Your father’s first Christmas

I wrote this piece as a Christmas present for my nephew in 2004.


Sean Patrick Burke

This is your first Christmas, Sean, and since you’re only eight months old, I know this story might not impress you much, but it seems like the right time to tell it.

Your father was not quite three months old on his first Christmas, and I was ten years old. I knew enough about babies to know they don’t really do much at first, but eventually they grow into real people. That was the exciting puzzle. What was this new baby brother going to be like? We didn’t have many clues, but we watched for them all the time. Who was Louis Peter Burke?

Your Grandmother Burke died well before you were born, so you don’t know much about her. Here is her Christmas tree decorating theory: More is better. In architectural terms, it was rococo baroque.

During Christmas Eve day, we decorated the tree. First the lights went on — big lights, small lights, steady lights, twinkle lights, colored lights, white lights, all the lights we had, and there were plenty. Second, we hung every single ornament we had on the tree, and, again, there were plenty. If one was ugly or beat up, it went way on the inside where it could add color or sparkle without really being visible. The only rule was smaller stuff on top, bigger stuff on the bottom. Finally, we added tinsel and garlands of various types and colors to be sure there was maximum sparkle.

Then we waited for nightfall, since only a darkened house could do justice to the masterpiece that we had created.

Meanwhile, we dressed your father in a red-and-white-striped elf-costume pajama set that an aunt had given him, complete with a pointy cap. He didn’t care for the cap but we made him wear it anyway, at least long enough for a photo, which may still be around somewhere. He looked more silly than elfish. He certainly had no idea about what was going on. He was too little to understand much of anything.

The moment to light the tree arrived. We turned out all the lamps and closed the front curtains to block the streetlight. With a flip of a switch, and the tree flashed on, providing enough sparkling light to read by.

Your father’s eyes got big and he couldn’t take them off the tree. He liked it! He liked it a lot! Even when we turned the regular room lights back on, he continued to stare at the tree, fascinated.

It was a clue, the first clue I remember, about your father’s personality. He liked colorful, beautiful things — at least, we thought the tree was beautiful, and in a rococo way, it certainly was. We lit the tree for him throughout the holidays for the sheer fun of watching him enjoy it.

I don’t remember much else about that Christmas, like what I got as presents, what anyone else got, whether there was snow, or what we had for Christmas dinner. All I remember is the intense look of surprise and delight on your father’s little face, and how merry a Christmas he made it for all of us because we could make him happy, and because we had learned a little bit about him.

Finding out who someone is takes a long time. I’m still learning things about my brother Louis. Fatherhood, for example, has revealed new aspects of his personality and interests. In the same delighted way that I first saw so many years ago, he could not be more curious and excited to learn about you. Who is Sean Patrick Burke?

This is your father’s first Christmas with you. I hope it is merry.

Copyright © 2004 by Sue Burke, all rights assigned to Sean Patrick Burke.

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