Gleefully we left the doctor's office that December 11th. It was true! The next year we would be known as Santa Claus to someone. We were going to have a baby.
We'd been married all of three months, and it was our first Christmas together. Even though we were just kids ourselves, 20 and 23, we were over the moon with excitement. How could we celebrate such a momentous occasion?
First we went to a tree lot and found a Christmas tree. It had to fit in the corner of the 8' x 35' mobile home we owned, so it was pretty skinny. But it was green and it smelled like the forest. We couldn't afford lights, or ornaments, so we were creative. Strands of popcorn, and tissue paper snowflakes were hung, along with Christmas cards and little bows. The cost of a package of cranberries stretched the budget too far, so Dee surprised me by stringing red pyracantha berries that he picked off the bushes outside our trailer. They shriveled up very quickly, so every morning he threaded new ones for fresh garlands.
Over the years we've had professionally decorated trees in our home, as well as trees covered with ornaments we collected from Christmas shops in Europe. One of our trees was 10 feet tall, covered with dozens of lights. But no tree stands out in my memory like our first one. It was like our marriage: it represented love, hope, dreams and new traditions.
Dinner at JB's Big Boy was our big splurge that night. The extravagant meal included soup, salad, steak and baked potatoes with the works. We even got cokes and dessert! It was a big deal. We arrived home just in time for me to lose it all in a bout of nighttime morning sickness. Dee stood at the bathroom door and consoled me by saying, "There goes our $12 dinner."
Christmas Eve we announced our good news by singing at the family party, "For unto us a child is born...unto us a son/daughter is given..." (we each sang our prediction.) It was snowing, so we left early and drove home for our own cozy celebration. After reading the Christmas story in Luke 2 we put up the new stockings I had made from red felt (they were hung on the knobs of the stove! I can't remember if Santa put anything in them besides small candy canes,) and went to bed.
I have to admit, I wanted to stay at my mom's that year. I couldn't imagine being away from my family on Christmas morning. Mom's Christmases were something from a fairytale, and Dad's presents were always stacked to the rafters. It took us a couple of hours to open them all, and then our grandparents arrived with more. There were fires in both fireplaces, and usually some other fun surprises (like new skis hidden in the garage) later in the day. How could I miss all that?
Dee was very excited for our Christmas. Since I was the first child to leave home and miss a big family event, my parents were urging us to stay. It was the first time we had to recognize that I had new loyalties, and it was hard. It made me feel guilty that I was choosing my family over theirs, and I resented them for making me feel that way. I don't think that was their intention, but that was the result. I love the quote that advises parents to "Hold your loved ones to you with wide open arms."
As newlyweds we never noticed how cold it got in our trailer at night. Christmas morning we woke up to find that our shower curtain was frozen into it's folds. The moisture had turned into ice! To save money we usually left our little coal oil furnace off, so Dee jumped out of bed to light it while I stayed under the covers. I told him to open his first Christmas present before he lit the fire. I gave him some long fireplace matches in a decorative box that took up residence on top of the fireplace (as we referred to it) as on object d' art after that.
When the room warmed up, we went into the kitchen and made hot chocolate with our candy canes, and real whipped cream. Dee lit a few candles we'd put on the tree (which was dry by then, and a huge fire hazard, I'm sure.) The presents were piled underneath. We had set a $10 budget for each other, but both of us had overspent. Dee gave me a book of Bruegel art, an ivory lace slip, and a tiny hymn book. Besides the matches, Dee got some 4711 Cologne. I had made him a collage of our 11 months worth of memories, and also a red flannel nightshirt. (He only wore the nightshirt once because it stuck to the sheets, and turned them red.)
Our opening ceremonies took about five minutes. There we were at 7:05 am on Christmas morning with nothing else to do! I think we reminisced a little, and probably fixed something fun for breakfast. I can't really remember the rest of the day. What I remember is that we laid a foundation for our own family. That was important for us. By the next year we were in the role of Santa Claus, and we eventually added so many fun traditions that we had to start eliminating them.
Dee was anxious for the two of us to establish ourselves as a family. I cherish that about him. He has always put our family above anyone or anything else, since the day we were married. It has given us strength and unity. At first I would have been happy to play house, and still return to my parent's home several times a week to get waited on and pampered. In fact I remember thinking about a month after we were married, "Well, this was fun, but I want to go home where my mom does all the hard work, and my dad makes all the tough decisions." Now I realize that would have diminished our abilities and self confidence, and I'm glad it was only a fleeting thought.
One of the great thrills for us has been to watch our kids start their own holiday traditions. It's fun to see which ones they include from their childhood, what their new spouse brings into the mix and what ideas they come up with together. I love hearing that somebody celebrates St. Nickolas Day, and that somebody else gives a George Bailey Award. I am equally delighted to have them included in events with their new family, like a Christmas Eve Nutcracker performance, a brunch at the grandparents house, or a sweater and eggnog party. I know how awesome it was to discover together what unified us. The Christmas of 1969 taught me that.