A Christmas Tale: Torture & Trials
December 20, 2010 § 6 Comments
There has always been, for as far back into my childhood as I can remember, one tradition to which our family adheres every single year. This familiar Christmas Day routine never varies or changes in any way. You may be thinking I am going to tell you about a loving family ritual, or a fun, exciting activity. Don’t get your hopes up. Don’t smile yet. Instead, I am going to tell you of the most hated Christmas tradition in our family. As children, my siblings and I would beg and plead to escape this penance. It was a severe punishment, a torturous device conjured by people who couldn’t possibly be the same as our normally loving and generous parents. And on Christmas Day, too! The agonies we endured! The horror we had to face on that most happy of mornings for small children!! You can probably guess by now what this tradition was. The amount of terror it strikes in hearts makes it not easily forgotten. I am talking about that excruciating Christmas Day tradition of not opening our presents until after Christmas Mass!
You read in stories about kids waking up their frazzled parents at 4 or 5 AM to open gifts. Hah. Not us. We knew that Mass had to come first. Why bother waking up so early when all you were able to do was flop on your stomach in front of the tree and stare longingly at the bounty? And even when we did wake up at 8:30 or 9, still they sat there, those sparkling, tinseled boxes of joy, their splendor reflecting the bright lights of the tree above them. Piles on piles of mysterious packages were laid at our feet because even though we were poor, when you have eight kids the stack of presents looks large no matter what.
Minute after minute, slow tick by tock of the clock, time would go by. Mom and Dad would get us ready for Mass in the usual manner, as if they had no idea what tortures they were inflicting on our poor souls. No matter how we pled and begged and quoted research, they were deaf to our cries. To be forced to see the gifts under our tree, to touch (but not shake!) the boxes, to guess at the mysteriously shaped ones, but to be kept from tearing into them until after church, this was our fate!
At ages less than 10, it is not very easy to attribute to Christmas its true meaning, and we were no different from most kids in the desire to put our presents before Christ’s Presence. Mass was an hour! An eternity to our young minds. And the kindly priest would go on and on to the children in the pews about: ‘oh how excited they must have been to open their presents and did they get what they wanted and were they going to run home and play with everything the moment Mass let out?’ Oh Father, the agonies of mind we suffered as your homily reached the 15 minute mark and continued.
Eventually though, as it always does, Christmas morning would catch up to our expectations. The stampede up the front steps after Mass, the cries of “Hurry, hurry!” as Mom poured a quick cup of coffee, and then finally the moment when the youngest child unwrapped the first present. It was a moment of bliss, a time to sigh in relief and know that soon enough, it’d be your turn. And of course, there were memories made.
I’m glad now to have experienced our family tradition. I understand what my parents were trying to accomplish with it and I like it. Christmas has come to symbolize many things in our culture, but to me, it will always be the time when I learned my best lesson on what, and who, really needs to come first in life. As a child at Christmas I knew it was good to receive, and now it’s even better to give, but best of all is the adoration due to our Messiah on His birthday. That is the true meaning of Christmas.