BEYOND THE tinsel, the glitter and the glare, Christmas swirls in each year with an emotional whirlwind.
We recall Christmases past -- the times spent with family, the times spent away. The memories may be warm, funny or sad, but they endure.
We asked several reporters and editors at The News to think back on their Christmases and share stories that had special meaning to them.
There are no Tiny Tims or flying reindeer in these Christmas tales. But they are our personal symbols of the season.
The angel sang sweetly
No one knew how badly I wanted to play Mary. It was the annual first-grade Christmas play, and never before in my six years of life had I wanted anything more.
So, day after day, with a blue terry cloth towel draped over my head, I practiced looking serene.
When the time came for Sister Leona to pick the cast, Jennifer won the role. It wasn't even close, just as it wouldn't be come spring, when Jennifer played the Easter Bunny.
I was chosen to be one of the multitude of angels. Now, white was never my color, but my mother took great pains with the costume. My halo was a lesson in tinsel; my wings would have made even Gabriel turn green.
On that snowy day when we all assembled in the gym, I took my place slowly. All eyes except two were on Jennifer.
As I met my mother's gaze, I sang "Silent Night" as I never have since.
-- Jane Kwiatkowski
Rudolph, the tasty reindeer
After all the screaming and crying was over, there was still one thing that puzzled us. Did he eat it because he knew it was a reindeer, or because he knew it wasn't one?
Whatever good old Scooter thought, we knew what we had left: a few crumbs, a bent brown pipe cleaner, two plastic wobble eyes and one somewhat damp small red pompon, Rudolph's nose.
Scooter is our dog. Rudolph was a school project, brought home by a proud 6-year-old. And Rudolph was adorable, with his cockeyed countenance and flannel wrapping, and the magnets on his back so he could hold onto the refrigerator. But he had one fatal flaw -- he was made out of a Milk Bone dog biscuit.
Details aren't clear, but a reconstruction of the crime goes like this: Child comes home from school, excitedly shows Daddy what she has made and happily places her reindeer magnet low on the refrigerator door. As the family dog casually strolls past, his radar detects new food in the house, and Rudy is lifted from his perch, carried under the table and consumed. No one notices until Dad hears the dog going ptui with the wobble eyes.
The children made Rudolphs again this year. They keep them in a box.
-- Melinda Miller
A ring and a promise
Christmas is full of stories. Stories of faith, fantasy and the promise of man. The season of which I write started with no such promise.
Christmas 1982. Musical chimes clanged like empty garbage cans. People I passed on the street grimaced with silly smiles. It was Christmastime in Buffalo.
Dirty snow. "I won't have to put up with it much longer. I'm going to Texas." I was relocating. I had a new job in a big city at a big paper: the Dallas Times Herald. I needed a new start. New friends. But most of all, I needed a job. Although I was out of work, it seemed my mortgage was working overtime.
Today is Saturday and we're going out to lunch, Bobby and me. We're in love with each other, but destiny's wheels are turning and there are no brakes. There's my career. And I've already accepted the job in Dallas. The movers are coming on Monday. Besides, Bobby and I just met three weeks ago, what could I expect?
Down Elmwood Avenue we strolled, arm in arm. People we passed would never guess that at this time next week we'd be separated forever. A thousand miles between us. "Let's stop in here," Bobby said. "I want to wish my friends Merry Christmas." Buzz and the door opened. We stood in a chic jeweler's, the Ice House. "Louise, meet Dana and Carl Cadille." We talked for a few minutes. Bobby and Carl had moved to another part of the store. "Ready to go?" Bobby asked when he returned.
Jimmy Mac's was warm. Holiday wishes passed among the diners like warm bread. We sat with hands locked under the table like the start on a long, slow-motion goodbye handshake. I felt dreadful.
Believe it or not, life brims with surprise. Some call it magic. We hear about it all the time. My father cautioned, "Expect the unexpected." Dickens writes of the magic of the season in his classic "A Christmas Carol." Until now, it was fiction. A dream of an old man from a hundred years ago.
Now it was my turn. First I felt it. It was cold to my fingertip. Then it moved down past the joint. I tried to pull back. But Bobby held my hand tightly and moved closer. "Will you marry me?" I thought I heard wrong, but he released my hand and there it was. A golden ring with an emerald sparkled on my finger. I was going to be married. It was a dream. Ice against crystal sounded like wedding bells. The waiters danced like cherubs in an Italian oil painting. Married. Marry Christmas.
-- Louise Continelli
Echoes of war
There was a sled, an uncle -- and a war -- the Christmas that was to shape all my Christmases.
I'm not supposed to remember. I was too young.
And no one had told me about the war. Not its dark side, anyway. I was too young for that, too.
But I knew -- and my uncle knew I knew -- as he lifted me, high, in his great arms, and carried me from the tinsel and warmth. Leggings, bonnet, muff, a child, placed with the care of his surgeon's hands onto the slats of a blond wood sled.
It was dark and he showed me the dark and the stars before we charged, reindeer-on-the-ground, through the snow. He laughed and went faster and my blood-red sled guards blurred as he looked over his shoulder, to see that his Christmas cargo was safe.
This uncle had been in the Great War, the First, a physician at the front. He had written letters from France by lantern light.
Now another uncle was in another war, he said -- did I know?
"Far away," he went on, pointing up: this sky, this dark, these stars. But far, far away.
Another war. The Second.
We came to a turn, going fast, like the slash of a single ice skate.
"Furlough." I could say furlough.
My Christmas uncle stopped. He came close. He brushed back his bushy eyebrows and looked into my eyes.
"Yes," he said, "yes," then kissed me on the forehead and made a snowball, his winter gift to me.
And we turned back -- to the merriment, the kin, especially the children, the Christmas Evestollen and the porridge for Santa's mischievous "Nissen" -- as it was and always would be, with only the people and the clock changeable:
Each year the same year. Years of many a sled, many an uncle -- and always, somewhere, a war.
A sled, an uncle -- and a war. Manger, wise man, simmerings in the Middle East.
-- Karen Brady
A tree for protection
Evelyn and I had not been married long and were scrimping along on her meager salary and my GI Bill pittance. We lived in New York City, in a $50-a-month two-rooms-and-a-bath flat above the Viennese Lantern on East 79th Street, next to a high-rise complete with doorman. Talk about contrast!
I was a junior at Columbia University and soon would have to leave to earn enough money to pay for my senior year -- a bleak prospect. So, as Christmas approached, the list to Santa was pretty short. Fortunately, the head of a German-American society in Yorkville became a close friend. Because his family had a meat-packing business, we never lacked for good cuts of steak.
And he was bringing over a Christmas tree to brighten our one large room. We waited that day, and waited, and waited. Finally, Ed showed up. It was hard to say which looked more bedraggled -- him or the near-needleless tree. But it occupied an honored place in our home, for it seems Ed had used it to drive off two muggers who attacked him as he emerged from the subway.
Peace on Earth to men of goodwill, but to men of ill will, a Christmas tree in determined hands can be awe-inspiring, too.
-- Burt Erickson Nelson
Under the stars
The children were grown and gone, but even so, Christmas, thousands of miles from home and family, plus no snow?
But the reality of a dream was too enticing, so we threw tradition and caution to the winds and ran away to the Caribbean, with its incredible blue sailing waters and necklace of islands of stunning beauty.
Four days on the sea, and suddenly it was Christmas Eve. The magic of a million stars blanketing a calm sea hardly set the mood for Christmas.
Early Christmas morning we set sail for an island that, our skipper said, "is a jewel . . . with many hidden beaches."
A few hours later, we nestled the boat close to Bequia, truly a perfect jewel in the Windward Islands. Skipper and cook sent us off to explore. When we returned, we could not believe our eyes.
A turkey was roasting on a spit, potatoes were in the coals, salad had been tossed, and there was even plum pudding with hard sauce for dessert.
A red tablecloth, complete with a tiny Christmas tree centerpiece, had been spread on the sand.
Our "island family" raised champagne glasses: "Merry Christmas." Indeed it was, and one that will never be forgotten.
-- Agnes Palazzetti
A Classical drive
I was working in Binghamton, and I left my apartment early on Christmas morning to get to my parents' house to meet them after they returned from Mass. I left before dawn and drove through the hills of the Southern Tier toward Jamestown.
The most remarkable part of that drive was watching the day unfurl. The hills gradually became light and then the sun started reflecting off the snow. I drove through the easy, graceful curves, and the farther I went, the more glorious the scene became.
Classical arrangements of Christmas music played on my car radio, providing me with a soundtrack that would not have been appropriate on any other day. I especially remember how clean my windows looked. The windows of my car had frosted the night before, and when the sun melted the moisture, they were as clear as if the car had been newly washed. The roads were almost empty. I threaded those hills as if this were my private tour.
I would soon be surrounded by the exuberance of my family, gifts and the other Christmas trimmings. But I will never forget the comfort and joy of that ride from Binghamton. It was a a pageant that conveyed beginnings, birth and peace better than anything I ever could have expected.
-- Charles Anzalone
A lizard on the loose
Having just driven the 500 miles between Buffalo and Brooklyn after a migraine-inducing workday, my weary body and spirit were ready for a far-too-rare "Christmas in the Bosom of My Family."
My hope for a cozy, normal Ozzie-and-Harriet holiday was quickly dashed by what, nearly two decades later, could be a script for an episode of "The Simpsons."
Mom's deadpan greeting: "'Don't panic, but your brother's iguana is loose."
My mind's eye fast-forwarded to scenes of those scaly creatures in "The Night of the Iguana," as I warily watched the baseboards near the radiators, where I figured a warm-blooded lizard would be on a cold winter's night.
My feet tucked up out of harm's way, I whiled away a few hours in a mother-daughter kaffeeklatsch awaiting my brother's return and Grandma's arrival from Connecticut.
Both arrived at the same time, and during the greetings, no one flashed the news bulletin on the iguana to Grandma.
Mom and I were in the kitchen putting on a fresh pot of coffee when there arose a distressful cry -- "Glennnnnnnaaaaaa!"
"I think Grandma found the iguana," said Mom, nonchalantly heading into the front room, where the family matriarch was rooted in place, pointing to the Christmas tree.
As I peered through the greenery long enough to spot the iguana high up, clinging to the tree trunk, its tongue unfurled -- no doubt mistaking an ornament for a shiny insect -- Mom said, "Well, I guess we're the only family on Atlantic Avenue with an iguana in the Christmas tree."
-- Laura Winchester
Between two worlds
Having never been accused of being overly sentimental and having spent almost 20 years away from a traditional Christmas, by the time I was 43 and working on the other side of the world, the holiday did not feel like such a big deal anymore.
In fact, it had never felt much like anything special since I was a kid and got so excited about opening Christmas presents with my family and dinner at Grandma's.
Now I was in Japan, married to a Japanese woman with two small children of our own. In previous years we ate what the Japanese consider standard Christmas fare -- a roasted chicken prepared and cooked at a butcher shop. One year the butcher must have gotten confused and thought it was like sushi fish, because after we brought it home to eat, we discovered it was practically raw. Granny spun twice in her grave.
But this year, Christmas was different. Because it's not an official holiday and because I'm in the news business, it was a normal working day. But my wife and two children had been back in her hometown for the last week of her father's life -- he was dying of cancer.
When I called on Christmas Eve, I wanted to talk to her and my two kids, hoping to cheer them up.
But when I talked to my wife, all she could say, crying, was, "He can't even drink the tea."
A day of birth to follow a night of death.
-- Charles E. Roessler
A dream of home
The most surrealistic Christmas I ever had -- far and away -- was 1974. I was a junior at Brooklyn College, and being a certified student meant being flat broke.
It was Christmas week, and I simply could not see any way of getting to Buffalo that year. I wasn't about to ask for the money. Feeling depressed, I can recall lying down for a late-afternoon nap and drifting off into this vivid dream: Members of my family were walking right into my little basement apartment. They had come to visit me, knowing that I couldn't make it to Buffalo.
At times our dreams are so devoid of substance -- I think the term I'm searching for here is "off the wall" -- that even while you're experiencing the dream, you know it is only a dream.
But when the last conscious sight you had was an archway leading into your apartment and shortly thereafter familiar faces are walking through that very archway, it can have a startling impact. And it did.
I can't recall the details now. In any case, I managed to get a ride with another student. I made it home.
-- Neil Graves