Lauren and I were reading the paper over Thanksgiving, and noticed that some stores opened at midnight on Thursday for special deals. People lined up for hours to save money and get presents. One woman told a reporter, “I’m going to save money by coming early. That means more gifts for my kids.” Another woman in California pepper-sprayed customers (in front of her child) to make sure she got that must-have gift for her kid.
Growing up, I’m so glad my parents never made a big deal about gifts. As many of you know, I grew up near Detroit in a blue-collar neighborhood with five siblings. Mom had all six of us in eight years, so we were close in age and close as friends. We celebrated Christmas, as did most of the people in our neighborhood. When December came around, Mom and Dad would start talking about the birth of Jesus and what it meant. (But we never said, “Jesus is the reason for the season.” The season was much bigger than that!)
My friend Noah, whom I met in kindergarten and still keep in touch with, celebrated Hanukah, which is also in December. Mom and Dad would encourage me to go to Noah’s house and celebrate his holiday with him and learn what it was all about. (I do remember that he got a gift every day for a week—so I was real curious about his religion!)
But our holiday was always special. All six of us children played at least one instrument. Growing up, I played the violin and trombone. We would all get together and play Christmas carols in the living room.
It would begin with my older sister, Mary, who would start a song on the piano. I would hear it, and then pick up my violin. Frank, who is 11 months younger than me, would grab his tuba and start playing the base line. Then Chuck would get his accordion out. Before you knew it, Ed was on his saxophone and Joan brought out her flute. Music was in the air! Mom and Dad would come around and start singing. It was a lot of fun.
For many years, we drove to Detroit and performed for Midnight Mass at a church that still had the Latin mass. In our own church, we played many years at the noon services and people would come specifically to hear us play. Dad would be the lector, so people would call it “the de Albuquerque mass!”
Yes, Christmastime for the de Albuquerques was about playing music together to celebrate Jesus’ birthday and to celebrate with others—whatever they were celebrating. It was about family, friends, and being thankful for what we had.
Gifts? Well, we received them, but it wasn’t a big deal. We were allowed to ask Santa for one big present. And I remember one year, my parents told us that Santa would not be able to bring all six of us one big present each (a big present was limited to $15) so we could only pick one small one.
I’m not sure it was a decision they made because of their financial position, or if it was to teach us a lesson that we couldn’t always get what we wanted. (My parents were all about teaching us lessons to make it in life.)
My favorite present from Santa was a Lite Brite. I stayed up late many nights playing with the little tubes and creating special effects with light. My next favorite gift was a View Master and I would travel in my dreams to wonderful destinations, or to Hollywood on the Star Trek set. These were wonderful presents, but every year was a wonderful holiday— regardless of what presents we received. We were taught the reason for the season was not gifts. And it wasn’t just Jesus. It was Jesus for us Catholics, but the season was much bigger than that. We were encouraged to celebrate with others—whatever they were celebrating.
To this day, I love all the holidays and respect every religion’s celebrations.
And to those of you who stand in line at midnight, or fight and pepper spray to get more gifts, well, I guess that’s your reason for the season, and I hope it works for you.
For me, I thank God for what I have. Give me my violin, good friends, a good drink and let’s celebrate with a song!
Happy Holidays, everyone!