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Songs bring back the many memories of Christmas

Cheney Free Press of Cheney, Washington

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Editor's note: Capitalization, phrasing and line breaks from John Lennon's song "Happy Christmas" used in this column have been retained in keeping with the original meaning of the work.

I'm not sure why but once I heard John Lennon's 1971 song, "Happy Christmas," it was one of those tunes that became permanently trapped inside my head.

Surely you know the lyrics: "So this is Christmas, And what have you done, Another year over, And a new one just begun," just as you do "Jingle Bells," or any number of other songs of the season. Like songs

— be they good or bad

— we can never seem to get out of our heads, my holiday memories are equally stuck this time of year.

The memories of this special family time go back decades and are permanently etched in my mind because of how the season was always made special by family, both immediate and extended.

My first recollections are of holidays spent with my grandparents who lived in Okanogan, Wash. It's fun to look at the black and white snapshots of this kid with the crew-cut all wide-eyed over his first model train.

We actually lived the song, "Over the river and through the woods to grandmother's house we go," with yearly treks crossing the Columbia at Grand Coulee and over Disautel Pass.

I felt privileged to be treated as an adult and allowed to attend midnight mass, but then also like a kid who was quickly ushered to bed, "Because Santa won't come if you are awake," the adults reminded me.

Christmas days in Okanogan were spent doing presents and later visiting longtime family friends.

There were the Hansens. Don would share his favorite gift, usually another tool for his vast collection as he was the guy you called to fix whatever was broken. Ailene, meanwhile, shared her addictive English toffee recipe, one that I still make religiously this time of year.

And later it was off to visit Vince and Marie White. The house at the edge of their orchard offered gorgeous views of the snowy hills beyond and valley below.

One of the last Okanogan Christmases came in 1974 and was bittersweet. A few days before we were to gather, my grandfather was rushed to a local hospital after suffering a stroke. He'd pass away a few weeks later.

While the dynamics would soon change when it came to celebrating Christmas, the special nature of the season never did. It would, in fact, intensify when I met my wife.

We eventually went from one get together to three.

Christmas Eve was the tradition with Melanie's parents. When children arrived, naturally we did mornings at our house as the little ones rose at the crack-of-dawn, excited beyond imagination to see what Santa had brought.

Afternoons — with turkey dinner served on grandma's special China that we still use today — were spent at my parents' house. And much to the surprise of our children, Santa always seemed to remember this stop as well.

With the passing of the years other traditions worked their way into our days. Such as finding a time to catch special holiday movies like "It's a Wonderful Life." Or being sure to watch Ralphie's quest for a Red Rider rifle in "A Christmas Story." And of course there was the ultimate tale of dysfunctional family gatherings with Chevy Chase in "Christmas Vacation."

Over the course of a few years and the passing of my parents the focus of Christmas narrowed and became centered largely at our house.

We still, however, gathered on Christmas Eve at my mother-in-law's place, until she was no longer able. With her recent passing, now the time comes to begin the process of sharing the season's celebrations.

Our oldest daughter, more than a chip off the block of her mother, has embraced the challenge and proudly picked up the Christmas Eve celebration in which her beloved Nana once reveled. Grandparents, parents, grandkids and extended family now gather for gabbing, gifts and grub in a new place.

It's the start of what I hope is another long tradition signaled when Lennon's lyrics again get stuck in my head.

Paul Delaney can be reached at

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Original Publication Date: December 31, 2015

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