The biggest difference between my 1st Christmas in 1948 and my approaching 69th Christmas in 2016 is the commercialization and now the politicization of the Holiday Season.
Childhood Christmas memories center around Family and the Christmas Tree. Our trees were natural! If there was a bare spot that could not be hidden with ornaments and tinsel, my father would drill a hole and add a branch! In our family, my Father installed the tree and my Mother decorated it. We would see the bare tree as we headed up to bed at 7:00pm. (our regular bed time until 9th grade!). Mother would wake us later (midnight? 1:00am?) when the tree was finished and the four of us would go down to see it beautifully decorated and lit in an otherwise dark room. The childhood memories of wide-eyed wonder and awe have stayed with me to this day.
Mother was particular and the tree was spectacular. It always went to the ceiling and totally filled a corner, often blocking a doorway. The lights were large round Sylvania bulbs in soft pastel colors from the 1940s and there were enough strings to saturate the tree. Ornaments went from branch tips all the way in to the trunk. The most time consuming part was hanging the tinsel. Mother did each piece individually and every branch was covered as far back as the tinsel could hang freely. This resulted in a sparkling, shimmering tree as lights bounced off the ornaments and the tinsel.
I do not have pictures from this period of my life, only memories. For those who are too young to have experienced Christmas trees from this era, I borrowed this picture from the internet. It will give you an idea. Just visualize FOUR times as much tinsel and an additional branch or two that my Father would have added!
To this day, I only want a natural tree, one that has NOT been pruned and shaped! Mother Nature grows them best! I also want a big tree that fills a corner and goes to the ceiling! And, Yes!, I have been known to drill and add branches if needed:)
As children, we knew the guest room was off limits. That was where yet to be wrapped presents were stored. We never cheated and looked. Even as kids we wanted the surprises on Christmas. Our stockings were laid across the bottom of our beds. We had to ask before we could open them and soon learned that a 3am wake up and inquiry was fruitless! Our parents had it schedules for 6am, figuring that they would have another hours sleep while the stockings kept us busy. At 7am, we all went downstairs. Breakfast first so there were no hungry, irritable kids. Breakfast was always a fresh coffee cake and grapefruit sections w/ cherries – Mother peeled and sectioned the pink grapefruits the day before.
Now understand! The stairs came down into the room where the tree was and where Santa left unwrapped gifts. We came down single file and turned our heads using our hands as blinders as we walked to the kitchen without looking at the tree or the gifts left by Santa. Again we never cheated.
After breakfast, we opened presents. taking turns, one person and one present at a time! The presents were opened carefully as we saved the paper to reuse another year. Each year it would wrap a smaller gift until it got down to stocking gift size and then we could tear the paper off and discard it. Each year, one or two new paper designs were added. The reusing of paper would often evoke memories of past gifts that had been wrapped in it.
When I was in 6th grade, I had a piano teacher who also sold antique jewelry. I noticed a beautiful pair or earrings that I thought Mother would love but they were $25. As oldest, I “convinced” my three brothers that we could do this communally and save the money by skipping school lunch! Lunches were 25 cents so each day the four of us could save $1. We managed to pull it off and it was only after Christmas that Mother learned how we had raised the funds. She cherished those earrings, along with a second pair gifted the next year, her entire life.
IF I were to chose the most special of all Christmases, it would have to be the first Christmas after Sharon and I adopted Ellen (15) and Lynn (12). They came to us with very little so that Christmas was our opportunity to provide not only clothes but personal items. The full range of things that children that age usually have. You can imagine the mountains of package that spread out from the tree and wrapped corners of the room. It took us three days to open everything. THAT IS NOT WHAT MADE IT SPECIAL! Lynn, bless her heart, made this the most special Christmas in my life. Even through she was twelve, she still believed in Santa Claus and heaven help anyone who tried to tell her differently! That allowed me the parental Santa experience. She knew that Santa preferred brownies because everyone else gave him cookies and not just any brownie but the corner pieces, homemade w/ walnuts. Even that is not what made it so special!
We gave the the girls $5 per person to do their own gift shopping with and one parent took them shopping for the other parent. Lynn did her shopping and came home and wrapped her presents. She placed them under the tree. Now understand that this was a big Christmas and gifts were being added daily to the growing mound. Thus the gifts Lynn was giving were covered or moved numerous times. Somehow, she kept track of where they all were.
Christmas morning we started opening gifts, one person, one present at a time and saving the paper! We had not completed the first round when Lynn could no longer contain herself. She was bursting with excitement and it showed! She had to GIVE her presents and she knew exactly where each one was amongst all those packages.
The joy on that child’s face as she presented her gift to each of us stays with me to this day. The fact that with all those packages for her and her sister piled along three walls, she was most excited about GIVING the gifts she had selected for everyone else. A 12 year old child who had known love but had had very few possessions prior to this, instinctively knew that the real joy was in the giving! THIS IS WHAT MADE THIS MY MOST SPECIAL CHRISTMAS and my eyes still fill with tears every time I think of that precious, 12 year old child on that Christmas Day!
Once I married the first time, it was my suggestion that we do something totally different from both family traditions. That something different was REAL Candles on the tree! Candles on the tree have been part of my Christmas ever since. It requires a natural, unpruned, unshaped tree that is very fresh. I personally cut the tree 3 days before Christmas. Over the years I have become adept at candle placement. With a fresh tree, an incorrectly placed candle will cause a needle to pop, not blaze and it can be quickly repositioned. I haven’t popped a needle in years!
There Is Nothing More Beautiful Than A Christmas Tree With Real Candles!
This tree was a few years ago when we had Tom’s Mother, Sister and a neighbor join us for Christmas dinner. This tree actually served us for TWO Christmases. The second Christmas we did NOT light the candles!!! I love putting trees and decorations up. I hate taking them down! Over the years the Christmas tree has come down as late as Easter Sunday, Mother’s Day and the the 4th of July! This tree holds the record as it served us for 13 months while it stayed beautiful and the needles stayed in place:)
This year Tom and I will have a quiet Christmas. We will exchange a few gifts and go out for a nice dinner on the 24th. No big tree this year. Once the transition is made to a simpler, less complicated life we can bring back the tree, the candles and a dinner that includes others followed by an oceanside walk.
To those of you who celebrate Christmas:
To Everyone Who Celebrates One Of The Other 44 Holidays in December!
If I know you and know which Holiday you celebrate I will greet you accordingly.
Happy Holidays to All and May The New Year be Good To Us All