People celebrate Christmas in many ways and for different reasons. Some celebrate the birth of Christ, some celebrate children, some celebrate Santa Claus. Others mark the season with a mix of reasons.

It can be argued that the Christmas season is the favorite time of year for most, even with the frustrations, disappointments and feuds that arise when family gets together. The need to buy a present for absolutely everyone—immediate, extended and blended families, not to mention friends and co-workers. Money—out-of-pocket cash or credit—is always a sticking point during the holidays.

That’s why I cherish the Christmases I spent with friends when none of us had much disposable income. I guess it is akin to those who remember fondly the holidays they marked in the depths of the Great Depression in the 1930s when people had to use their imagination and being with family was more important than a present.

My circle of friends and I lived in Seattle, which was a pretty good setting for Christmas. It didn’t cost a cent to see the window and in-store displays at The Bon Marche, and the flagship Nordstrom and Frederick & Nelson stores. In those days visual merchandising was still a big thing and one couldn’t but help be in the holiday mood.

It is interesting how creative a group of people can be when the lack of money is common among them. But, like our Great Depression brethren, we didn’t mope, or get depressed. We embraced the season and the fact that we were all in the same boat. We all had restaurant jobs—it seemed all our friends worked in the food industry in one way or the other.

The rental house my friends shared was Christmas Central; it was the gathering place for all the ‘orphans’ we knew who did not have family near by. There were many years I did not have a tree; the one at Christmas Central worked for me.

What do young people do when Christmas rolls around and they want to give gifts? They use their talents. At the time I was intensely into color pencil art, I cranked out art piece after art piece, trying to perfect my shading and perspective. I put that skill to use and went to work.

Starting with a large blank, white sheet of art paper, I started what has become my masterpiece: a sullen harlequin jester sitting in a chair with his scepter carelessly tossed aside. I was proud of the way I figured out how to draw and shade fabric folds and details of the chair’s upholstery.

I knew I had finally nailed it. This gift for my best friend deserved a frame that matched the subject.  Luckily, I found a baroque style frame for a few dollars and it fit my art perfectly.

On Christmas morning I waited with anticipation as my friend opened that gift. The reaction was as  I hoped it would be; he was dumbfounded. He loved it. It was probably the best gift I ever gave and it made feel good that my hands created something that brought joy to someone else.

Christmas mornings during those slight years are memorable because we didn’t rely on expensive gadgets to show our love for one another. One of us was an amazing cook and prepared Rockwellian brunches and holiday dinners that we enjoyed with many of our friends who gravitated to Christmas Central.

At other times in my younger adult years, when money and I were not well known to each other, friends would receive an original Lyndon Zaitz poem or short story. One year I wrote my sister a sci-fi story that I packaged with my own handcrafted  book cover. That story is long lost to history, but I do remember it wasn’t very good. My sister was good sport about it, though.

With time circumstances changed. I and other friends moved out of Seattle to different parts of the globe; better jobs and careers brought economic security for my circle. The tight group of friends who marked the holidays at Christmas Central have not been together since those glory days of camaraderie, delicious meals, cheap decorations and heartfelt gifts. It was a time and a place that one can never go back to, nor should we want to. To a person, each of us, always look forward to what the future may bring. We hope for the future but treasure the past.

Sometimes memories are the best Christmas present of all.

(Lyndon Zaitz is publisher of the Keizertimes.)