Wednesday, December 21, 2011


My mom and dad went for the Christmas tree together.  No kids tagging along.  The tree was purchased a couple of days before Christmas and set up on Christmas Eve.  I remember my father setting it up in a bucket - a metal, scrub bucket, filled with sand.  Yep.  Sand.  Then pieces of chopped wood anchored in the sand, leaned up against the tree trunk to hold it steady.

My father would put the lights on the tree; they had to be just so! My mom did the ornaments and us 5, then 6 kids would sit on the floor and straighten out each strand of lead tinsel, saved from year to year, scrunched into a ball from the previous year.  Yep.  Lead tinsel.  My father would then, meticulously place 2 strands at a time on tree branches.  Yep.  2 strands at a time!  To look like long, sleek, glittering icicles.  But it was the most gorgeous tree every year!  It's what I still aspire to - tinsel and all, though no lead involved!

Christmas cookies were set out by the dozens! Ohhh, my mother's cookies! She made the best cut-outs, frosted and sugared, and her chocolate chip were the best!  Of course, my father had to have a big bowl of nuts set out - with the nut cracker and pick.  Nuts.  In the shells.  My paternal grandmother was known for her Fruitcake, soaked with rum every day for a week before Christmas.  Oh, how I loved that fruitcake!(hic! pardon....)  Nothing has compared since. 

And my maternal grandmother always had to have her bottle of "Rock n Rye".  Sitting right next to her chair.  Which she would pour into a small glass and sip throughout the evening ("just a small glass, Peter", she would tell my dad).  For "medicinal purposes; it soothes my throat" she would say to everyone.   Rock n Rye? It's rye whiskey with hunks of rock candy floating in the bottle.  Rock candy? it's a concoction of hardened sugar and corn syrup formed into lumps that look

Come Christmas morning, us kids would be up at 3:00 - 4:00am, sneaking down the stairs, trying to be as quiet as we could (not an easy feat - the stairs creaked horribly).  Some years Mom and Pop had just gone to bed minutes before.  Back then, only articles of clothing were wrapped, not the toys or other paraphenalia.  Everything on display, in the open.  "Eeekk!!!  Wowww!!!  Look! Look!! Who's is this?! Can I play with this now?? Let's set it up!!"......were the almost hushed squeals of excitement!

One year, we were instructed not to come downstairs until Mom and Pop called for us. "Or Else!"   Yeah. Right.  So, Pop went to work that night.  Mom sleeps like Rip Van Winkle.  We're in the clear.  We have our secret knock on the doors figured out; the plan is set.

Down the stairs we go, 3:00am. (Why do kids always know to get up in the middle of the night on Christmas, but can never get out of bed on time on a school day?!) Again with the quiet squeals of excitement. Picking each item up, eyes all aglow, passing it around for others to see, then it happens.......
we see the headlights of the car pulling in the driveway.  "Everything back! Everything back! Hurry! Hurry! Up the stairs!!"   A gaggle of kids running up a flight of stairs like a herd of buffalo, into our beds, all before my father's key unlocks the door and he walks in!!

Hehehe! Fooled him!  He'll never know!  (Of course he did. But it was never spoken of at the time!)

Ah, then Christmas Day.  After the hubbub of drooling over the gifts and cleaning up, kids went to their respective spaces to play, Mom started dinner.  After supper, all the relatives came to visit.  Grandma and Grandpa, aunts and uncles (14 of them) and our cousins (13 of them).  More gifts!  More food and snacks!  The house was filled with laughter, loud talking, adults getting funnier and funnier with "Christmas cheer" in liquid form!!  What a blast!!

The day after, kids would take their most prize possession and go to our friends' homes.  Comparing our gifts.  Ooohhing and Ahhhhing over each others things, making mental notes "put on my list for next year".  During the week, we'd go visit relatives and grandparents.  More fun!  What a season! 

As a kid, I remember the year my grandmother bought and set up an aluminum Christmas tree. A huge tree!  I guess it was all the rage back then.  She decorated it with pink satin balls.  On the floor sat a color wheel that would project yellow, green, blue and red color on the sparkly aluminum tree as it spun around.  All the kids thought that was the most beautiful fake tree we ever saw!

One year my mother and father decided that they would come visit each one of us and our families on Christmas Day instead of having the big doings at their house. What a bummer that was! Nobody liked it, not even them. Yeah. They never did that again. We resumed our Christmases at their home for many more years.

Things didn't change much as we became adults and had our own families.  Still going to Mom and Pop's on Christmas afternoon.  Supper, gifts - oh, the gifts!!  Now there were 12 grandchildren of their own.  There was not a clear spot on the floor in the living room, scattered with wrapping paper, boxes, toys, clothes ---- and kids.  Every age and size.  Not too many relatives came to visit -- they had their own grandchildren now, their own family get-together.  My parents and aunts and uncles would visit each other's homes during the following week - adults only.

When mom decided in her later years that preparing the Christmas buffet was too much for her, I took over.  We lived next door to my parents at the time.  So, I would prepare the big feast, all brothers, wives, children and my sister and parents would come to our house in the afternoon. What a time we had!!  We lived in a small cape cod style home. 

There were 12 adults and 11 kids of all sizes and ages.  The house was packed!  Kids would fix their plates and go sit on the staircase steps and the basement steps to eat.  Adults would be packed around the table and every seat in the living room.  After eating and visiting, we would all wander over to Mom and Pop's for gift opening and more celebrating. Sometimes, extended family members would come to visit.  Everyone gathered up their clan and their goodies, saying goodnight, thankyou's, Merry Christmas! and heading home around 11:00pm. 

As the years progressed, a few of us moved out of state.  But those that remained continued the traditions.  My sister took over and had the Christmas celebration at her home every year.  Still does.  The rest of us still baraged our parents with phone calls, laughter, memories, and gifts.  We drove back home one Christmas.  I always wished we had done that more than once.  But situations prohibited it.  This regret I will carry with me for all my life.  

I wish I could go on and on.  SO many memories!!  So much family.  So much love and togetherness.

Now my Mom and Dad are gone.  Our first Christmas without either one of them.  Our families are separated.  Some by miles, some by attitudes and perceived wrong-doings to them by others.  But for those of us still "family", we will once again celebrate Christmas with life-long traditions as well as some recently established ones.  And pray that this Christmas, past memories will open hearts and minds.  That relationships will be re-established, all will be forgotten and forgiven.  That "Family" is the key to the spirit and true meaning of Christmas. 

Wishing you all a most blessed, Merry Christmas in the bosoms of all those you love.  God Bless.


jessie said...

What sweet holiday memories!

Judy said...

Love your memories. My memories make me happy that we had such fun (and food) and sad that some people are no longer with us. Like you said we will pass the traditions on but I want to know...How did they do it all and without the conveniences we have today?!

Sandie Knapp said...

I have similar memories, especially when it comes to trimming the tree, which I NEVER saw done before the age of 15. Until then, I never saw the tree till Xmas morning. My parents would wait till we were all in bed, before they even brought it in the house, so they worked like mad before getting some sleep themselves.

Like your Father, my Mother was just as meticulous with the tinsel. It too was saved from year to year, but NEVER crumpled. She insisted it be placed back in the box totally straightened out. And she placed her strands ONE AT A TIME on every branch and twig on the tree. I agree, it made for a most glorious tree, sparkling with every little ray of light that found it. Always, the lights would go on first, then the balls, and last, the tinsel. We were allowed to help take the decorations off the tree, as long as we were extremely careful. She had every box the balls came in, so that every one was placed back in it's own box too. :)

Yes, the memories are many, and they keep our parents with us for as long as we too live.

Happy Holidays :)