Holidays seem to bring out the memories and traditions of our childhood, our families, or our heritage. Memories of hanging our stockings on the mantle as a child and then in a new home and then as a student away at college and wanting that little touch of home. Traditions of putting up the tree on the day after Thanksgiving or the first Sunday of Advent or the week-end before Christmas stay with us all our lives.
And the food! What is Christmas without food! We went to a Christmas office party yesterday and someone remarked that every year we say we aren’t going to make this or bake that. But then someone wants this or that or it just won’t be Christmas. And the next thing we know, we have more than we did last year.
And the gifts…even those have traditions and memories. I remember my dad loved walnuts and so every Christmas I would buy him a 5 pound sack of walnuts. And I would give him a bottle of English Leather or Old Spice cologne. It was my tradition and my little memory that no one can ever take away.
And then there are the other traditions of opening 1 gift on Christmas Eve. Or the family going to Christmas Midnight Mass. Not to mention the chaos of Christmas morning with of the squeals of joy and awe. Or going to the Grandparents for Christmas meals and gift giving with the cousins. Oh sweet memories like when my sister came home and told us she was engaged.
And no matter where we go, we take those memories with us, when we put them into practice we re-create that tradition for those around us. And for those with children, you have passed that tradition on to the next generation. And those memories for them will become the tradition that they will then pass down to the next generation. Traditions and memories of family, friends, fun and frivolity of the season. Whether you are celebrating Hanukkah or Christmas or Wolf’s Night or just the warm fuzzies of this time of year, it is your memory to make and to keep.
We always put our tree up on the Sunday before Christmas…be it Christmas eve or a week before. We always had a real tree–mom insisted even though she was allergic. Dad would put it in the stand and bring it in. Then he and I would hang the lights, the old fashioned kind that clipped onto branches. Since our tree was usually in a corner at our ‘old’ house, I would crawl behind and do the back side passing the string so dad could do the front. Then the ornaments were hung, with oohs and ahs and stories of where they came from. Some were passed down from dad’s grandparents that they had brought from Germany. And the the Village that was built by hand by great-grandparents in Germany and brought over. And then all of the decorations would emerge from boxes hidden in the basement from the previous year. Mom would decorate the mantle with angel hair and the 3 wise men, and a star of tinfoil and lights. Even the bathroom was not neglected as the toilet seat cover of Santa was placed. (Eyes open on the top, closed when you opened it.)
At some point cookies were baked. Mom would mix up the sugar cookie dough for us kids to cut out and decorate as we wished. Occasionally we would get to do other cookies but the big thing was to get to decorate the sugar cookies–where the little silver balls were fought over. (They made great eyes or made the tree cookies look decorated with silver ornaments and they tasted great!)
I remember one Christmas when I was about 6 or 7 and I found dad in the basement putting up another tree. It was probably a 3 foot tree on a table. It was all silver and dad was placing shiny blue ornaments on it. Only blue. When i asked dad what this tree was for, he just said he put it up for him mom. I don’t know why, but I just accepted that answer as a fact and didn’t question it even though I knew Grandma never came down the stairs.
One of my favorite Christmas traditions was Christmas Eve shopping with my dad. It was the one day of the year mom gave him the checkbook AND the credit cards and told him to have fun—-yeah with all 4 of us girls with him. We would shop one mall at a time, going home to drop off things so we could go get more things. And eventually we would go to my dad’s mecca–Central Hardware. (Maybe that’s why I love going to Lowe’s and Home Depot here in the South.) Finally would be home in time for dinner and enjoy the cookies mom had baked while we were “out of her hair.”
My family had the tradition of opening 1 gift on Christmas eve before Midnight Mass. Usually it was just dad and me going to Midnight Mass while mom stayed home with the younger kids. But there were some Christmases that everyone went. Like Christmas 1979, we all went and there were my uncles and aunts and cousins, and my paternal Grandmother. At 82 she was the matriarch of the family and we were at her church. The church that my uncles and aunts were married in. The church my uncles and aunts and father attended Mass at and whose school they also attended. The stories of the family’s pew–families would purchase a pew to defray the cost of building the church. And most still sat in that pew only. Our family’s pew was about 1/2 way down the aisle in the center section, behind a huge pillar that allowed no view of the altar if you were on the wrong end. Little did we know that that would be the last Christmas we would have Grandma in our lives. She collapsed at that very Mass. The following week we learned she had metastatic cancer and she left this world just before Memorial Day.
After Mass, we would gather at Grandma’s for donuts and coffee and family hugs and hellos. And I still have memories of playing on the piano with my cousin. And seeing or showing off what everyone’s new Christmas outfits. After an hour or so, it was back home and I would fall into bed.
A few hours later and we kids were up and laughing and squealing at what Santa had brought. Mom & Dad would eventually wake up from the noise or 1 of us running in to their room with our new toy or gift from Santa. The gifts were opened and breakfast would be made. Suddenly Mom would notice that something was in the tree, and lo and behold there were envelopes hidden between the branches with our names on it.
By noon or so we were on our way to Grandma’s to meet up with the rest of the family. We would be loaded down with gifts for them only to have the space filled again with the gifts we had received. In Grandma’s little 3 1/2 room shotgun home we would gather and cram in—10 grandkids and 7 adults. The men would play poker in the middle of the tiny living room while the kids would find any available space to sit or play.
My aunt Gerome (who passed on last Christmas at the ripe age of 90) always brought her mostaccioli. Someone would bring ham and bread and potato salad and more food. Somehow plates were passed and everyone was fed. Then gifts were exchanged and paper would fly and more squeals of delight would be heard. By dinner time, we were back home and enjoying what we had received and tuckered out from the last 24 hours.
This was my Christmas for most of my life. Because my mother was from Arkansas and her parents were there, we spent a few Christmases away from home and the traditions I was used to. Santa would come and the food was the same, but only having 3 cousins to share the day with was totally different in my grandparents much larger home.
My sisters have carried on most of those traditions, blending them with their husbands’ traditions. Being single, I still hang my stocking on the mantle along with the stockings my sister sent for my furry kids. And last year, we added a new stocking–Bill’s, my boyfriend of almost 2 years. And his is hung again this year filled with little things from me. He is my family now.
Our tree is up and adorned with a few ornaments: Bill put it up this year and had me sign a paper stating that I had relinquished all creative rights and that I would not touch the tree after it was completed. And I haven’t….it has 12 orange balls (mine) and 12 blue balls (his) and the ornaments we received this year as gifts from friends. It has my angel and tree skirt, a bow, and 1 single strand of lights. The nativity scene is underneath and the gifts to the other are underneath. It’s plain and simple. And it’s ours. Perhaps it is our tradition. It is definitely our memory.
Have a Blessed Christmas ….and enjoy your traditions and make your memories.