Remembering Childhood Christmases
A Little Girl's Earliest Memory of Christmas
Some people can remember events from age two, some from while still in the womb. I can't. The first picture I can clearly recall from my rich images stored in my memory comes from kindergarten at Tawas Elementary School. Mrs. Schaaf was my teacher.
We had been given names to draw, and I had picked Joe Blust, of whom I was fond. I gifted him a squirt gun. I had no idea who drew my name, and to this day still don't.
I remember sitting in awe while children opened their brightly wrapped gifts. I think I was nearly the last to receive mine. There had been a remarkable Santa figure under the kindergarten Christmas tree. I'm pretty sure it wasn't for me; it had to be a prop to make the gifts look interesting.
Finally Mrs. Schaaf presented my gift.
"That's not mine," I said assuredly.
"It's got your name on it."
I couldn't believe it...not a box, but a cylindrical Santa. Whatever was I supposed to do with it? After looking at it for awhile I found some tabs at the back, so I unlatched them. Instructions were inside--not too complicated, mind you; after all, I was only five.
Fold here. Push tab in. Arrows pointed direction. After a few tucks and turns, a neat gingerbread doll house stood before me. How about that? I was honored.
Unfortunately, I don't remember anything afterwards involving that particular gift. I don't remember carrying it home on the school bus, and I don't remember playing with it at home. Furthermore, the rest of the Christmas that year 1957 remains a blur--nothing particular comes to mind. I just remember that Santa.
The Scents and Sounds of Childhood Christmas
We always cut a Douglas fir for our Christmas tree. The scent of evergreen branches filled the old farmhouse. My sister, ten years my elder, decorated the house with the branches wherever she could easily tuck them, behind the living room wall mirror and upon the second dining table as a centerpiece. One breath and my nose and lungs felt purified.
Mother baked sweets during the season. My favorite were the prune buns, yeast-based rolls stuffed with a prune filling seasoned with lots of cinnamon. A light, sweet vanilla frosting topped the buns. I think I was the biggest taker.
The other sweets were good, too. The nutsovniky1 were similar to the prune buns, but filled with spiced ground walnuts . . . freshly made donuts with maple-flavored topping, the likes of which melted in your mouth . . . apple pie drizzled with caramel sauce . . . and pumpkin pie. Sometimes she even made a fruitcake with candied fruit and rum.
Christmas carols streamed from the radio and our old 45 rpm record player. I remember singing "Frosty the Snowman" over and over with my sister. Of course, once the gifts were finally opened Christmas Day, there were all kinds of sounds--laughter, the crinkling of paper as gifts were unwrapped, and buzzing batteries from electric toys.
Christmas was warm, full, and wonderful!
1The actual Slavic word for the dessert is orechové rožky, but Mother's side of the family coined the informal phrase nutsovniky.
The Complete Lyrics to Frosty the Snowman
Memorable Christmas Toys from the 50s
My goodness! I received so many wonderful and beautiful Christmas gifts as a child. Especially while being a child, the season seemed so magical and special.
Usually, my elder sister was the Santa's helper in our family. During my younger years, I lacked the skills and imagination to create gifts for my parents and siblings. Sandra, however, found paying work in our little town and made sure everyone in our family had something, usually about five gifts apiece, the total count being contributed also by my grandmother, father, mother, and elder brother.
The gifts I remember (not in any particular Christmas season--the years blur together into one happy, eternal "now") are as follows:
- a Tiny Tears doll with clothes and stroller
- two jigsaw puzzles, one of a sailboat at sea, and the other a Swiss chalet
- a Chinese, three-dimensional wood puzzle (given by Brother John)
- the book HEIDI, given by my grandmother for my eighth Christmas
- a View Master, one of the reels on which was "The Night Before Christmas"
- a metal, colorful two-story dollhouse, complete with a tiny family, furniture, and a chimney
- a tower of musical bells with colored keys and simple sheet music wherein the colors of the notes matched the keys to be played
Of course, there were always the pant and top sets, mittens, scarves, socks, and sweaters, but the toys were the most fun!
You have to have experienced one to understand the awe a midnight mass service evokes, especially as a child. It is like no other mass.
Typically, midnight masses were held Christmas Eve at the appointed midnight hour. The service celebrated the beginning of the Christmas season, traditionally lasting from December 25th through Epiphany on January 6th. Folklore suggested that a Christmas tree should stand during all 12 days for a successful and happy new year. My family, however, never observed this tradition.
One of my family's Christmas Eve customs, however, was to allow each family member to open one gift before going to midnight mass. If you didn't attend the evening mass, of course, you didn't open one.
Evening somehow subdues the thinking mind. The prayers, chants, organ and singing open the heart. The eyes behold the nativity scene and the beautifully decorated altar with three or four medium-large Christmas trees, poinsettias, and candles. A few minutes before officially ending the mass, the priest would turn out the lights in our little Immaculate Heart of Mary Church to allow only the lights of the trees and candles to emit light. To me, as a child, it was very special.
Christmas Midnight Mass ScenesClick thumbnail to view full-size
Which gift I shared especially brought back a memory?
I wish to express my gratitude to my grandparents, parents, and siblings for making my childhood Christmases so memorable.
In addition, I thank Michael Milec for taking the time to research the variations of the word nutsovniky. The experience was enlightening.
© 2019 Marie Flint