Jack Ohman

Christmas memories of blue lights and that race car set

The holiday moment is upon us yet again. For many people, the holidays are a religious moment. For others, it is a secular bonanza of gifts, fattening food and lights. It can also be both. But, most importantly, it is a time for family, however you define it. Many of us have families that have been extended, amended or distended, depending on your point of view.

In my own case, my parents are no longer alive. But my children, in their 20s, are all very much with me, and I am the partial keeper of their collective Christmas memory, along with their mother, grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins and kids they grew up with. So I have to make an effort to maintain what Christmas is in their hearts. Blue lights are now pretty much what they associate with Dad and Christmas, because they were on sale at Target in 2005 and I needed some holiday cheer, fast.

The sameness of the holidays is what appeals to most of us. Familiar songs, ornaments, television shows, food and, in some cases, your sister-in-law’s weird sucking noises while eating chips. That may not be appealing, but it’s familiar.

My own Christmases were very toy-based. In a way, Christmas was like a game show for us. We got almost nothing during the year, and then, for one day, our lives became “Let’s Make a Deal,” with cash and prizes totaling hundreds of dollars. I can demarcate my own Christmases by the toys I received:

▪ 1966: The Aurora race car set

▪ 1967: The army men set

▪ 1968: The army helmet/M-16 set

▪ 1969: The pitchback baseball net

▪ 1970: The electric football set

▪ 1971: The Hot Wheels set

And so on, culminating in 1975’s .22 rifle and 1976’s Pong game. After that, Christmases were about shirts and sweaters, books and games. Later, it was about my kids, which made it fun again.

One year, I think it was 1965, it was suggested that Santa would rather have a martini left out for him instead of a plate of cookies. Santa left a note on a cocktail napkin: “Dear Jack. Thanks for the martini. It was delicious. Santa.” My dad and Santa had very similar handwriting, and they apparently both smoked Pall Malls.

Christmas was also the time we were Officially Documented in home movies. My father had a little 8 mm Honeywell camera, and I have several hours of grainy footage that, frankly, I have zero interest in watching today. My kids find it very amusing, what with all those plaid pants and failed facial hair bids.

This is kind of hard to admit, but we didn’t go to church, and I was acutely aware of that fact. There was no religious component to Christmas for me then. When I got married, we did go to church, and it made it more meaningful. When families split, it can make holidays especially poignant, and I now fondly recall the angry toy-assembly fights at 3 a.m.

Perhaps the oddest Christmas moment I experienced was when we took our kids to Disneyland. My son, then 9 or so, chose the touching father-son moment at the Magic Kingdom castle to look at me with big blue eyes and say: “Dad. You’re Santa Claus, aren’t you?”

I denied it. I continue to deny it to this day.

I envy those people who have really terrific Christmases each year. Now, I have finally figured out how to enjoy Christmas again. I do something really simple.

I think about what it actually means.

I listen to Christmas Mass on the radio. I call my friends I haven’t talked to in a while. I enjoy being with loved ones. It’s not too late to make a new Christmas or Hanukkah memory.

And if you see blue lights in my window, come on in. We can use the race car set.