Sunday, December 24, 2017


by Chris Goff

When I sat down to write, it seemed like a tall order to pick out the worst Christmas or best Christmas or the best present. For me, every Christmas has its special moments, and I've had a lot of great presents.

Christmas is my favorite holiday. It was my mother's favorite holiday, too. I love everything about Christmas from the muzak that plays in all the stores to the cheesy Hallmark Christmas movies played non-stop on TWO Hallmark channels all the month of December. I love the preparations—buying just the right gift, wrapping presents, baking cookies, and decorating the tree.

This year, four of our six kids will be home for the holidays. They'll bring their spouses and offspring and fill the house with laughter and joy. Friday evening, the grandchildren asked where the ornaments on the tree came from, and I realized that each one conjures a cherished memory. There's the small wooden skier (one of the first ever given to me), the golden pecan shell ornament made by my grandmother 90 years ago, the glass chile ristra from my son and daughter-in-law gave us to commemorate one of the best Christmases ever. We have handmade ornaments from each of the kids, a Murano glass Santa that one daughter brought home from Italy, and a Christopher Radko blowfish I bought in honor of our Christmas in Hawaii. For me, Christmas is a time for miracles.

The worst Christmas ever (and even it turned out pretty well).

My dad was building us a new house, across the street and up the mountain from where we were living in Evergreen, Colorado. I loved to go and watch him and this helpers working, and they had been banging away on that Christmas Eve. The next morning I awoke with a very sore eye. It was red and swollen, I was whining and complaining, and the folks were concerned. Evergreen being a small town back then, had one doctor. He often made house calls, but that morning he told my folks to meet him in his office downtown on the second floor above the old Mountain Pharmacy. I remember being upset when I was whisked away before I could open my stocking or see what Santa had left for me under the tree. I was even more upset when it was discovered I had a sliver of metal embedded in my eye. It was a quick fix. Dr. Youberg numbed my eye, my dad held my head still, then the doc extricated the small metal shaving. After putting some goop in my eye, he covered it with a patch to protect it, wished us Merry Christmas and sent us one our way. At the time I didn't realize the gift he had given us. If Dr. Youberg hadn't come out on that Christmas morning, leaving his own family at home, it would have meant an hour-long trip to Lutheran Hospital, the closest emergency room. And who knows how long we would have sat in the waiting room and waited for treatment. Instead, Dr. Youberg was my Christmas angel. In less than one hour I was home, opening my stocking. That was the year Santa brought me a Thumbelina doll.

The best Present ever.

I learned to ski when I was three-years-old, in the time of lace-up boots and cable bindings. At five I was skiing in Aspen and taking lessons from the great Stein Erickson, the Norwegian Olympic gold medal skier, who became the first alpine skier to snare triple gold at a World Championship. I don't remember much about him,  except he scared me. He would yell, "Bend zee knees," then he would smacking the back of my knees with his ski pole. It's a miracle I still like to ski. The year I turned thirteen, I found no presents waiting under the tree. My mother and dad had presents. Even the dogs had presents. Finally, my dad handed me a card with a cryptic message—a clue. It took me a little while to decipher the message and find my present, which was well hidden. That was the year I got new poles, a pair of leather buckle boots, and a pair of 195 cm Head 360s with buckle bindings. Best skis ever!

The best Christmas ever.
Photo by Sara Wright - click on picture to follow link to her blog

We had rented a house in Santa Fe big enough to house our entire family—kids, spouses and grandchildren. We totaled twelve at the time. The house was pink adobe and decorated with lots of Native American, Southwestern and Buddhist art. The owners had a Wii machine with Rock Band on it, and we broke into teams of three, held rehearsals, and had an epic Christmas Battle of the Bands (my son, husband and granddaughter won). We played White Elephant Bingo, worked on jigsaw puzzles, hiked and shopped the downtown outdoor markets. We did the Christmas Eve Faralito Walk on Canyon Road, enjoying the caroling and traditional New Mexican Christmas decorations. But I really wanted to go to one of the Pueblos holding a Christmas Eve service. No one else was interested, but as I headed out the door alone, my husband and one daughter fell in beside me.

The church was near the center of the Pueblo. We lucked out and found a parking space. Most of the streets were blocked off, each intersection staked with wood. Winding our way to the church, we arrived to find that we were one of only a handful of Anglo families in attendance. Warmly welcomed, we were ushered to a pew in the back of the church and for the next hour watched with fascination the "Dance of Los Matachines." First introduced by Spanish missionaries as "The Dance of the Moors and Christians," it was meant to show the superiority of Christians. The dance was adopted by the people, and Indian and Hispanic influences were added. It's said that there are as many as 44 versions of the dance, but it's most basic symbol is good versus evil, with good prevailing.

In this dance, the Matachines weave and swirl at the front of the church. Then a young girl dressed in white appears, chaperoned by mysterious figures. She represents the virgin, or the moon, or light and she moves among the Matachines, drawing everyone's eyes and hearts. She is hope. She is adoration. She is the future.

At the end of the dance, the Matachines dance out of the church, a wave of worshippers in tow. As they reach each intersection of the road, the stacks of wood are set ablaze, ground fireworks are lit, and the dancers swirl and dance in place for a moment, before leading the crowd further.

We followed for a while, mesmerized. Then, realizing that the ritual would continue until the dancers and the followers wove throughout the pueblo and all the fires were lit and they had returned to the church, we slipped quietly away, forever changed. It was magical!

Here's wishing you and your loved ones all the blessings of the season.


  1. As I read this wonderful list of Christmas memories, I reflected that it isn't really the presents (which are nice), but the experiences that we all cherish! I loved the stories about your (big) family gatherings, the great eye doctor, the ski instructor, the dances at the church -- thanks, Chris for a terrific post - and a very very Merry Christmas to all!

  2. As with all of us, the most important memories are those of the people we loved with us at the holidays and the experiences we had. Wishing you and yours a lovely holiday.

  3. Such joy in your post, Chris, and how wonderful to realize what a great gift the local doctor had given you. As I peer out at snowscape, and realize we're getting another 6 to 8 inches tomorrow, I'm so happy you learned to ski and continued to love it despite the Norwegian grumpy taskmaster! Merry Christmas!

    1. We had a white Christmas, too, though only a couple of inches in town. The mountains got lots and lots! Yay!

  4. Love this post! Never heard of the Matachines but would love to see it. Happy Holidays!

    1. It was amazing to witness, Jamie. The dancers, the worshipers...I loved it. Hope you had a wonderful Christmas.