think it should always remain a Holy Day.

I want to take advantage of this opportunity to wish each and every one of my readers a very Merry Christmas and a happy and prosperous New Year. These greetings are especially directed to the staff at the Record Publishing Co. office.

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