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The amnesia of Christmas

When I was a little girl, $52 bought a lot of Christmas for our little family.

No one suffered in our house during Christmas.
CC/Flickr/Chris R McFarland
No one suffered in our house during Christmas.

When I was a little girl, no one suffered in our house during Christmas.

My mom was a member of the Grand Avenue State Bank’s  “Christmas Club.” 

If you were lucky enough to belong, the bank took your Christmas Club account money every week and refused to give it back to you — until December 1st.  

Housewives in my neighborhood loved this — because it ensured they had enough to buy their families a wonderful holiday. 

My mom loved it best.  Without the club, she knew she would forget to save.

“It’s amnesia,” she said.  “I forget Christmas is coming!”

My mom managed to deposit a dollar each week into her Christmas Club account — and let me tell you — when I was a little girl, $52 bought a lot of Christmas for our little family.  

My own personal, private ‘elf’

And Christmas in our house needed every penny.

My dad was a Linotype operator for the Pioneer Press. It was  good job, a decent job, a well-paid job.  But Christmas was a magical time, and required more from each of us.

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And so it came to pass that each year, my father joined-up as one of Santa’s elves.

I knew it.  My brother knew it.  My mom told us so.

“Santa needs people like your dad,” she said, “to get all his work done.  Look at the beautiful things Santa makes in his shop.  Without your father, how could he do it?”

That’s how, throughout my childhood, I knew that the meticulously carved, hand-crafted wood-worked gifts I received every year on Christmas morning were made in my own house.  By my own dad.

Unique, collectable, wonderful toys — like,  a doll-sized bed with real, turned bed posts, painted blue and white; a stool with my name painted in Scandinavian rosemaling; a wagon for my baby doll, with real, rubber wheels painted baby-doll white.

Made for me — by own personal, private “elf.” 

The disappearing Tiny Tears

My mother too, was in cahoots with Kris Kringle. 

Before Thanksgiving, my Tiny Tears doll would disappear.  Her name was Grace — she was always with me — and when she went missing, I was lost.

Every year I’d hunt for her, worry for her, cry for her — beg my mother to help me find her.  To no avail.

Courtesy of Kristine Holmgren
“Maybe Grace went home to visit Santa,” she said.

“Maybe Grace went home to visit Santa,” she would say. “Maybe she got homesick for the North Pole.”

My Christmas amnesia; I never remembered that the identical problem occurred at the identical time the prior year.

And of course — every year — on Christmas morning, there she was; my little Grace — under the tree, decked in a brand new, hand sewn dress, surrounded by mounds of freshly sewn play clothes, home-made sweaters and caps, blankets and shoes.

All of this, because of my mother’s Christmas Club — and her holiday budget of $52.

Trying to recreate the impossible

When I started my own family,   I wanted to give my girls the same magic my parents provided. 

And so, every year,  I set aside my own “Christmas Club” fund.

To this day, I stash a dollar here, a fifty there — and hope that the end of the year I’ll have enough to lavish a grand and unforgettable holiday upon my own children.

But something always gets in the way.

One year, the car broke down.  I had to use the holiday cash to repair the transmission and rebuild the carburator.

Another year, the downstairs bathroom pipes burst, and all my “Christmas Club” cash went out the door with the clean-up crew.

This year, I have to use the Christmas Club money to replace damaged, dangerous carpet in my basement.

And so it happens  — every year, about this time — I apologize again to my children.  I’m sorry the holiday won’t be grand.  I’m sorry I don’t have the money to make it lavish.  I want it to be magical- I want it to be remembered. 

And every year they say the same thing.

Christmas all ready is magical.  Every Christmas day memorable.

My gifts are special, and every moment precious.

Their words shake away my amnesia.  I remember what two simple people did with $52 and a lot of imagination.  

If my parents could be Santa’s elves, so can I. 

And so — this year — no apologies.  I’m going to remember what my amnesia seduces me to forget.

The blessings of the holiday are bigger than the limits of our wallets. It doesn’t take a grand bank account to make a grand Christmas memory!

From my little house to yours — Merry Christmas, and happy, happy New Year! 

This post was written by Kristine Holmgren and originally published on Kristine Holmgren — Drama Queen.  

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