Holiday Traditions

Yes, folks, it’s that time of year: the holidays. Whether you celebrate Christmas or Hanukkah, or neither, or participate in some other festivity, there are expectations and to-do lists galore.

Or so I’ve been told. And witnessed. And experienced.

We celebrate Christmas, so I’m going to stick to that versus showing my possible ignorance regarding other holidays at this time of year.

Where I grew up, and when and how, everyone in my family (who all lived close by) decorated their homes; some were more elaborate, some simple, but everyone participated. As a kid, it seemed so easy.

Of course, I didn’t decorate – well, I might have put a few ornaments on the tree, more so as I got older, and I did have a small, artificial tree in my room to decorate with tiny gold balls and small angel figures playing different musical instruments. That was about the only thing artificial – the mistletoe was real, the tree was real…unless you count that silly tinsel that my grandmother used. More on that later.

We didn’t have themes, unless repetition was considered a “theme”. My grandmother had a reindeer mantel thingy that she tacked across the fireplace; she had two large, plastic candles that went on the front porch, one said “Joy” and the other said “Noel”. She always hung a stocking for me, and she always used those individual pieces of tinsel (again, more later).

She had a smallish tree, the stand was permanently attached to a wooden crate – this certainly made moving the tree easier, as well as watering and arranging the tree skirt. And she always put out the Christmas sheet music on the organ.

I remember plugging in the mantel lights one time, so Grandma wouldn’t have to bend over (she was probably all of 52 years old then!), and the plug itself was slightly bent. I held the two prongs together and pushed it into the socket. Yowza! That stung a bit.

My parents put lights on the house, multi-colored ones, just your standard stringing along the roof line. I remember them always complaining when neighbors did a blue theme, or a white one. I believe we had a wreath on the front door, two after we moved back to the farm and had double doors. I remember looking at the Christmas lights outside through my window every night.

Of course, when I was really little, up to preschool age, I couldn’t open presents until about 10:00 a.m. That’s how long it took for the built-on living room to warm up!

I don’t recall anyone ever saying we “had” to do things a certain way, but I sure remember the same things, every year, over and over. My great-grandmother had Christmas dinner for several years, then my grandmother took over. Sometime after my grandfather died, it was my mom’s turn.
Christmas Eve was a regular dinner, then Dad and I would shop for Mom’s Christmas present. Grandma came over and we all went to church at 11:00. My sister and I got to open a small gift before bedtime, and of course, Santa came that night. Most years it was hard to walk through the living room – tons of “stuff”. Of course, back in the day, most kids didn’t get extras throughout the year like a lot of them do now…Christmas and birthday, that was pretty much it.

As soon as I got my own place, I was itching to “do” Christmas. Of course, I still went to Mom’s, but I started decorating, buying a tree, and so forth. I still have a letter from my mom – yes, snailmail – giving me a requested recipe AND reminding me to turn off the tree lights whenever I left the house.

I never did outside lights, at first. Living in apartments, it’s really not possible and, since I was still going home for Christmas, my decorating was kind of hit-or-miss. Once my daughter was born, we had TWO Christmases to go to, but that also gave me more reason to decorate.

When Dennis and I got married, I figured it was now time to do outside lights – because it sure wouldn’t be ME climbing on the roof! I can sum up the result of that idea in one word: retail.

I married Scrooge.

Now, it’s not his fault although, to hear him tell it, they must have never celebrated a single thing in his family. Whatever. He has no sense of tradition, and just doesn’t “get” that I HAVE to do certain things. But he’s been a good sport, more or less.
That is to say, he tolerates my holiday idiosyncrasies, but would much rather NOT participate in them!

This is our 13th Christmas together. One year we didn’t do lights, we were busy moving, and another year we lived way out in the country – no one would see them but us. For eight Christmases we lived in Texas – December temperatures hovered around 60, not like anyone would freeze to death hanging lights. My older son has done the lights for the last four years – once in Texas, three times here in Missouri. So my husband has “had” to do lights exactly seven times; pretty sure I remember helping, along with the kids, with most of those times being in 60-degree weather!

You know how stores start getting Christmas stuff in August? His store does too. Long before December, he’s sick of it all. He does like cookies though – but is crushed, every year, when I make them, freeze them, and tell him “hands off” until Christmas Eve!

The tree.

Granted, my mom did “go artificial” finally; said it was easier because she could throw a sheet over the tree, sans ornaments but with lights still intact, and haul it to the basement for storage. And I’m not a fan of pine needles, either; who is?

Our first Christmas, I wanted a real tree, of course. Being in the honeymoon phase, my husband agreed. The following August, when we were moving, there were still pine needles in the carpet. He put down his foot – no more real trees.

I think I talked him into a real tree one other time. Once.

Fast forward to two years ago. Our daughter was having tree-stand issues, and my husband, bless his heart, said, “Why don’t you just take our tree?” Hallelujah! That meant I could – maybe – get a real one! And I did. And again this year. So apparently he gave up the battle. Teehee!

Of course, both times we went to pick out a tree, just around the corner, it was cold – as in frigid – and windy and raining. Both times. Go figure.

Then there was the tinsel fiasco.
I decided I remembered liking my grandma’s tinsel. Why, I’m not sure. I guess a few decades had blurred my memory or, most probably, I’d never really had to deal with cleaning up that crap. Yes, crap. Ugh!

The cats enjoyed it. I did not. I am still picking up tinsel that, I’m pretty sure, was abandoned LAST year. Forget the pine needles – Scotch is the worst, which is the kind of tree we used to get, but the Frasier firs hardly drop any at all. Thank goodness. They don’t poke you either. Just sayin’.

So I have my lists, my traditions. I start baking in October (on a good year) and freeze about six or seven kinds of cookies. Stopped making those candy-cane horrors though – even I have my limits. But if I didn’t make Mom’s cheeseball every year, none of the kids would come for Christmas. Of course we do milk and cookies for Santa (our youngest is 12), and hang lights and decorate. I have Grandma’s mantel cloth on the mantel, and her Christmas music sitting on her organ.

The wreath is on the door – well, on one door; we have two, but I keep forgetting to buy a second wreath. We’ve lost or broken all the colored balls along the way, but the kids have kept us supplied with homemade ornaments and a few others we’ve been given or picked up – or inherited. I have many of my grandmother’s handmade ornaments, and I use them all.

If we have a “theme” – and I do admire those who do – it’s probably retro kitsch. If that’s a theme. But it works for us.


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