What year did Christmas change into 'the holidays'?
I suppose I'm giving away my rapidly advancing age when I recall the time when I was a kid when people wished each other "Merry Christmas" without being afraid of being sued.
Come to think about it, there were quite a few differences between the Christmases of my youth and the more generic, politically correct holiday of today.
Of course, that may be due to the differences between me when I was school-age and now when I'm almost Social Security-age.
As with most things, it is a lot easier to be a kid because you get all the enjoyment without any of the work of the various seasons of the year.
Let's begin with the Christmas tree. Our family started off with real trees instead of the artificial ones. This had two advantages. The first was that it brought the pleasant smell of pine indoors. The second was that it was not one of the new-fangled aluminum trees.
On the negative side, Dad had to risk a hernia pushing the portly tree through the doorway and Mother was picking up dried pine needles until mid-summer.
Since the tree was set in a coal bucket full of coal and water, it even offered a drawback for me. It was just too convenient for Santa to have a source of coal when he stopped by to fill my Christmas stocking.
Stuffed stockings are a generally bygone tradition, but my brothers, sister and I looked forward to seeing what our stockings contained after we got done with the package-opening frenzy on Christmas morning.
The primary contents were reflections of what were big treats for our parents when they were kids - oranges, apples and nuts in their shells - and a few coins and popcorn balls so hard that they could have been used by Major League Baseball.
These days, virtual Christmas stockings are hung above a virtual fireplace flickering on a big-screen TV or computer.
Lists, both naughty and nice, have also changed dramatically. Before, Santa would rely on certain people for inside information on my misdeeds - tattletale siblings and police reports.
Nowadays, Mr. Claus has elves hiding on shelves to keep track of kids' behavior. I wouldn't even be surprised if he had "kid-cams" in all homes monitored round-the-clock by a control room full of elves at computer screens.
Gift lists were a much simpler deal back in my youth. Mother or Dad would take dictation and send out my requests in a letter to Santa. My lists got much longer and required additional postage when I finally learned how to write.
Nowadays, toddlers are texting their requests to the North Pole directly. You don't have to know how to write to text. Just ask any English teacher.
Requests made to Santa are also quite a bit different today than when I was kid hoping that Santa had not been observing my behavior too closely.
Of course, toys topped my list, followed by games and then more toys. I usually made out very well with my requests although somehow my message to Santa must have been a bit garbled when it came to what he left for me at Aunt Clementine's house.
When she and her family would visit later on Christmas Day, the present for me that Santa dropped off inevitably turned out to be a sweater.
Dad liked it because he did not have to assemble it and batteries were not needed. Mother liked it because it could be added to by "church clothes" attire.
I was the only one who was not thrilled because a sweater is not something you can play with - unless, of course, the wool is still on the sheep. The irony is now sweaters are what I ask my wife, Jo Ann, to buy me for Christmas.
Gifts kids ask for these days almost always have to do with technology as MP3 players, iphones and laptop computers.
The most technologically advanced toy I ever got was one of those electric football games where it would take 10 minutes to set up all the players on their magnetized bases so you could turn on the power and watch the field vibrate until all the players fell over.
I played that game for years and no team ever scored a touchdown!
One aspect of Christmas that has not changed with the passing decades has to do with eating. Of course, when you talk about holiday eating, you talk about cookies.
Mother spent untold hours baking toll house, oatmeal raisin and peanut butter cookies to fill 2-gallon tin can after 2-gallon tin can. And my brothers, sister and I spent untold hours emptying those cans.
Since I wisely asked Jo Ann to join our family, she and her mom have added an Italian, anise-flavored flair to holiday baking with wafer-thin pizelles and highly dunkable biscotti. Jo Ann even picked up the toll house and oatmeal raisin cookie baking where my mom left off.
The only difference is that Jo Ann is so busy at work, she has to do speed baking whenever she gets a bit of free time. I try to do some of the dishwashing and most of the cookie taste testing.
I even came up with the idea of cooking a boneless ham for Christmas dinner, although I must admit an ulterior motive.
A boneless ham takes less time to carve, which means we have more time to concentrate on the cookies for dessert.
(Walt Kozlowski, a freelance writer from Mount Carmel, composes "Walt's Way" for each Sunday edition.)