A Christmas Retrospective

Growing up, Christmastime was as magical for me as could be expected for any child in love with life. I was enraptured by Santa, his elves, the toy factory in the North Pole, and his entire fleet of reindeer. Seriously, I was that child who adamantly believed in Santa until I was a solid 10 years old.

I still remember how the "enlightenment" unfolded, and how my whimsical world came crashing down around me. I had gone to the car to fetch something from the trunk, and nestled inside was “Miracle on 34th Street,” the very movie I’d written pressingly to Santa requesting as my gift for the year.

My lips quivered as I approached Mom, and when I explained what I’d seen, she grew perplexed and looked away. Sadness overcame me, and I don’t quite recall how Christmas was salvaged for me that year, but I think a fair dose of Christmassy movies did the trick.

Christmas always descended upon the Issa household the weekend of Thanksgiving. Dad would haul down the tree from the garage attic, and Mom would pull out boxes of ornaments and decorations from the shed. It was certainly a chore to erect the tree and hang all the knick-knacks upon it, but nothing could better immerse us in the spirit of the season.

During the weeks leading to Christmas, and even for a couple of weeks afterward, we had Christmas music on playback. A Country Christmas, Celine Dion’s Christmas, Christmas with the Stars, The Chipmunks' Christmas—you name it, we had every holiday CD imaginable.

What I fondly remember is sitting in the kitchen with Mom, pressing dough out of cookie guns with Christmas-shaped molds like trees, poinsettia petals, and snowflakes. Once baked, we’d spread homemade jam between two of these sable cookies and dust them with confectioners’ sugar. These buttery bites were my favorite, the emblem of the holiday season.

Gifts would start appearing beneath the tree in random fashion several days before Christmas. My brothers and I would try to wedge our fingers between the Scotch tape and wrapping paper, feeling our way across the fabric and texture of the concealed items. In later years, Santa became clever and tucked our presents in square boxes, denying us the pleasure of guessing beforehand what he’d brought.

Our excitement peaked on Christmas morning, when my younger brother would jump out of bed around 7 a.m. and drag us all to the tree to unwrap the magic. My parents watched with intrigue as we ripped open present after present, until the floor was a mess of ribbons and shiny paper. We would then don our new clothes—invariably there were new clothes among the gifts—and attend mass at the Maronite church to receive the Christmas blessing.

We were abject to part with the special day, but New Year’s Eve festivities were fair consolation. After that, we’d leave the Christmas tree up well into January, sometimes early February, to perpetuate the holiday cheer as long as possible. We scorned neighbors who threw out their trees curb-side just days after December 25th—what blasphemy!Poor Mom, it was she who had to dismantle the decorations while we were away at school. 

This Christmas, like the previous three, I am thousands of miles from my family who are celebrating together in sunny Southern California. As for me, I’ll be with my husband and second family, experiencing the joys of the holiday from a whole new vantage point in lovely Lebanon.

On that note, I'd like to wish you a very merry Christmas, and here’s hoping 2015 will bring endless good cheer, merriment, and health to us all.

Clockwise from top left: John Paul, me and Andre


  1. That was a very moving piece. I wish those memories linger for you for as long a you can and that you create new rituals and in your new household.

    1. Thank you, Tarek. Merry Christmas to you and your loved ones.


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