My maternal grandfather was passionate about the season, decorating his lawn long before the trend was commonplace. He started out with reindeer and a life-sized sleigh loaded with packages. Santa climbed the roof, and Ivory soap flakes created the snow.
The miniature houses on the wall eventually became a complete village with street lights and tiny picket fences. Unfortunately, I have no photos of that display, and the houses were lost in a garage fire in the 1950s.
In the world of my mother’s family, Christmas was magical, and as a child, my family always celebrated with them. I have few memories of the years before my father died, but the overall impression is one of being surrounded by love.
After dad died when I was seven, our financial situation changed dramatically, yet my mom’s family continued to try to make the day special for us.
Mom bought one of the first plastic trees. She got a white one because that color looked more ‘real’ than the bright green ones. Besides, I’m sure it was on sale at a terrific price after the season. She was fanatical about tinsel. We had two boxes of the ‘real’ metal stuff. Each year, she spent hours draping it, one strand at a time. When we had real trees, we spent hours after Christmas removing it. But once we got the fake one, it was unassembled after the holiday, and the pieces placed in the storage box with the tinsel attached. For me, the look of the old metal tinsel is far more attractive than the plastic version. It catches and reflects the light differently.
Our ornament collection included some of the old European hand-blown glass ones. A particular favorite was a blue bird with a tail made of tiny plastic bristles. It clipped onto the branch, and each year my brother and I argued about who would attach it.
We used a string of large old-fashioned light bulbs for years. We wouldn’t give them up for the smaller version everyone else converted to. (The smaller ones were still pretty big and much larger than the twinkle lights and LEDs of today.) We had to special bulbs, one in the shape of a Christmas tree and the other in the shape of Santa’s face. The tree went first, but until Santa burned out, we kept the old string. They were probably terribly dangerous, especially with the mountain of metal tinsel bedecking the branches, but we were (and continue to be) creatures of habit.
In fact, my brother still has the old plastic tree with all of the old ornaments. Several of the branches have broken over the years, and the tinsel is in shreds, but it’s the only tree he’s ever had, and he won’t give it up for anything. The poor little bluebird lost his tail years ago, but he is still attached in a place of honor every year.
On Christmas Day, the family gathered at my grandmother’s house. Because our resources were so limited, the cost of each gift was restricted. I think the restriction was not more than $5. However, in the 1950s, that amount still went quite far.
I remember the year when my gift was the largest one under the tree. Inside were more baking tools and mixes than I could have dreamed of. For years I kept the miniature rolling pin, baking pans, cookie sheet, cookie cutters, etc. I used them when Kim was little to bake with her.
The box also contained half-size cookie and cake mixes of all kinds.
Since I enjoyed cooking as a kid, this was the perfect gift. I also knew that my aunt and uncle had completely blown the dollar limit. It was their understanding of what I would truly love as well as being willing to endure my mother’s disapproval which made me feel very special and much loved.
After Dad died, our Santa gifts were usually things we needed: pajamas, new slippers, etc. Looking back, I realize how far ahead Mom had to plan and save in order to make the holiday special for us. And she did.
I took this same enthusiasm into the holidays for my own family. Fortunately, Larry’s family always celebrated on Christmas Eve, so we could still spend Christmas Day with mine.
His family gatherings were always festive and joyous occasions. The entire clan gathered at his aunt and uncle’s home, which looked as though it had come off a Christmas card. The adults drew names and each received a single gift, but all the kids received them from everyone. Since Larry’s father came from a large family, the party was always packed.
When his aunt and uncle gave up the big house, we hosted the family gathering in our home for many years. We often had forty or so people for a sit-down supper, followed by the gift exchange and lots of Christmas cookies. The youngest children helped an adult (often Uncle Rudy) hand out the gifts. I can close my eyes and hear the laughter and feel the warmth of family love.
This year, we will have the immediate family for Christmas Eve again. Our niece and her family will not attend since they now live in Utah, but Kim is here with us.
Once again, the love this family shares will surround each of us as we celebrate this very special time.
What are your favorite childhood Christmas memories? Which do you continue as an adult?