Here are some of my most lasting Christmas Memories, I’ll bet you have some to!
Oyster Stew…. When I was a kid Christmas Eve dinner was always Campbell’s Frozen Oyster Stew… If you were lucky in a family of four two of you got one oyster each. But my mother who believed butter was the solution to nearly everything involved with cooking added enough butter that it made the soup so rich that the lack of meat was not a problem and almost unbelievably in our wealthy society today, oyster crackers were a big treat.
My father always wrapped in tissue paper. Layer upon layer of tissue paper covering each present so snoopy children couldn’t see through it no matter how hard they tried. The packages were always very carefully and precisely wrapped and opening and re-taping tissue paper doesn’t come out well. My most memorable Christmas present from my youth was a tin garage that was held together with the little foldable razor sharp metal tabs that almost guaranteed that whoever put it together would need a blood transfusion after construction.
Although it seems that often someone was always sick at Christmas my biggest mistake at Christmas would be the year that as a typically self-centered teenager I decided that I didn’t want to go visit the family in Denver and stayed home by myself. My lack of understanding and the loneliness of that time gives me an understanding of why some people hate Christmas and it still haunts me.
Decorating the Tree
Tinsel hanging was always done one strand at a time and was hung with care on each individual branch not “thrown” at the tree. Putting on the lights was serious business not left to kids! However you were allowed to string the lights out on the floor to test them before being put on the tree. We had some bubble lights and I was fascinated by them . Christmas tree selection was a process requiring much shaking of trees, shedding of show and discussion. Most trees were not of the specially grown cultured type but instead appeared to be the tops of pines and spruce that were unusable in lumber production and so became Christmas trees ( think Charley Brown) . I can still picture my dad cutting off the bottom in the garage with a hand saw so it would draw water. Sometimes cutting off branches and drilling holes in the trunk moving the cut branches to fill in holes that even the most carefully hung tinsel could not hide. I can also remember the discussion of which side needed to be against the wall or in the corner. My job was to keep the tree watered daily , more often if the dog got thirsty.
The Mantle and Stockings
Bayberry candles were always burning on the mantel piece ( one year they caught the mantle on fire) Stockings on Christmas morning full of walnuts and oranges… no candy, no presents, no toys…… oranges and walnuts. I still can’t smell Bayberry scent or see a walnut without thinking Christmas.
Christmas was on Christmas day… no early opening, Cars with a big red bow on top were not given as a Christmas presents nor were they identified by some commercial jingle that everyone recognized meant that they were getting a car for Christmas.
Christmas dinner was a turkey that usually lasted through New Years….. Pumpkin pie came plain no cool whip, if you were really lucky a teaspoon sized drop of whipped cream…. Mince meat pie was also a requirement but even 60 years ago almost no one ate it.
Outside decorations were large bulbs that unfortunately made a nice popping sound when thrown on the concrete in the street , nobody counted how many bulbs they strung, it was not a competition it was a celebration and every city had a Christmas Tree Lane where neighbors got together and all decorated their houses, ours was Ashby Avenue in Beaverdale.
Christmas candy was of the sliced hard rope kind with a little tree in the middle, my daughter still ties that candy strongly to my dad.
Artificial Christmas Trees
They didn’t exist until I was around 12. My best friend ‘s family got an artificial tree, it was the first one I had ever seen and it was both wonderful and scary at the same time. Silver with a rotating light under it that changed its color every few seconds. I can still picture it in their front window
Fruit cake was a standard long distance gift. We received one from my uncle every year and every year my father would take last years unopened one out of the refrigerator and replace it with the new one. May you rest in peace Uncle Everette and have a slice in heaven.
Dates and Figs – For some reason dates and figs are associated with Christmas in my mind, I would not eat either now except in a “Fig Newton” but I know I ate them then because they were sweet and we didn’t get many sweet things.
Flash bulbs are associated in my mind with Christmas… the big blue ones for indoor photography. (If you are under 40 years old you may have never seen a flash bulb).
Present I never Got
I never got the BB rifle I asked for, Red Ryder or any other kind, perhaps signifying that my parents were smarter than I thought. I finally bought one for myself when I was far too old to really enjoy it.
We often visited Denver over Christmas I remember getting on the Rock Island Rocket at the station in Downtown Des Moines after dinner , waking up while switching cars at McCook Nebraska and arriving in Denver at 10:00 AM the next morning ready for Xmas at my dad’s parents.
What is Christmas
Perhaps the most important part of Christmas was a sense of peace and happiness that I too often find missing in the hustle-bustle business of Christmas today. Perhaps it is just my perceptions that have changed but it seemed different….. Christmas morning, my dad in his pajamas and striped seer sucker bath robe my mom always with a red bow from the first package stuck in her hair, it is strange that those are my most clear memories of Christmas long ago, not the presents, except for the tin gas station/ garage (it had a working elevator with a hand crank and bell). What, I wonder, will our children and their children remember about Christmas?