Be it a Good Economy or Bad Economy, Christmas Comes

Have a Very MerryI grew up in a home where money was always scarce. My father provided for a family of five on a salary that at best covered three. No one ever said, “We’ll have to economize this Christmas,” that was a given.

In an age of the “material girl,” Christmas on a budget seems like an unlikely feat. And yet for us, as I’m sure was true for millions of others, Christmas came, and it was consistently the best time of year.

Very few of our decorations came out of a box, most were hand made with a stack of red and green construction paper, a pair of scissors and a bottle of glue. The best of these were the red and green paper chains that wrapped around our tree that popped out of a box every year to my mother’s faithful pronouncement that this plastic tree was, “Just as good as the fresh!”  Best of all it was always there for us, where as the money to buy a real tree was far less certain.

Green sheets of paper cut in the shape of trees with red circles pasted all over them decorated the windows of our two bedroom third floor apartment in the Bronx. It was upon those windows that the endless battle between New York’s long cold December nights on the outside, and the warm moist air of our apartment’s clanking steam pipes on the inside, was fought. This endless tug of hot and cold caused the tape carefully placed on our paper window trees to pop lose leaving many of our paper trees sitting sadly on the floor each morning when we awoke.

I loved the excitement on the streets in the days before Christmas. People were kinder than any other time of the year, and everyone seemed busy with their own secret assignment. Even the regulars at the neighborhood bar appeared to be in better spirits. Lost in a fog of blue smoke, I slowed my pace as I passed and listened to the laughter and thanked God that my father, as our mother reminded us regularly, wasn’t one of those men that spent his nights on a bar stool when he was badly needed at home.

The shop windows were as much a part of the holiday glow as was the big tree that thrilled the kids each year in the park. My parents, my two brothers and I, would go out on cold nights to pay homage to this mighty tree. Ornaments the size of my head and lights the size of my fist left me slack jawed. Growing up in a home where religion took a back seat to the secular joys of Christmas and Easter, this mighty tree moving ever so slightly in a stiff December breeze was the closest thing I knew to a holy shrine.

No night of the year had the feeling of Christmas Eve particularly if it snowed. The city came almost to a halt. The light of the city busses went soft and the rumble of the traffic, even of the trains, seemed strangely muffled. I looked up through the buildings for the North Star and wondered how three wise men would have ever followed it to find Jesus if they had stood where I was standing now.
My small hand felt safe folded inside my father’s glove. It was Christmas, and that was all important. Soon we would be home, and in the morning Santa would have left presents, although I had no idea how since we had no chimney and the door this night, like every night, would be locked and chained.

Sure I would have liked more toys and bigger presents. Being the youngest of three boys I would have appreciated a pair of pants and a shirt that had not been worn previously by my older siblings, but none of that matters now. Most of the small gifts that I found on those Christmas mornings have long since vanished from my memory. All that is left is the quiet of Christmas Eve, the excitement of Christmas Day, the laughter and the love, all the wonder of the season.

—Martin Brown

SMW Money Channel Editor –