In the antediluvian era of my childhood, when I was six or so — when there was no TV, and listening to adventure “serials” like “The Shadow,” “Sky King,” and “The Green Hornet” on the Crosley tabletop radio was a highlight of long winter evenings; when the Christmas season began in December rather than August, and there were no giant shopping malls; and when ordering was from the Sears Roebuck catalog, not online — the holiday season, wish lists, and Santa’s largess were far different, far simpler.
I do not now remember any of the presents Santa brought in those childhood years, not that far removed from the deprivations of the Great Depression and World War II, when the country was still getting back on its feet economically and the average family had little in the way of disposable income.
We got practical things, like socks and hankies and gloves, and there were treats not seen at any other time of year: oranges, tangerines, English walnuts, peppermint sticks, Brazil nuts, cloyingly sweet chocolate covered cherries, plus goodies Mother had baked — the traditional fruitcake, sugar cookies, mincemeat pie, black walnut cake.
There were a few boy-type gifts for my brothers and me, but across the chasm of decades, I have no recollection of them. I do remember the fireworks, which could then, long before OSHA safety regs, be purchased at any grocery store for not much money: whistling red devils, cherry bombs, zebra crackers, skyrockets, Roman candles. What fun!
Today, when our granddaughters compile their wish lists of electronic devices and a myriad of gift cards, they invariably ask what I want for Christmas. My reply is: “Nothing — I don’t need anything.”
From the carefree perspective of youth, they cannot even remotely comprehend that there comes a point in one’s life when things no longer have much relevance — that rather, the most treasured gifts are having them, and those we love, in our lives, and being safe in a country that, despite its troubles and divisiveness, remains the envy of most of the rest of the world.
And always, the fervent hope that the long-foretold era of peace and brotherhood that underlies this season can, somehow, some way, be their lifelong gift.