Christmas is upon us. Papers are full of ads. shops have decorated to the hilt. Wall Street is measuring the buying power of the public, and the real message of the season is drowning in wrapping paper and frenzied shopping.
Not like the old days on the farm in Norway. There, Christmas was an event that was looked forward to for weeks, a bright spot in the dark, Norwegian winter. And it never started until December! That month was busy with baking, cooking, and making decorations for the tree. We had no electric power, and, of course, no TV. My mother made a little snowclad village in the broad windowsill, between the "double" windows that we always installed in the winter. My sister and I would spend hours in front of this cotton-clad fairy tale land, making up stories about all the little Santas who inhabited the place. And the grown-ups got some much needed peace. How my mother managed to make 6 kinds of cookies in the wood-fired stove, is a mystery to me. But everything came out to perfection.
On December 23, we went with our dad to the forest to find the most beautiful tree. When the decision was made, he would chop it down, and my sister and I carried it home while dad went deeper into the forest to cut holly for decorations. The tree was left outside, and not taken in before we kids were sound asleep. The next morning, the room with the decorated tree was off limits. Nobody got to see it, and someone dropped hints about not having had time to decorate this year, so we would have to do with a witch's broom instead. We knew this was not true, at least it wasn't last year. But then again, who knew?
At ten o'clock in the morning, my sister and I carried a bowl of porridge over to the barn where Santa Claus lived. He usually moved in sometime in December, and lived in the hayloft where he watched over our presents. An hour later, we would return to the barn to find the bowl licked clean, and next to it two little marzipan pigs and a thank you note from Santa. That our dad was in the barn feeding the animals and easily could have disturbed Santa, or even have given the porridge to the horse (!) never aroused any suspicion in any of us that something was not quite right.
At three pm, dinner was served, usually pork ribs, meatballs and sauerkraut. With wonderful, homemade gravy with fat swimming on the surface. Strong, dark beer and aquavit for the grown-ups, strawberry soda pop for the kids. After dinner, we all cleaned up, the animals were fed, and by five it was the official start of the Holiday. No more work for anybody. We would all retire to our rooms and change into festive clothing. Suit and tie for my dad, and the newest dress (of which there were none too many due to a rather meager income from the farm in those days) for my mother. I can still see her coming down the stairs in a black A-line creation with thin gold stripes, pearls around her neck and smelling of Arpege Lanvin. The table was set in the living room for coffe, cocoa and Christmas cookies with a glass of home made liqueur for the grown-ups. We loved cookies, but the excitement of coming presents put a damper on our appetite, this was definitely the longest day of the year. Finally, the meal was over, and we were all sent to the kitchen. Only my mother was allowed in the living room. And we heard all kinds of sounds; rustling of paper, steps up and down the stairs, something dropping on the floor......oh God, the exitement was killing us.
Then all was quiet, and we knew she was lighting the candles on the tree. Yes, Virginia, we had real wax candles on the tree and a bucket of water in a corner. A miracle that the old house didn't burn down.
Finally came the signal for us to enter the living room: The tones of "Silent Night" being played on the old upright piano by my mother. We filed in with me first since I was the youngest. And there, in the adjoining room, stood the tree in all its glory with candles lit and a heap of presents underneath. It made a whole day's wait worth while. We would form a circle and walk around the tree singing the old Christmas songs while my mother accompanied on the piano. And the grown-ups would never stop singing, verse after verse while we kids tried to read the labels on the gifts and guess what was inside. Finally, they decided we had suffered enough, and we sat down and opened the glorious packages. To be honest, there were no luxuries to be found, but every little toy, every pair of hand knitted mittens or socks were received with elation. And books, books, books. These wonderful things that carried us away to far away places and entertained for weeks and months. Even today, I still prefer reading to watching TV.
When it was all over, we moved back into the living room for fresh fruit, more soda pop and a scotch and soda for the lucky. My sister and I were allowed a whole orange each, the rest of the year we always had to split one. My dad had to go out for a minute, and would you believe it, when he was out, Santa Claus in person knocked at the door. And he was tall and old, with a white beard and a red hat. That he was dressed in my dad's old bathrobe, was no reason for believing that he was not the real thing.
And Santa always brought the best presents: New skis, a little sleigh, a doll for my sister, a big teddy for me, every year he had something grand in his bag. He was duly thanked, and when he was gone, my dad came back in and was pitied because he just missed Santa.
Now I have a whole tree of oranges in my back yard, more stuff than I ever will need around the house, and no more wishes for presents. Christmas has become commercial and cold, and I no more look forward to it with anticipation. But the memories of my childhood Christmas no-one can take away, they will be with me till my last Christmas.
Some men are music lovers. Others make love without it.