Every year around this time, I get nostalgic and sometimes a little sad. I’ve always been able to clearly remember our family holiday traditions, but had lost my memories of any special Christmases. I am grateful to my brother, who helped to jog my memory by filling in the empty spaces.
This year, for the first time, I remember the christmas morning I walked into the living room and my eyes immediately went to the doll encased in a gold and white box, sitting under the tree. It was the bride doll I’d been longing for. She had on a silky white wedding gown, a veil on her head, and a wedding bouquet in her hand. I was so happy because my mother had gotten me what I wanted more than anything. I loved playing with dolls, and in my child’s mind that bride doll symbolized my fantasy of growing up and someday walking down the aisle in a beautiful white wedding gown.
Two other christmases I remember are the years when there was a shiny new 24 inch Western Flyer girls’ bicycle parked next to the tree, and when I got a white wool Mexican jacket from my daddy. Getting my bike was important because my brother and my cousin and best friend, Gaye, had bicycles. Having my own bike meant I could ride all over our small town with the rest of the kids. What made the jacket so special was because it’s the only gift that I think my daddy ever gave me. The wool was so soft and the jacket was was decorated with embroidered women in blue, red, and yellow skirts and cream-colored peasant blouses, sitting next to bright green palm trees. How my daddy got that gift to our house and how it wound up under the tree, I’ll probably never know.
We had some memorable holiday traditions, which were focused around food and family gatherings. On christmas eve my grandpa would make a bowl of ambrosia. My brother remembers cracking the coconut and getting the meat out so it could be grated for the fruit salad. I can still see my grandpa sitting at the kitchen table with oranges, apples, bananas, pecans, walnuts, cans of crushed pineapple, and jars of red and green cherries spread out before him. Next to all the fruit sat a big container of sugar, which he sprinkled over the peeled and diced fruit. By time we had the ambrosia on christmas evening the sugar had melted and made a thick syrup, which to my young mind was the best part of the concoction. This was one of our christmas desserts, and I still have one of the fruit compotes that the ambrosia was made in sitting on my kitchen counter.
Another tradition was home-made eggnog. My grandpa would get out the big, heavy pot that he usually used for gumbo, and fill it with whole milk, egg yellows, and sugar. We’d sit at the table watching and waiting while he’d stand at the stove constantly stirring the eggnog. When it was ready,and while still in the pot, he topped it off with mounds of stiff meringue. I loved his home-made eggnog and even though I use his recipe, somehow mine never tastes as sweet and rich as my grandpa’s.
My brother and I loved the Christmases when we stayed home and the family all came to our house for the traditional holiday feast. A lot of the cooking was done the day before and the house was filled with the smells of roasting meat, a christmas cake being baked, and the excitement of anticipating what santa was going to put under the tree that night. The years when we didn’t have christmas dinner at our house, we’d get dressed up in our new christmas outfits and meet family at one of the local restaurants. We’d stay for most of the afternoon, while the adults sipped cocktails while talking and telling jokes. Meanwhile, though the children liked being with other family members, we would patiently wait to go home so we could play with our new toys.
Before christmas my brother and I would get the Sears Christmas catalog out and sit and pick out all the things we wanted santa to bring us. We’d wait patiently for that catalog to come in the mail, because it was our wish book. I do remember circling the pictures of the toys I wanted to have. I don’t think we always got everything we circled, but it sure was fun to thumb through that catalog and make our wishes.
Remembering the holidays when all of my children were young and at home also fills me with nostalgia. I wanted the holidays to be special for them, so I spent many hours in preparation. I’d start baking on December 1 and would bake every day until christmas. I made brownies, candy cane cookies, peanut butter cookies, ginger snaps and gingerbread men, lemon bars and squares, chocolate chip cookies, cakes, pies, and peanut butter fudge. It seems there was always something in the oven and a sweet treat waiting for them every afternoon in December when they got home from school.
In November I’d start making my list of what I was going to buy for each child. I’d change that list many times as I’d hear them talk about something they wanted to have. I loved wrapping each gift and sitting it under the tree, as I anticipated the look of excitement in their eyes when they opened their gifts. Christmas eve was special because we had a family tradition. The family would gather in the den where each child was given one present to open, which was always their christmas pajamas. After everyone put their new pajamas on, we’d have a cup of homemade hot cocoa, then we’d sit around and sing christmas carols. When they were all under thirteen, they’d have a christmas play. I can remember them rehearsing for hours until the big night when they were ready to present their work of art. They’d set up their life-size nativity scene, don their home-made costumes and act out their script. Of course, I oohed and aahed and applauded wildly at the end.
Opening gifts on christmas morning was a full-scale production. One at a time, we were each given a gift and everyone watched while we opened our package. Then the next person would get to open a present. It would take hours for us to get through all the gifts piled high under the tree. My heart is full as I think back on those days of laughter, love, and family bonding. It would be nice to be able to turn back the clock and spend one more of those Christmases which were filled with happiness and excitement.
It’s been interesting reminiscing about Christmases past and remembering how many family traditions I brought into my grown-up life, and perhaps passed on to my children. I sometimes wonder if, as my children grow older and get to be my age, they’ll grow nostalgic when they remember their childhood Christmases.
I’m grateful for all the fond memories that I can draw upon as I embrace the present. Christmas 2011 is right around the corner and Paul and I have no plans for the day. This year we have no presents under the tree (by choice), and no ambrosia to feast on. I will make a pot of eggnog and Paul and I will sit in front of our yuletide tree and toast each other and the spirit of the holidays. We’ll have a loving, quiet day doing nothing or doing everything,
My holiday wish (whichever you’re celebrating) is:
peace in your heart
love and good-will towards self and each other
an abundance of compassion,
and the giving and receiving of many random acts of kindness, just because you are who you are.
From my heart to yours, Happy holidays!!