My list of Christmas experiences is pretty lengthy. I’ve got 29 years’ worth of them.
This time of year, the memories of both good and bad holidays are always at the forefront of my mind. However, this year I’m looking forward to what I think could become my best Christmas yet.
I’ve had some good Christmas holidays. I must say, Santa almost always pulls through on my wish list. Whether it was a new gun, a video game system or some new golf clubs, when I went down the steps at my parents’ home I was never upset to see what awaited.
Of course, the holidays change as we grow older. I remember pounding on the door of my parents’ bedroom as a child. They always slept in so late. Once we hit our teen years, they had to drag my brother and me out of bed.
The meaning of Christmas expanded some with age. It was a pain, but it was also time to spend with the folks you love most. It became one of the few dates on the calendar on which everybody could be present.
While I was jumping out of planes, my brother was on fishing boats in the Bering Sea. We were a family spread thin over a continent and sometimes a world, but we usually managed to get together for Christmas.
There are other Christmas traditions which developed in my life throughout the years. At about the age of 21, my friends and I started one of which I was particularly fond. We called it “Black Christmas,” named after a mix of Great Lakes Christmas Ale and Guinness served at a local bar in my hometown.
Every year, for about four consecutive years, we gathered on Christmas afternoon at Ziggy’s Bar and Grill. We had a few. Then it was back to the hustle and bustle of the holidays. Putting my lips on that cinnamon and sugar-garnished glass was always a nice break from the hectic Christmas day festivities in our family.
Rabbit hunting also became a Christmas tradition. My mother was never too happy when my father and I, joined by a cousin and close friend, took to the woods on Christmas Eve or Christmas, but we did it anyways.
We trampled around the woods for a few hours with a Beagle named Cleo. Cleo never ran a rabbit, and we never shot one. I guess it was good my mother still made the roast beef.
Christmas became less about the gifts and more about spending time with family and friends.
One year I was sitting at Fort Richardson, Alaska, unable to take leave, when my brother called on Christmas Eve. He told me he was bound for Dutch Harbor, but the little plane couldn’t contend with high winds at the time. He had a 24-hour layover in Anchorage. That was the best Christmas surprise I think I’ve ever had.
There are some less enjoyable memories as well. In 2011, while en route to a remote outpost, I sat down for Christmas dinner at FOB Sherana, Afghanistan. Santa was there, and I sort of wanted to punch him in the face.
The next year, as I was walking off a cruise ship in Miami a few days before Christmas, I got a terrible call. My grandfather, who is among the most influential figures in my life, was on his death bed.
Thankfully, I had visited him prior to my flight to Miami. He died while I was laid over in Chicago. That was the worst Christmas I’ve ever had.
Holiday cheer sort of died through all those experiences. It just wasn’t as fun as the days of pounding on Terry and Annette’s bedroom door, hollering for them to come downstairs so Aaron and I could open presents.
Then something happened. Though I may not feel the holiday cheer myself, I get to see it in a pair of big blue eyes.
When I recently married, I also dived head-first into fatherhood. At nearly three years old, she has managed to become my life. I’ve held a lot of titles — “safety/service director” and “jumpmaster” are just two. However, none have been quite so cool as “daddy.”
I don’t have to like Christmas anymore. She does that for me. Seeing the excitement in her eyes when she hears about Santa or sees Christmas lights is all the cheer I need.
I know how excited she will be to see the piles of gifts wrapped and stowed under the tree on Christmas morning.
While publishing this column assumes the risk of me losing my title of “Scrooge” among family members, I have a feeling I’m in for my best Christmas ever.
Andy is a staff writer for The News and can be reached at (336) 415-4698.