My late father was not what I would call particularly sentimental, at least not overtly. In fact he tended to be otherwise - more tranquil and unemotional, no doubt a reflection of his regimental military background (and the fact that to my knowledge he never drank a drop of alcohol - unless one counts my mother's "Dizzy Fruit" as he called it, a concoction of pears, peaches and other fruits drenched in sugar and a liberal portion of cognac or some similar preservative). He did however succumb to the magic of Christmas in his own special way. Though I can't recall him ever having bought a Christmas present for anyone in the family he nonetheless displayed his magnanimity by rolling up dollar bills of varying denominations in Christmas wrapping, tied up with a small coloured bow then randomly hung upon the Christmas tree. The custom was the cause of occasional concern as he or others attempted to recapitulate the total number of "gifts" to ensure that none was lost in the accumulating paper debris arising from the other gifts opened throughout the course of the Christmas morning ceremony.
Associated with this somewhat succinct demonstration of bountifulness was my father's annual impromptu Christmas letter which appeared to have been composed throughout Christmas Eve and well into Christmas morning. His writing paper was a modest collection of foolscap. It was naturally handwritten in his rather obscure penmanship; and if he seemed to be running out of pages, he wrote on both sides and along the edges in the margins. His themes invariably involved an assertion of joy, happiness and family pride - plus a good measure of financial astuteness.
My mother on the other hand focussed entirely upon the traditional spirit of Christmas, exemplified by unsurpassed culinary extravagance which began on Christmas morning with a breakfast of fresh orange juice and Champagne, lusciously buttered scrambled eggs, filet mignon, croissants and homemade peach jam. That evening there was a superb turkey dinner with every variety of vegetable adulterated with rich sauces and of course culminating with a plum pudding which arrived at table amid blue flames.
My sister and I spent our very early childhood together on Christmas Eve by lying on our backs on the living room floor under the Christmas tree, staring at the sparkling lights, bulbs and tinsel. At a very young age we together produced a Christmas mini-theatrical drama for our parents, accompanied by music from an ancient record player. We were known to plan those adventures as early as July.
When adulthood, marriage and employment altered our family customs, I recall spending a good deal of my time on Christmas Eve in my own home in preparation for Midnight Mass at St. Paul's Anglican Church along the Mississippi River in Almonte. I have always been a sucker for Christmas music, whether the sophistication of Handel or the drippiness of Mantovani. A roaring fire in the Vermont Casting and several measures of whiskey contributed to the experience.
Now we are on the threshold of our first Christmas without either of our parents. I can't say that I have done anything to perpetuate the many happy Christmases which we enjoyed together. It is pretty much a lost art for me where I stand, adjacent the Gulf of Mexico, distant from anything but a poetic rendition of snow.