As a child, I loved all the decorations, the decorating and the preparations that went into Christmas.
My father and my mother would be busy in the kitchen, baking, cooking, preparing tasty treats. Amidst the smells and arguing over whose butter tarts were the best, my sister, Anne and I, would be busy exploring the wrapped parcels that kept appearing under the tree, trying to determine what was what and already beginning the negotiating process of, I'll give you my XYZ (which I was always convinced I was getting because it was on my list) if she gave me her ABC (which she was equally convinced she was getting from her list too).
Perhaps, my favourite all time present was my Bride Doll. I had coveted her. Wanted her for ever. And I mean, at seven years old, it was f-o-r-e-v-e-r. I had seen her first in a Simpson's Sears Catalogue. Blond. Blue-eyed. Perfect figure. White dress and veil. Ahhh, that white dress and veil. It was crisp and lacy. Frilly. Layered and tulled. Her veil wasn't long. Just to her shoulders but it frothed out around her head like a cotton candy aura.
She was perfect. And I wanted her. Desperately.
My sister, with whom I shared an affinity for playing dolls and dress-up, wanted a Bride Doll too. Copy cat. Which was a good thing because, at two and a half years apart, for some reason, my mother and father thought we were twins and always bought us the same of everything, except if it was clothing, I got red and she got blue. Perhaps the colour difference was the only way they could tell us apart.
But we were so different, my sister and me.
Anne was quiet. Shy. Introverted.
I was inquisitive, chatty, gregarious.
My sister looked at the world as a scary place that needed to be negotiated carefully and thoughtfully. I looked at it as a great big place to be explored with gay abandon. Nothing could go wrong. There was always magic afoot.
We shared a room, my sister and I. Her side was neat and tidy. Mine was a creative jungle. My parents, despairing of my organizational skills and embarrassed by my clutter, would always ensure my sister got the bed by the door so that only her tidiness could be seen when walking by.
Me, I didn't care. And, while she might disagree, I know that my mess wasn't all my mess because I know, guide's honour, that when she needed to tidy up her side to impress our parents, she'd just throw everything onto my side. Really. Honest. Cross my heart. It wasn't all my mess. That's what she used to do!
That Christmas of the Bride Doll coveting -- there were threats of not getting it. Threats she might be the only one to receive it because, well, I had this difficulty with being 'obedient'. Even though the baby Jesus needed me to be 'good', I struggled to obey. This doing what I was told was hard work. What was I going to do?
And so, every Saturday evening when we'd go to confession, my list of transgressions just kept getting longer. And longer. And longer.
Bless me Father for I have sinned. I forgot to put away my puzzle. I talked back to my mother. I fought with my sister (when didn't I fight with my sister?) and... the list would go on. From three or four sins on the First Sunday of Advent, to a lengthy liturgy of transgressions by Christmas Eve.
I think I must have thought, if I just keep confessing, God will forgive me and maybe, in His power, wipe my parents' memories clean of all my sins so that they would ask Santa to please, please, please, make me one happy little girl by bringing me the thing I coveted most.
It was always my fear, even after seven whole years of experiencing the fact my sister and I always got the same things, I always feared she'd get what we had asked for and I wouldn't -- because in our sisterly equation, she was the 'nice' and I was the 'naughty' -- or, as I was 'affectionately' called, The Brat.
And then, what would we do?
I think it was that question more than any other that haunted my childhood Christmases. What if my sister got something I didn't? What if she got what we had both asked for -- because we never thought to ask for different things -- and she got it and I didn't because everyone knew she was the favourite and I was The Brat and the scales of childish justice would be forever tipped and I would have to sit and watch her play with that one perfect thing we both wanted for Christmas!
Oh perish the thought. It couldn't happen. They wouldn't do that.
But, just in case... I'd keep adding to my confessional list of transgressions. Venial sins, they were called. What's venial, I'd ask my father and he would reply, as he always did, "Go look it up." And I would get out the big red leather covered Webster's Dictionary, lift it down to the table and look it up.
Slowly, my finger following the letters, I would sound it out. v-e-n-i-a-l ve·ni·al adj.
1. Easily excused or forgiven; pardonable: a venial offense.
2. Roman Catholic Church Minor, therefore warranting only temporal punishment.
It was the idea of 'easily forgiven' I liked the most.
I'd close the book and race back to my sister to whisper conspirationally what I'd found. Because, like me, she too had a fear we wouldn't receive our wish -- not because of her bad behaviour but rather, because of mine. Being all of two and a half years older her memory was obviously better than mine because she did remember the fact we always got the same things and she had no doubt, if I didn't get it, she wouldn't either.
She'd plead with me to please, please, please be good. To not be so difficult. To not upset mom anymore. To not disobey. To be quiet and just do what I was told.
And I'd promise her. Cross my heart and hope to die, from now one and forever more, I would obey.
And then I'd forget. Just like I hoped my parents would forget my sins. I'd always forget.
And we'd worry all over again about our Bride Dolls arrival on Santa's sleigh.
But they did come. Just like Santa and his reindeer's promise to appear every Christmas eve, they were there that Christmas morning.
Beautiful and virginal and white, they stood beneath the tree in frothy white tulle and organza, shapely bodies, tucked in waists, identical twins.
I remember we had to figure out how we'd differentiate between the two and I, clever child that I was, decided I'd give my Bride.... nipples.
Don't ask me why. I have no idea, other than my big sister Jackie had a friend who had the pointiest breasts I'd ever seen and I was fascinated by their triangular perfection. And so, I took a giant safety pin and poked a hole in the end of each of my Bride's breasts.
I had to do it covertly because I was terrified someone catch me and scold me for taking all my doll's clothes off. They weren't supposed to be seen naked you know!
And she lost her perfection after that. Lost her glitter and charm and place in my heart. I remember being somewhat ashamed of having deformed her and would always hide my transgression from everyone by insisting I WAS THE ONLY ONE WHO COULD PLAY WITH HER.
She was the one thing I wouldn't trade with my sister, for anything. Never. Ever.
Even when she accidentally pulled out my earring and it heart so much I cried, I wouldn't give up my Bride Doll.
Perhaps that's why when I eventually got married, I never wanted to wear a veil, or white frothy dress. And I didn't.
Over at Faith Barrista, Bonnie Grey has written a superb article -- Top 8 Do’s & Don’ts: Gift Giving Drama At Christmas. She has also posted a link for other's to write about their Christmas Faith and how to focus on the gift of Jesus versus the giving of gifts.