Growing up in Southern California, I didn’t have the four seasons. Summer meant sloshing on the Slip n’ Slide and sticking the garden hose inside my dad’s inflatable lifeboat to fill it up for our own homemade swimming pool. Winter meant we might need a jacket while playing outdoors.
All in all, I grew up in a world of sunshine, orange trees, blooming hibiscus and bougainvillea.
I don’t recall much about Thanksgiving at our house. We usually had a turkey dinner with no one invited to join us. My dad had ongoing feuds with relatives, so I’m sure that had a lot to do with us dining by ourselves. One Thanksgiving my dad’s Aunt Myrtle invited us to have Thanksgiving dinner at her house. This seemed like a wonderful treat to go to someone’s house for Thanksgiving. Aunt Myrtle’s daughter, a teenager at the time, passed me a bowl of peas soon after we had all seated ourselves at the table and the prayer said. I passed the peas right on by as I hated peas. The teenage cousin said to my mom in a haughty tone, “Aunt Bev, shall I make her eat peas?” My mom told her it was okay for me to not eat peas. As you probably have guessed, I was never fond of that cousin after that.
We didn’t have any Thanksgiving traditions. No turkey piñatas or pin-the-tail-on-the turkey feathers. No stating to one another what we’re thankful for. I do remember we always had the tug of war with the wish bone and I never won.
Christmas meant a lot more fun because my mom would hire on at the post office to help with the onslaught of mail during the Christmas season. This meant she made money to buy us kids more presents. On Christmas day, Mom whipped up her special hot chocolate made with evaporated milk and powdered cocoa. She warmed Van de Kamp pastries in the oven until the icing melted and looked gooey. Every year my sister and I had the great fortune of finding gold, foil-wrapped chocolate coins in our Christmas stockings, (we hung our stockings on a wrought-iron end table because we didn’t have a fireplace). After filling up on the hot chocolate, the pastries, and the chocolate coins, we were bouncing around the tree with sugar-fueled mania. One Christmas morning I found a shiny blue bicycle parked by the tree. It gave me such excitement and thrill, I didn’t even want to wait around for the warmed-up pastries or the special hot chocolate. I pedaled right out the door, feeling happier than winning a hundred bucks (which I thought was a lot of money).
Every year, when New Year’s Eve rolled around, my sister and I were allowed to stay up late while my dad snored away in the bedroom. Just before the clock struck midnight, my mom grabbed her cowbell (to this day I don’t know why she had a cowbell as cows didn’t exist in our neighborhood). My sister and I dug through the kitchen drawers to find the largest metal spoons and then scoured the cupboards for the biggest metal pans. At midnight, Mom stood on the front step and waved her cowbell, clankity, clank, clank. My sister and I galloped around the front yard banging the spoons on our pans and bellowing as loud as we could, “Happy New Year!” No other neighbors came out of their houses to ring in the new year. Just us making as much racket as we could (it was new year’s after all). Thinking back, I can imagine some of the neighbors, already in bed for the night, probably had to put the pillow over their ears while wondering aloud, “When will those girls and their mother shut up!”
Back then, Kwanzaa didn’t exist and no one said “Happy Winter Solstice.” Everyone said Merry Christmas to one another, even teachers and bank tellers and the saleslady at J.C. Penney’s. No one said with indignation, “That’s not my holiday.” No one looked aghast like, “How dare you say Merry Christmas to me!” When people were offended back then, they had the opportunity to say, “I’m offended,” and we had the opportunity to say, “Oh, I’m sorry, please forgive me.”
I miss those days when we could be open with each other, rather than worry if we might offend someone because we celebrate a different holiday than someone else. If someone ever says “Happy Kwanzaa” to me (and no one ever has) I think I would say, “thank you.” Why would I be offended? Would I want to say, “How dare you say that to me when I don’t celebrate Kwanzaa!”
I get it. I understand we’re a more diverse society than we were back then. I understand that retailers want to make as much money as possible so they have resorted to the all inclusive “happy holidays.”
Yet, I miss the Christmas season of my childhood. People happily wished others a ‘Merry Christmas’ without apprehension. People had nativity scenes on their lawns. No one worried that someone might object and file a complaint. And Christmas trees were a custom and a fun tradition and not considered an exclusive symbol of Christianity.
There are things about my life as a child that I don’t miss. I don’t miss cigarette commercials…”Winston taste good like a cigarette should.” I don’t miss the lack of support for battered women. I don’t miss the belief that divorced women were somehow shamed. I don’t miss the belief that “ladies” wore dresses. I don’t miss the limited opportunities for women. Girls grew up to be housewives, teachers, nurses, and secretaries. Men did the “real” jobs.
What I do miss, however, is the general feeling of goodwill toward others no matter what a person believes, instead of today’s suspicion and fear that we might offend.