Toy Trains, Grandmother’s Good China, and Children

By Lawrence “Mack in Texas” Hall (Rated G)

As Inspector Barnaby says in one of the Midsomer Mysteries, we can’t recover the past; that’s why it’s the past.

Childhood Christmases are often the metaphorical benchmark for our present Christmases, and that won’t do. The magic of opening a package under the tree on Christmas morning is for little children; it won’t work for us and it’s not meant to. And that’s okay. Besides, at some point in all the visiting we’re going to be privileged to watch children open their presents, and we’ll get to share a little of their magic, like a puff of pixie dust.

In the run-up to Christmas there was for over a century a little commercial magic in the Sears & Roebuck catalogue, but that disappeared long ago and after this Christmas the few remaining Sears stores are going away too. Where, then, can little boys go to see the magic of toy trains running on multiple levels through a cotton-wool winter landscape? Where did they go, the tiny little people forever waiting at a rural railway station and the others walking, sawing wood, sitting by a window? Where are all the little houses and stores and barns lit by miniature grain-of-wheat light bulbs?

Young adults don’t remember walking and shopping along streets lined with shops, and their children won’t remember shopping malls.

Ordering by electrical mail is certainly efficient, but you can’t fit Santa Claus or a junior high choir into a UPS truck.

Artificial Christmas trees – bah, humbug!

One good thing about a modern Christmas is that no one seems to stage Charles Dickens’ tedious A Christmas Carol much anymore. When I was a child I always hoped someone would kick Tiny Tim’s little crutch out from under him. And maybe someone did.

I wonder when someone first said, “Christmas has become too commercialized!” Probably about 34 or 35 A.D.

How remarkable that the appearance on the dinner table of Meemaw’s “good” china, probably from Sears or Montgomery Ward, brought out only twice a year, can bring back all sorts of those childhood memories I just now cautioned you against.

On Sunday morning after Mass the teenagers assembled the Stable, and then some little children knelt before it to arrange the hay just so, and then place almost every figure – the Infant Jesus is brought on Christmas Eve – just so: Mary, Joseph, the crib, camels, oxen, shepherds, wise men first in this place and then in that, talking to each one of them about how when Christmas comes they must keep the Baby Jesus warm.

Magic.

Merry Christmas, everyone.

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