There’s a Christmas song we won’t be hearing on the radio this season, “All Those Christmas Cliches.” It doesn’t seem to be on any DJ’s play list, and that’s too bad because it’s a perfect song for this time of year. I first heard it sung by a stranger at a piano bar about a decade ago. Now, every December, I sing it out loud, parts of it anyway, as I unpack the boxes and boxes of Christmas decorations stored in my cellar.
The song is wistful and celebrates the traditions of this holiday that we share as a nation. Recorded in 1994 by Nancy LaMott, it reminds us not only of the things we save year after year in our cellars but of all the Christmas memories we store in our hearts:
“I want the tree full of toys and tinsel.
I want the wreath on the red front door.
I want the elves in the yard and each sentimental card dripping glitter on the floor.
I want a roof full of plywood reindeer.
I want a road full of horse-drawn sleighs.
All those Christmas cliches.”
Growing up, I had the tree, the toys, the tinsel, and the wreath. Not the red door though -- ours was green -- and not the road full of horse-drawn sleighs. But I had a plywood reindeer my father made with a jigsaw he bought at Sears. This song makes me remember these things.
It makes me remember, too, how I waited up for Santa one Christmas Eve and from my bedroom window saw him land with his reindeer and sleigh on Ann Marie Tantillo’s snow-covered roof a few houses away. I heard the jingle of his bells and his hearty “Ho! Ho! Ho!” and raced downstairs to tell my mother.
It was a dream, of course. I know that now. But then?
“All Those Christmas Cliches” takes me back to then.
And that’s the real magic of Christmas, isn’t it? Going back. We hear a song. We open a Christmas card. We notice a child who reminds us of our own child. We smell a freshly cut tree or a turkey roasting, we taste eggnog, we see twinkling lights -- and we are back in time. We are 9, 10, 20, 40. We are every age we have ever been. And our children are every age they have ever been. Parents, friends, all the people we knew and know are young and old and everywhere in between.
Our traditions transport us. White Christmas on the radio. Scrooge on TV. The children’s Christmas pageant. Every Santa at every mall. It doesn’t matter if we want to go back or not. A sound, a sight, a smell, a taste, and we’re there.
I complain often about the excess of Christmas. About shopping and sales and long lists and too much to do and coupons that you always leave at home and strings of lights that work when you test them but not later, after you’ve strung them on the tree.
But these things aren’t Christmas.
Mrs. Jablonski draped angel hair on her tree, my father placed tinsel on ours. My Uncle Buddy sent me a wind-up walking doll all the way from California.
Christmas is memories. It’s my grandmother at the kitchen table drinking port wine, my mother in high heels basting the turkey. It’s Christmas Eve at Barbara Thomas’s 40 years ago, and it’s Christmas Eve at my daughter Lauren’s now. It’s my Aunt Lorraine at the door, her girls in wool coats and ankle socks, like Mr. McCloskey’s ducks lined up right behind her. And it’s those girls all grown up at my door with their daughters now.
Christmas is the past and the present sharing the same space.
The child in the manger, the children we once were, our children, every child.
At Christmas we get them back. Every Christmas. And though there are times this makes our hearts ache, it is the greatest gift of all.
Beverly Beckham’s column appears every two weeks. She can be reached at email@example.com.