Christmas before Thanksgiving? That’s not the way I remember it

Robert Rufa Columnist

Here it is Christmas Eve, and while everyone else is doing some last-minute shopping, I’m sitting here trying to think of what to write about Christmas. I could kick myself. Why didn’t I start thinking about it in September, when everyone else starts thinking about Christmas? After all, stores were already putting out Christmas stuff in September, and even though there were still green leaves on the trees, the feeling of Christmas was in the balmy air.

Not everyone was happy with the early onset of Christmas though. For many, particularly people who work in those stores, Christmas is almost anti-climactic when it finally arrives. Those of us who remember the old days (not the same old days as our parents remembered - you know, the ones without electricity?) recall that the Christmas season officially began the day after Thanksgiving — and not with sales that kicked off before dawn.

And shopping on Thanksgiving Day? Santa would have a stroke.

In fact, nothing was open on Thanksgiving day when I was a kid — and what for? Everyone was at Grandma’s house, including Grandma. The last thing on anyone’s mind was going to Macy’s or Gimbels.

And what a Thanksgiving Grandma put on. She prepared everything on a coal stove, which also heated most of the lower level of the house (but not the bathroom). My aunts pitched in when they arrived, and when dinner was finally served in mid afternoon, everyone sat around the big table in the dining room. There was no separate table for the cousins.

It wasn’t until after Thanksgiving that the Christmas season began, and for every child within commuting distance of Manhattan, no Christmas was complete without a visit to Macy’s toy department. It was an attraction all its own, on a par with Coney Island and the circus.

I think if Macy’s had charged an admission fee to the toy department, kids would have saved up the entire year just to make sure they had the cost of a ticket.

For my family, Christmas was actually celebrated on Christmas Eve, when we once again gathered at Grandma’s house for supper and the giving of the gifts.

Centerpiece of the meal was always lentil soup, which was believed to bring good luck in the coming year.

Before we finished eating, Grandma crept up the stairs to the parlor, and a few minutes later she rang a bell from the top of the stairs.

That was our cue. We cousins raced up the stairs, trailed slowly by the grownups.

When everyone was assembled, Grandma called one of the cousins to come up and sit before the presents under the tree, from where we would call out the names on the tags.

We took turns for this honor, but we had to wait last to open our own gifts.

We would repeat this entire ritual in 11 months, and as usual no one gave much thought to Christmas before next Thanksgiving Day. Which is as it should be.