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Remembering Childhood Christmases

Updated on May 21, 2020
Marie Flint profile image

Marie studied at Michigan State University four years in English (creative writing). She writes content, poetry, and stories.

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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.

This Santa looks much like my kindergarten Santa gift.
This Santa looks much like my kindergarten Santa gift. | Source

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!

Heidi (Great Illustrated Classics)
Heidi (Great Illustrated Classics)
I cherished this book as a youngster, as I identified with the main character. I think it was especially enjoyable to me because I had lost my paternal grandfather when I was only four years old. Heidi's relationship to her grandfather filled the absence of mine in many ways. I could smell the bed of hay, probably alfalfa, that Heidi's grandfather made for her in the loft.
 

Midnight Mass

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 Scenes

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Mignight Mass at St. John's in Chicago
Mignight Mass at St. John's in Chicago
Mignight Mass at St. John's in Chicago | Source
Source

Thinking Back...

Which gift I shared especially brought back a memory?

See results

Acknowledgments

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

Comments

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    • Marie Flint profile imageAUTHOR

      Marie Flint 

      4 days ago from Tawas City, Michigan USA

      You're welcome, Nithya. It's nice to know that I have helped to spread a little enjoyment by sharing these memories. Thank you.

    • Vellur profile image

      Nithya Venkat 

      5 days ago from Dubai

      Thank you for sharing these wonderful memories with us, I enjoyed reading them.

    • Marie Flint profile imageAUTHOR

      Marie Flint 

      2 months ago from Tawas City, Michigan USA

      That was a special dollhouse for sure, Denise!

    • PAINTDRIPS profile image

      Denise McGill 

      2 months ago from Fresno CA

      What great memories. I got a dollhouse too but it was one built of wood and my father made it and my mother papered the walls and made furniture for it as well as curtains. It was a special house.

    • Marie Flint profile imageAUTHOR

      Marie Flint 

      3 months ago from Tawas City, Michigan USA

      Thank you for reading and commenting, Peggy. I'm glad I helped spark a memory for you with "Heidi." I think we are all children at heart. Bless those two foster children and bless you for gifting them the book!

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 

      3 months ago from Houston, Texas

      What sweet childhood Christmas memories you have shared with us. My paternal grandmother gave me the book "Heidi" one year, and it was also a favorite. Not too many years ago, I passed it on to a couple of girls who were foster kids. I hope it brings them as much joy as it did me.

    • k@ri profile image

      Kari Poulsen 

      5 months ago from Ohio

      I bet I would have love that cat also. Merry Christmas to you.

    • Marie Flint profile imageAUTHOR

      Marie Flint 

      5 months ago from Tawas City, Michigan USA

      A rocking horse--what fun! I also remembered another toy that I did not include in the article. It was a Puss 'n Boots stuffed toy. Imagine my seeing the little black-and-white cat dressed in hat, vest, and little rubber boots. He even had my name on him. I so enjoyed taking those little boots off and putting them back on him again. Merry Christmas!

    • k@ri profile image

      Kari Poulsen 

      5 months ago from Ohio

      Your story brings my mind to my childhood Christmases. I also loved puzzles and books. My favorite gift of all time was a spring horse ( like a rocking horse on springs). Thank you for bringing up these splendid memories!

    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Weithers 

      5 months ago from The Caribbean

      Thanks for sharing these pleasant childhood memories. They're especially meaningful during the holidays. Good read!

    • Pamela99 profile image

      Pamela Oglesby 

      5 months ago from Sunny Florida

      Your recollection of Christmas memories is a pleasure to read. Thanks for sharing.

    • Jodah profile image

      John Hansen 

      5 months ago from Queensland Australia

      I enjoyed your recollection of your childhood Christmases, Marie. It brought back fond memories of my own. Nicely written.

    • Eurofile profile image

      Liz Westwood 

      5 months ago from UK

      Thanks for sharing your memories. I was a decade behind you, but I recall having a Heidi book and a viewmaster. Church was central to our Christmas, as it was where my father worked. I thought it was important for our kids too to go to church at Christmas so that they understood the true meaning of Christmas.

    • Marie Flint profile imageAUTHOR

      Marie Flint 

      5 months ago from Tawas City, Michigan USA

      Unfortunately, our Immaculate Heart of Mary parish no longer stands, and midnight masses are no longer performed in the Tawases (Michigan).

      When my brother, who typically is not a church-goer, called various local churches to ask if a midnight mass would be given, he was told these were no longer being done because of safety precautions for parishioner drivers (visibility lessens during the dark midnight hour).

      At least I have the memory.

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