I remember Christmas...
The Garland and the Mistletoe
Christmas was my favorite time of year growing up. My mom made it so. Mom was very artistic. In fact, as a youth, she was given the chance to attend the Chicago Institute of Art on a full scholarship, providing her parents paid for her room and board. Mind you, the 1900's were already beyond it's first 30 years and times were tough. Especially for mom's family. Her parents couldn't afford this and her hopeful career passed quickly before her eyes. I always guessed that she decorated our home like the Macy's Department store; with greenery, bulbs, red birds, ribbons and floral centerpieces because she could and also because she wasn't able to use her talent the way that she had hoped.
Ten children and three miscarriages after marrying my father, my mother always made sure that our home; inside and out, looked like a magazine story. The lush boughs of garland cascading across each entrance way in the house. Wreaths adorned each door; full of colorful balls, with matching birds and Christmas foliage. Our tree was real each year, and filled the room with fresh pine. Mom would adorn ornaments that she had handmade with silk balls decorated with fancy pins and looking like something one of the wise men would have hand delivered to the baby Jesus. She sprayed that toxic, spray snow on the windows and on the tree, to give it that outdoor look. She played Frank Sinatra, Judy Garland, Barbra Streisand and Andy Williams on the speakers; blasting the Christmas music out through the house beginning the day after Thanksgiving through New Years Day.
Then, the dreaded mistletoe would be hung on the light that stood above the front door. Anyone, it was the rule in our home, anyone that entered through the front door (family and friends used the back) had to be kissed as a welcome during the Christmas season. My dad made it a point to enter through the front door a few times during the month. Siblings that usually entered through the back door, would ring the doorbell and come through the front. It seemed that people needed a lot of kisses during the holiday time. I hated it however when prospective boyfriends with their faces covered with zits or with greasy hair and big glasses would come through the front to pick up one of my sisters. Being one that wouldn't break tradition, I would point to the ball hanging above their head and give them a quick peck. I think we kept this tradition until I was in high school in the 70's and finally said, "Enough is enough!"
That Big Old Front Door
The weeks of anticipation before Christmas were wonderful. Mom would make cookies and we would help decorate them. She would prepare lots of scrumptious meals and bake lots of homemade bread. My siblings and I would eat butter and cinnamon bread by the loaf at night, sitting in the knotty pine kitchen, smelling more loaves baking.
We had all made our visit to see Santa, who usually had terrible breath and needed to suck on one of those candy canes he handed out! He also didn't have the real hair or beard like Santa's today have; we could see the string and the dark hair beneath. He was still Santa or the hope of Santa to me and I was content that I would get one thing I asked for.
The funny thing is that we rarely got exactly what we asked for. We would get something similar, I'm sure a cheaper model but we were never unhappy or never said anything against what we got. One year, I asked for an art set. I just wanted something simple; like markers and canvas. My mom must have seen that I had inherited a lot of her talent because that year I got complete sets of acrylic, oil and watercolor paints; all in their little, professionally cased tubes. I received a pad of canvas paper, professional brushes and charcoal, chalk and oil pastels as well. I cried. I couldn't believe that I had received such a wonderful kid and I didn't think that I had behaved that well during the year. It was that year that I realized that my mom and dad were Santa Claus. I was angry at first but quickly realized the sacrifices that they had made for all of us and that made me cry even harder.
The one memory I have most vividly of Christmas morning was the heavy, wooden front door. Mom decorated it with wreath, garland and all. Each morning on Christmas, my father would slam that door as hard as he could and the entire brick house would boom! He'd yell, "Bye Santa. Thanks for coming. See you next year!" You never saw a bunch of kids make it to the bottom of the stairs more quickly. We were stumbling, crawling, flying down the hard, wooden stairs; often sporting new bruises and scrapes but we were determined each year to catch a glimpse of Santa. The windows always seemed to be covered with condensation and we couldn't see him, even though our dad kept insisting he saw him on the neighbor's roof. Each year we fell for this until, eventually that magic didn't work on us anymore.
Presents, Chocolate and Donuts; Oh MY!
Another fond memory I have of Christmas is all of us sitting on the floor and waiting to see who would be the "chosen" one to hand out all of the gifts. As I got older and knew that Santa visited only the little ones, I was elected to do this job. I loved it. I loved being the last to open my gifts and the overseer of distribution.
After the mounds of gifts were gone through; and for all of us, each getting at least 5 gifts each multiplied by ten, plus the handmade gifts from school, that equalled a lot of gifts; we would grab our chocolate Santas and begin by eating them. Next, the little candies stored in the toe of the sock. We would have a new toothbrush, comb, toy or little trinket as well that would excited us. The most exciting thing however was the fact that in addition to the chocolate that we ate early in the morning, we also were allowed to eat donuts for breakfast too! Perhaps my folks had hoped that all of us would doze into a sugar coma which would allow them to prepare for the upcoming feast that afternoon.
When Christmas approaches my house, I take a lot of the memories my mom and dad created for me and try to apply them to the lives of my own children. I decorate every room in the house. I decorate the out of doors to the oohs and ahs of the neighbors. I bake cookies and make homemade candies and yummy smelling breads. I put keepsake ornaments on the tree; many of which my two children have made for me over the years. We have also made salt dough ornaments together and painted them and they hang next to those that my mother and I made over 38 years ago.
My son no longer believes in Santa but my daughter does. He stopped believing in his 8th grade year of school. My daughter will be in 4th this year. They don't care that their friends question or have questioned their beliefs because I have made it magical, believable for them. A spirit that delivers not only gifts but love and watches over them dutifully throughout the entire year. A spirit that loves the baby Jesus and believes in God and brings all the magic of the season to our house on one night.
Each year, my children and I pack a bag full of clothes, toys and food to give to a women's shelter in the area. We like to think that we are acting as Santa for the recepients of our bundle. We retell the story of the birth of Christ. We discuss Hanukah and other festivals of light celebrated around the world. We relive the year that has passed and look forward to the one we are entering into. We give thanks for the fact that we are a family that loves each other and think about what we can do to better ourselves for the upcoming year.
On New Year's Eve, they have a friend over and we bring out the fine china, the crystal and have a big feast and drink sparkling juice. We watch the ball drop on television with our loved ones, play card games and eat all night. Then, my guy and I go up to go to sleep while the kids stay up all night having fun in our basement. Life is good, again.
Eat until you can't move...
I would help my mom set the table. This table could seat up to 25. We had to used two long tablecloths to cover it. Mom would have me press the cloth napkins; all with a beautiful Christmas pattern or a Christmas color. We would put out two forks, a spoon and a knife and her white Corelle dishes which seemed like a queen's china to me. When we were really little, we had a "kids" table next to the big table and I hated having to sit at that table. I looked forward to the time when I turned 11 and could join the adults at the big table; leaving my younger siblings to sit with the nieces and nephews that joined us each celebration through the years. Some of us eventually got sent into the kitchen to eat because our family kept growing larger and larger. To date, I have over 37 nieces and nephews, many great nieces and nephews!
We would feast on ham, potatoes, salads, jellos, rolls, pies, cakes, noodle dishes, fruits, hot and cold vegetables and more. Before each meal, we would pass around a host that had been blessed by the pastor of the local church and break off a piece and say a prayer as a family. Dinner would often last 4-5 hours as we would sit and talk, laugh, eat and repeat the process over and over again. The youngest children would scamper off to play but I longed for the information shared by the adults at the big table. I would silently listen and once in a while interject a statement but mostly listen.
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