A lot of recently returned LDS missionaries will tell you that the best Christmas they’ve ever had was one on their mission. 10 out of 10 of them are lying. Don’t get me wrong, I loved my mission, and was VERY successful. No, I’m not going to tell you how many conversions I had because that would be tacky. We’ll just say it was 5.1 times the area average.
My first Christmas as a missionary found me working as the designated “Car Fleet Elder,” due to the fact that my rotten companion, who was a few months away from going home, refused to do missionary work. So they put him out to pasture in the mission office, and I had the misfortune of having to tag along with him. I have warm memories of vacuuming floor mats and changing oil during the ’99 holiday season. Elder B., if you are reading right now, I want to thank you for ruining 3 months of my life. But I digress—I started this post with the intention of talking about my best Christmas memories and we got off track.
The thing I remember most fondly about all my childhood Christmases is the traditional routine just preceding the grand unveiling. Christmas Eve brought a big Thanskgiving-like dinner, a reading of Luke 2, and the viewing of It’s a Wonderful Life. Afterward, all 6 kids would sleep in the bedroom of the oldest sibling still at home. I spent most of the night restlessly watching the digital alarm clock crawl from the still-exciting 12:00’s to the bleak 4:00’s, then drifted off before the 5:00’s popped up. I would be shaken awake at 6:30 or so to the squeals of delighted older siblings.
We then went upstairs, each wrapped in our own family-made quilt. We were restricted to the living room while Mom and Dad finished setting up in the family room. I disliked this part because of the painful anticipation, but also because I disliked the living room in general. Nothing good ever happened there for a special little boy afflicted with A.D.D. Piano practice, hour-long Family Home Evening lessons, meetings with a creepy old lady trying to motivate you to stop wetting your bed by giving you Strawberry Shortcake stickers, and one-on-one parental conversations about awful topics like puberty. These were the ugly ghosts haunting that living room, and I had no use for the place.
After an eternity of 10 or 15 minutes, we were allowed to enter the room of lights and lucre. For some reason our presents were never wrapped, but were naked in shiny, giant piles. This seems odd to me now, but I liked it that way as a kid. It was all business. Each kid’s pile was always in the same place, so we knew exactly which part of the room to sprint to without so much as a scan to see whose pile was whose. One year the folks accidentally switched my pile location (I was around 10) with my 4 year-old sister’s, and I ran right up to the little play kitchen and My Little Ponies. It didn’t occur to me that this pile didn’t belong to me. This was my spot; that much was immutable. I was baffled but managed to fake excitement about my little plastic kitchen for a good 20 seconds until a higher authority realized what was happening.
I never really knew what gifts to ask for, so the folks had to wing 80% of my presents. I recall Ryan being the same way. He just needed a few things from Deseret Industries to replenish his perpetually wrong-decade wardrobe. Not Davis though. No, greedy little Davis would have a typed list worth 5 or 6 times the allotted amount, requesting things from stores existing only in Paris and New York. A big percentage of my take was always a surprise, and I was usually very pleased. The biggest, best surprise of all was a guinea pig, which was awesome until he died a couple months later when I left the bedroom window open for a few hours. Apparently, all that fur and fat is only for show.
After rifling through our loot, we would play with our toys, the two sisters and Davis would try their new clothes on, then we all gorged on cinnamon rolls and orange juice. After a few hours we would head up to visit both sets of grandparents in Ogden, which we called “Hog Town” because it sort of rhymed and mostly because it seemed like a funny thing to call it.
My maternal grandparents hand-made many of their own elaborate Christmas decorations, so their house was a lot of fun that time of year. My favorite part of the decor was a big motorized iceberg set that would lift an endless line of little plastic penguins up an escalator thing and send them sliding down to the bottom. My paternal grandparents lived in a big, funky old house near downtown. That house always felt cozy to me, and those two were good times to visit. One recurring memory of these visits is of Grandma passing around a used gallon-sized ice cream bucket full of strange, old-person cookies. I wondered what possessed the elderly to have such weird tastes and why an otherwise socially masterful woman failed to notice the bucket coming back with nearly the same level of cookies as it had before being passed through 48 people, year after year. After hours of cousin play, we returned home, played some more, then went to bed, secure in the fact that we had tons and tons of time until the resumption of school and real life.
Those are my favorite memories. Feel free to share some of yours.