Believe it or not, I still remember our first Christmas tree. I have a photo of myself sitting on my sister’s lap to prove it. I marveled at the lights and all the trimmings.
By the time of the next Christmas, my parents had divorced. Still, we always had a Christmas tree, as my mother always allowed my father into our home to provide one. She even allowed Santa Claus to slip in and lay presents for myself and my sister under the tree.
This pattern followed until I eventuality learned who the real Santa Claus was.
One Christmas when we went to the market to buy a tree, I asked my father what kind of tree he had when he was a boy. He said he never had a tree.
Having come from the coal fields of Illinois and his father having followed another tradition — spending time in the saloon — there was little money left for a tree as my father had a brother and two sisters.
Having left the coal fields of Illinois, my father came to Chicago as a young boy to seek work and eventually found it as a roofer handling hot tar and pitch. In other words, he was strictly blue collar. Even so, he had it established it in his mind that, according to him, “Christmas was for kids.”
One time when we visited my cousins’ house, it was bare and destitute as there were so many kids and during the Great Depression they were poor.
When he asked where the tree and presents were, He received the reply, "There aren’t any, Uncle Pat." That is when he turned and said, “Come on, Tom.” He then took me to the 5 and 10 cent store and told the clerk to take two bushel baskets and fill them with toys. The next stop was to buy a tree.
When we went back to my cousins’ house, my father set up the tree and spilled all of the toys on the floor. That was when pandemonium took place. With that, he turned and led me out of the door.
During World War II, when there was a possibility of a shortage of trees, He said, “Don’t worry. We will have one even if we have to chop down a bush.“
Later on in life, when I was married and had children of my own, my father asked me if Christmas had gotten to the point where it was just another day. My response was, “No, Dad. I don’t think that it ever will.”
When my father died on Jan. 6, 1979, in New Orleans, La., my wife and I had to travel there for my father’s funeral as he died quite suddenly from a heart attack.
When we arrived, I was surprised to find he had wrapped Christmas lights all around the front porch.
If someone were to ask me if I follow the Christmas tradition, I would have to reply, without getting into any religious aspects or controversy, that Christmas is for kids and that it follows the concept of giving or helping others.
May Santa Claus rest in peace.