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Matt Von Pinnon, Published December 19 2010

Von Pinnon: An ideal Christmas exists in our childhood memories

When I was a boy, I could count on running one errand this time of year.

My mother would have me bike down to Walgreens to get her a copy of the annual Ideals Christmas magazine.

For those unfamiliar with Ideals, it’s a simple but elegant glossy magazine dedicated to beautiful photography, hand-painted art and well-crafted stories, poems and seasonal songs. But what it really did well was sell nostalgia.

As a child, I never really understood its allure. It seemed so basic, and yet it was expensive, even 30 years ago. But Mom had to have it every year. At the end of a busy day of taking care of us kids, cooking, hand-writing Christmas cards and generally preparing everything for the holidays, she would sit in her favorite chair, turn down most of the lights except for the one nearest her and slowly page through the magazine.

The Christmas imagery in Ideals didn’t resemble the Christmas I knew. It contained scenes of snowy New England farmsteads, old-timey sleigh rides, winter flowers and brightly colored birds. Think Norman Rockwell, Christmas cards from grandmas, that sort of thing. Come to think of it, I’m not sure those images were even reflective of my mother’s past Christmases.

That’s what’s so interesting about Christmas and this time of year. Most of us strive for the ideal, often only to be let down by our own lofty expectations. We somehow think that by giving the perfect gifts, making the best food and decorating the house just right, this Christmas will be one that everyone will remember for years.

But, at least in my experience, that rarely happens.

For me, Christmas memories are like a hazy winter day. Years and family celebrations blend together. Gifts received or given rarely stand out, even though they were special at the time. Traditions morph and mix as family dynamics change. But an overwhelming sense of love and warmth remains because we felt that love and warmth as children, when Christmas was truly magical.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, my first Christmas without my mother, who passed away earlier this year. Even though I’m surrounded by a loving family and two little girls whose eyes are bright with Christmas magic, I’m reflecting on my own childhood Christmas memories, which seem more perfect as the years go by. I also spend a fair amount of time worrying that I’m not adequately providing my children the idyllic holiday memories my parents were able to provide me.

As I consider memories of youth and the classic Christmas imagery my mother sought in Ideals magazine, I wonder if we’re not all just seeking a more peaceful life spent with those we love. At Christmastime, we are brought back to our childhood, when all things were possible, including this.

Von Pinnon is editor of The Forum. Reach him at (701) 241-5579.