I could hardly have one of these newfound blogs, and not blog about Christmas. Am I right?
So, Christmas! Christmas was a dark holiday in the Bubka home growing up. I wish there was a bright side to that, but it really is what it is. As we approached my seventh Christmas – not surprisingly, one of the first Christmases that I can really remember – my mother died in a car accident. We had a little, red Volkswagen Bug at the time – honestly, it was probably a horrible car for the harsh winters in Denver, where I grew up. One Saturday evening, a couple weeks before Christmas, my mom had to drive up into the mountains west of Denver on an errand. On the icy roads on the way home, she drove off the road, into a fairly deep ravine, and died from her injuries.
There was a bit of a pall over Christmas in our home from that time forward. We still celebrated, of course. But as the Christmas tree went up each year, I always remembered the Christmas that Mom died. I never articulated it, but I kind of thought of Christmas as a yearly memorial to my mother. And my Dad, God bless him, wouldn’t have been great at Christmas, under the best of circumstances.
My Dad was a lot of things – most of them very positive. He was a great provider. He was as honest as the day is long. He was a hard worker. He was a good, Bible-believing, God-fearing, Christian man! One of the things that really shaped his character was living in Manhattan during the Great Depression. He learned to conserve, and to live a frugal life. Frugality is not a bad philosophy to have, in a lot of ways; but Christmastime as the son of a frugal father left a little something to be desired.
Typically, I would have three or four presents under the tree. There would be lots riding on those three or four presents; so you hoped that on Christmas morning, each one would pack some proverbial punch. What I learned was that there was a pattern to the presents. One would be something a kid would find useful. The rest would be practical, but disappointing. The underwear and socks I wore growing up were all Christmas presents. A couple of the blankets I used on my bed had been Christmas presents. Slippers were staples as Christmas presents. (You NEVER wore your socks around the house. If you put holes in them, it was a long wait until the next Christmas, when you would get some more!)
But Dad was an enigma – simple in some ways; complicated in others. He nearly always came through with one gift that I loved, and I loved him for his effort. One year’s memorable gift was a Mattel Football II handheld electronic game – I eventually wore it out.
Another one was Electronic Football. (I always thought the makers of this game must have sold their souls to the devil. Nothing this stupid should have ever been as popular as this was.)
Another year, he bought me Pong.
My all-time greatest gift was actually given to me by my older brothers. One year, they combined their funds and bought me an Atari 2600. I remember being breathless when I opened it, and then playing it on a 13-inch, black and white television I had in my room - for every waking hour, until Christmas break was over. I remember sensing that year that I had hurt my dad’s feelings, by not being more excited by whatever he had given me.
More than anything, I want them to remember Christmastime as a time they were loved and appreciated by their parents. I want them to think of Christmas as their absolute favorite time of the year. I hope that by the time they start their own families, we have been able to cement Christmas traditions that come so naturally, they won’t think of not continuing them on their own. And I hope that the sights, sounds, and smells of those traditions will take them back to a time of immense happiness.
I had a few thoughts of specific memorable Christmas experiences over the years – both growing up, and as an adult – but I thought I would save them for another day. (They won't be depressing, I promise. Still, there's something a little funny about underwear for Christmas, right?) Clearly, I am not good at being brief in these blog posts.