Like a birthday or a class reunion or all those '80s cartoons on Netflix, Christmas makes you feel like a little kid again. Part of it is the familiar sights from youth; burning your hands from candle wax dripping during the candlelit singing of "Silent Night" at church, your mom making the cookies - or the traditional holiday pepperoni roll, your siblings and/or cousins wearing stick-on bows and ribbons on their heads, your dad trying in vain to assemble a gift before throwing it into the fire in frustration. Some things never change.
But some things do. It definitely costs a lot more as an adult. And instead of going upstairs after Christmas Eve dinner and trying to sleep despite having half a coronary due to present overload, I drive home and perhaps visit with friends who are in town, with no regard to being under Santa's watch. I don't think my apartment has a Santa-friendly chimney, anyway, so no harm, no foul. I send Christmas cards to my grown-up friends who are married with kids. I join in the muttering over long lines and lights that won't work. Adult Christmas isn't as carefree as the kid version, but it is not without its charm.
Another change is the lack of snow. I remember when I grew up on Warren's west side being able to roll boulder-sized snowballs and assemble eight-foot-tall snowmen. Maybe they seemed bigger because I was much shorter (though the snowsuit definitely added about a half inch in height), but there is definitely not enough of the white stuff to build a snow-giant. Last year was not a white Christmas, and this year isn't looking to be. A kid who is getting a sled may have to wait until February or even March to take a scoot down the hill. Al Gore, I'm sure you take no pleasure in this.
Speaking of sleds, zooming down a hill on a piece of plastic with nothing between your brain and the brick dugout at Packard Park but a thin layer of knit stocking cap is another tradition I still try to enjoy. The last few years it has been closer to Easter than to Christmas, but sled riding is something you can do well into your 30s and 40s or until you can do it in a wheelchair. Nowadays, we go at Mill Creek Park, but the thrill of racing down a slick layer of freezing ice and snow toward uncertain doom still can't be beat. Just dress warm, and wear extra padding. You're paying your own insurance premiums now.
Another long-gone tradition is the annual holiday teddy bear from Hills Department Store. For some reason, Hills is synonymous with the holiday season for children of the '80s in the Mahoning Valley. It wasn't just the bear, which came with the year embroidered on its hat or scarf (I think we still have 1988 around somewhere), but the tub of tri-flavored popcorn; your parents sneaking your presents in and out of the layaway; the bell-ringers outside with their kettles. Everyone loved Hills. I'm sure I'm not the only one who could go for a Coke slushie right now.
There's always room to appreciate the overly warm and brightly lit madness of the mall. Despite having worked at the mall during many insane patience-testing Christmases, I still try to get there at least one during the season. I last did my photo with Santa on his Eastwood Mall throne with some of my Warren G. Harding classmates during junior year. Santa was nonplussed by our weird teenage outfits. Music, wreaths, toy trains, giant nutcrackers, commerce; the mall is the best place to get into the Christmas spirit. Just be careful of the holiday traffic gauntlet on Route 422, or 224.
Making cookies is still always fun. Snuggling on the couch while the hubbub of visitors is heard from all rooms of the house is a comfort. Dad cackling at the same part of "A Christmas Story" every hour, on the hour, for 24 hours, is a welcome constant. And, at the Youngstown Christmas Parade, I still jumped up and down going "SANTA SANTA!" when the big guy came rolling down the street. So, dig out your old McDonald's Happy Meal stuffed reindeer and plastic McNuggets wearing Santa hats (which litter every basement in town), and mix old memories with the new into your holiday. Merry whatever, and a happy new everything!