Over the years I have had many wonderful Christmases. But when I think of Christmases past, I think of one picture in my box of old, yellowed, crinkled family photographs, a picture that brings floods of sweet memories of Mom and Daddy and our family Christmas traditions.
Our Christmas ritual began with cutting our own tree. In the early years, on the day before Christmas, we trudged through the snow through our “back forty” over to a nice stand of evergreens just waiting for our annual visit. We took ever so much time going back and forth between the trees considering the merits of each one. The younger kids, Little Bobby, me, Charley, and Judie just ran around making noise and playing hide-n-seek (with maybe a snowball fight or two) while the bigger kids, Beverley, Bill, Shirley, and Adam did the actual tree hunt. Joyce and Joanne were already off working at their jobs, so they missed this fun.
There was one rule on these tree-hunting expeditions: no bickering. We could voice our opinion, but we couldn’t argue.
Even so, Mom always had the last word on the Christmas tree choice. She was very particular. She didn’t want any old scrawny tree. Her tree had to be just right, nice and plump and tall and rounded on each side, not too tall, and not too short. If a tree was lopsided, we didn’t cut it. If the spaces between the branches were too wide, we didn’t cut it. If the branches weren’t evenly distributed top to bottom, we didn’t cut it. This was not an easy job, but somehow we always managed the find just the right tree to make Mom happy.
Then when we found the perfect tree, the only one that would do, the older boys or Daddy cut it down. We dragged it through the snow back to the house. But Mom wasn’t ready for it to come in the house. First, the snow had to melt off the tree, and second, we had to clean the house to make it ready for the festivities to come.
Soon enough, we could decorate the tree with strings of colored lights and brightly colored glass ornaments. We placed those on the tree with great care, under Mom’s supervision, making sure that each section of the tree had the correct proportion of the various colors. Sometimes we strung popcorn or cranberries to drape on the tree.
Then the final step. Hanging the silver tinsel. And mind you, this had to be done to Mom’s specifications. We could not just throw the tinsel at the tree and hope for the best. (Only darling Little Bobby could get away with that!) No. If anyone did that, other than Little Bobby, they couldn’t help trim the tree. We had to hang each strand individually, with only a little overhang of one end of the tinsel, so that the other end could hang down long, all shimmery and delightful. And perfect.
When all was said and done, and the kids finally sent to bed, Mom and Daddy wrapped presents that had been hidden somewhere in the house, basement, or garage until the wee hours of the morning. They probably only got to bed a few hours before we littlest ones woke up eager to start the festivities. We stumbled down the stairs at dawn’s early light to get our first morning look at our beautiful tree and the mounds of presents under it. But we couldn’t open anything yet. That was the rule. We had to wait until Mom and Daddy came downstairs and got some coffee, and Mom had to put the giant turkey loaded with celery, onion, crusty bread, parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme in the oven. Ummm, yum. The smells teased us for hours.
Then we could go at the presents, but only one at a time, mind you. That was the rule.
I remember I wished and wished and wished that I would get a doll for Christmas that year and maybe even a doll cradle or bed.
And look, I did get that doll (far right in picture) even a dollie bed. I was one happy little girl. All of us kids got things we treasured. (I remember us kids singing “A Frog Went A-Courting,” on and on, um-hmmm, accompanied by Bill’s new ukulele.)
My doll has long been forgotten, but the precious memories of my parents linger on. Christmas becomes a time of remembering the past with nostalgia and even a bit of sadness…missing our parents who loved us and cared for us, and who worked so hard to provide the shelter, clothing, and food we needed to grow up to be responsible, contributing adults. And now, along with our parents, we miss several siblings, Joyce, Joanne, and Little Bobby who have passed in the past few years. Big families bring great joy throughout our lives, but later in life, as family members pass away, our hearts fill with sadness. Our once big family is shrinking.
Now we siblings all have children and grandchildren of our own, but they are spread far and wide throughout the United States, so Christmas is a lonelier time, and we miss the closeness that shared family traditions bring. Even so, we think of each other and remember our wonderful Christmases past. There’s nothing better than our Christmas memories…except, that is, for making new ones.