Christmas was always the big family event of the year, with Christmas Eve as the most exciting part for me. Soon after Thanksgiving, we would go to a tree farm and buy a fresh cut tree, usually eight to ten feet tall to set up near the front window in the living room.
We fussed with the strings of lights because all the bulbs had to be good for the string to light. My sister Jan and I decorated the tree with many colored balls and dangling ornaments, and strands of icicles. We had a special antique angel for the top. The family was completed when my aunt Viva pulled in the driveway a few days before the big day, honking the horn to herald her arrival. Christmas Eve tradition began with kidney bean stew for supper. The stew was made ahead, so Mom wouldn’t be tied up in the kitchen.
Our gift giving tradition was to “fish” for small inexpensive gifts. Mom said that Grandma started the tradition during the Depression when there wasn’t much money for gifts. All the wrapped gifts were piled on the pool table in the front room, and a sheet tacked up over the door. We tied a string on a “fishing pole” to throw over the sheet. Someone would hook a gift on the string and call for the recipient to come “fish” it out while everyone watched to see what they got. With many small gifts, the giving could be stretched out for the whole evening.
The gifts also became a tradition. I always gave Mom a box of #2 lead pencils and packs of Wrigley’s Spearmint gum — individually wrapped, of course. I tied the pencils in a long string. I always gave my sister Jan a can of cashews, and Daddy a bottle of after shave lotion; usually Old Spice or Bay Rum. Daddy got paperback books, and Zane Grey westerns or Agatha Christi mysteries.
We vied to see who would notice the passing of midnight, and be the first to wish everyone a Merry Christmas. Then we hung our stockings on the mantle over the fireplace and waded through the mounds of wrapping paper to go to bed. Christmas morning I was up early! I snuck out to once again try to shout “Merry Christmas” before someone else did. First stop was to see what goodies were in my stocking; maybe a candy bar or a small jackknife.
Mom was already up preparing Christmas dinner for the midday. Normal days we ate in the kitchen, but today we ate on the big table in the dining room. Mom usually boiled two of our own chickens, and dropped dumplings on top of them. I loved those dumplings and gravy! The rest was traditional, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, and apple pie or pumpkin pie for dessert.
Finally, it was time to clean up the Christmas Eve mess. We gathered all the torn wrapping paper still piled in the living room, and put away our gifts. The tree stayed up until New Year’s Day. Either Christmas Eve or the end of Christmas Day, or both, Mom would sit down at the old upright piano, and we gathered around to sing Christmas carols.
Sigh. Christmas was over. Now, the long wait until next year. The wonderful memories lingered as we ate leftover chicken and pie and kidney bean stew.
What special memories of Christmas do you have from your childhood?
What are your favorite Christmas traditions?