Come Christmas morning, the gift opening was as thrilling as the anticipation building from Thanksgiving weekend. This event, in and of itself, was nothing less than ceremonious. Our living room floor became a sea of discarded wrapping paper and bows, and it was actually fun to lose our balance attempting to delicately tip-toe over a stack of gifts in brand new fluffy slippers. When our grandparents arrived Christmas morning, the jovial greeting that became another tradition was, "Well it must be Christmas at the Hanna household!" And it certainly was.
The celebration soon became a clean-up party where we would sort for Dad "burnable" and "non-burnable" paper. The beautiful ribbons and bows were gathered and given to Mom, who efficiently stored them away in a closet to adorn other gifts the following year. It didn't take very many years of this ritual for Dad to devise a clean-as-you-go program. Prior to opening any gifts, Dad gave to each of us a brown paper bag so we could deposit directly into the bags all the discarded wrapping paper. Dad would then carefully burn the the bags in our fireplace. Reflective of the joy in our hearts, our fireplace crackled and popped with glee most of the day.
Because of Dad's career as an officer in the merchant marines, and much to our heartbreak, he wasn't home for many a Christmas. The years he was home are the ones we remember the most clearly. It must have been so difficult for Mom to go through the motions of a full production knowing Dad would not be home for Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. Yet she did it. We never felt from one Christmas to the next any difference in her spirit for the season. It certainly must have bothered her as much as it bothered Dad not to be home with us on such a special holiday.
One particular year stands out because Dad was supposed to be home about three or four days after Christmas. Mom and the three of us decided to put Christmas on hold until Dad got home. How hard could it be to wait just a few more days? The ship's schedule was delayed, delayed again, and delayed a third time. But throughout, we were committed to "saving Christmas for Dad." By the time he arrived home, it was mid-February. Inside our home, it still looked like Christmas Eve. Ever elf and angel remained in his or her place, dozens of wrapped gifts were untouched, and even our trees were still postured for the celebration to begin. We had a wonderful Christmas that year. None of us remembers a single gift we received. We only remember that we had waited for Dad to be home with us for Christmas. What could possibly be more important?
There as a story Mom once told us about a Christmas when Dad was away at sea. In the middle of a dark ocean on a ship full of men who hardly knew each other, Dad wanted to somehow observe the Christmas. He wanted to acknowledge the holiday because it was a special time for him and his family. And he wanted to acknowledge Christmas for a crew of men who were all away from their families, too. Dad was sailing as Chief Engineer on this particular trip and thought it would be a great idea to string Christmas lights on the deck of the ship on Christmas Eve night. A quiet celebration that might lift the spirits of the sea-bound crew. As protocol dictated, the Chief had to first get clearance from the Captain of the ship. That shouldn't be a problem, but the captain did not agree to the idea, so no lights were strung on the deck of the ship.
Christmas passed that year unacknowledged by the men on board that vessel. Each had no family, no tree, no gift, no music, no lights. This story upset Mom a great deal. Dad wasn't asking for very much at all. He just wanted to see lights. That's all. Lights. He just wanted to see the Colors of Christmas.
To be continued . . .