You know from last Thursday’s post my take on Santa Claus. Still, I do like an Americana Christmas. In fact, touring the White House and Mount Vernon on December 23 with my family years ago is one of the highlights of my life.
During the White House tour, the Secret Service agent leading us said he had a special prize for whichever woman could answer the question: “Who was the youngest person ever to become president?” (I was not going to voice complaint about the contest being limited to women. The man was an armed federal agent, after all.) My wife was holding our four year old daughter and I whispered into their ears the answer, encouraging our very shy daughter to speak up. She did not. Other women started venturing guesses. One suggested Kennedy, another Clinton. I knew they were wrong, but our daughter still would not speak. My wife did so for her, and won the prize when she said, “Teddy Roosevelt.” That is how we came to be the proud owners of a Secret Service White House ornament for our Christmas tree.
Mount Vernon was equally special. As we drove there from the White House that morning the day grew colder. There had not been any snow for days, but as we approached the parking area a few flakes began to fall. By the time we were walking toward George and Martha Washington’s house, the snowfall was leaving a light blanket on the ground. It was a bit of a distance from the parking lot to the main house, and along the way to one side we saw a campaign tent similar to one that might have been used at Valley Forge. Women and men in period costume invited us to warm ourselves by their campfire at the trailside and offered molasses cookies and hot cider if we wanted to step inside the tent. With our young daughter and her brother just two years older, we gratefully took these kind volunteers up on their hospitality. After enjoying the wonderful treats and hearing some stories of camp life, we received their well-wishes as they sent us on our way to the main house where we would see an 18th century American Christmas.
These are special memories, as you can tell. In hope of giving you even more of an idea of how they make me feel, I bring you this gem of a poem on Christmas Eve. (For those who’d rather listen to it than read it, here’s Louis Armstrong’s quiet rendition. Or you can listen and read at the same time. It’s your gift, after all.)
Merry Christmas to you all.
A Visit from St. Nicholas
‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all thro’ the house, not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care, in hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there;
The children were nestled all snug in their beds, while visions of sugar plums danc’d in their heads,
—Clement Clarke Moore