Paul's Heart

Life As A Dad, And A Survivor

Traditions Of Christmas Past

As much angst that overcomes me from November through December, I am still able to find a way to enjoy holidays, and even remember fondly some of my past holidays as well.

Flipping through the television channels, I saw a talk-show host Stephen Colbert interviewing president-elect Joe Biden and his wife.  Being from Pennsylvania, I am more than aware of Biden’s tragic family past.  But at this time, both of the Bidens had huge smiles on their faces.  Joe was clearly telling one of his many “Scranton” tales.

It was about Christmas, and a tradition his family had when he was a child, that also existed in my house.  It did not seem to occur everywhere in Pennsylvania, but seemed more prevalent in a certain area, the northeast of the Commonwealth (Pennsylvania is referred to as a commonwealth, not a state – personally I don’t care about that history).

The Christmas Tree.  In my childhood, just as Biden explained, Santa Claus brought our tree Christmas Eve, to put the presents under.  At least, that was how it was always explained to me.  Biden must have been a problem child, because he explained their delivery of the tree as if it were a sign of being “good” as is the tradition of the “Elf On The Shelf.”  If you were good, you had a tree Christmas morning.

I was not thinking about being good, that was a no-brainer.  Santa just needed to show up with that tree.  It appeared also, that I needed to ask for him to set up the train under the tree each year, if I did not, there was no train.  This routine lasted until I was around ten years old, when the commotion downstairs with the arrival of the tree and Santa woke me up.  I eased my way down the stairway, so as not to get caught, and instead it was them who got caught, my mother and my grandmother.  A quick wave to come downstairs, and I was instructed not to say a word to my sister, all the while not addressing my shock at the discovery something did not exist as I had been led to believe.

In my late twenties, I was in charge of a large youth group at my church, and one of the biggest and most beautiful scenes during this time of year, was Christmas Eve church service.  To add to the wonderful night, the youth group would spend two parts of the day, early in the morning, filling old milk cartons with sand, and then spacing them out among the church property, then returning in the evening to light long-burning candles that often lasted will into the early Christmas morning hours.

This tradition picked up again, this time in my forties, at home.  Our entire neighborhood, of nearly 200 homes, using paper bags, with sand, also lit luminaries on Christmas Eve.  As soon as my daughters were old enough to understand the fun of Christmas, we referred to these as “Santa’s Runway.”

For my daughters, this was our tradition, an actual visit from Santa Claus, until my older daughter discovered “HoHo” (her nickname for Santa), wearing her dad’s shoes.  But each year, my daughters could look out the window, seeing Santa dance on the diving board of our closed swimming pool, and in the morning, wake up to a small present under the Christmas tree in their bedroom, with the rest of the loot downstairs.  I always made sure they left goodies for Santa that he would enjoy.

I am now waiting on the next stage of traditions for my daughters.  There will be college, and with their parents being divorced, they will likely split their break time between their mother and I.

But the next stage, that is going to be fun for sure, will be when my daughters have a family of their own.  A new tradition will begin, either travel for me, or travel for all of them.  And who knows, I may just have the chance to dust off that red suit again.


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