I used to "do" Christmas--I cooked traditional dishes, gave parties, bought presents and generally partook in the chaos and stress of Christmas 30 years ago. This morning I was remembering the time I took the astronomical amount of $200 cash in my purse to shop at Macy's, and how nervous I was that I might not make it to the store without being mugged. I tried my best not to look as if I had $200 cash on me and forged ahead, two blocks from where I lived on West 34th to the giant retailer.
The year must have been 1973. I had gotten my first American Express card in 1972, and I had a Macy's charge card before that, but for some reason it made more sense to me to budget Christmas separately and pay in cash. Not a bad plan, but probably unusual even for those ancient days. I had two daughters and a husband to shop for, and the girls were 11 and 12 in 1973.
Christmas from my childhood included old English and French carols, which we sang at that odd school I went to. Solemn, medieval stuff, like "Lullaby of the Christ Child," in a minor key, with lines like "Thousand seraphim/Thousand cherubim/Soaring high above the little Lord of Love." My favorite was the joyous French one, "Bring a Torch, Jeanette, Isabella," but I also loved "O Little Town of Bethlehem," "Away in a Manger," oh, all of them, I guess, even "Jingle Bells" with the part about "we--we got upsot!" I still love the Christmas music that has to do with the religious side of Christmas, I don't know why, it's imbedded in the spirit of Christmas to me, just like the smell of a fresh fir in the living room.
I noted in the early 70's the phenomenon of the secular music piped into the stores. The most popular seemed to be "The Twelve Days of Christmas," which I supposed was played so relentlessly because it was actually about shopping.
Cookies were my personal contribution to the Christmas mood. I love baking, and there is nothing more rewarding than baking crispy rich cookies and decorating them with two little girls who want to use purple icing and combining the red and green to come up with an unappetizing brown. You try to show them, but you honor their personal taste, such as it is--and the cookies are going to be wonderful anyway. The smells of cinnamon, apple pies baking, the racks of cookies in all shapes and descriptions, always add to the spirit of the season. I even made my own egg nog to wash them down. I've always abhorred the packaged version.
As to cash, that's a thing of the past, I suppose. Nobody moans that too few people bake cookies that they mixed from scratch, with fresh butter, eggs, sugar, flour and spices. The bought cookie dough works as well. Everybody loves "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas." probably as much as "Silent Night." Okay. And paying for presents with money ($200 at that) has gone the way of the dinosaur. But some little vestige of the Christmas the old-fashioned way sticks with me.