Christmas Memories

When we were growing up, preparations for Christmas began just as soon as the Thanksgiving holiday ended.   Our Mom, with the kind of disciplined effort that would put Martha Stewart to shame,  turned the house into our very own Santa’s workshop and the kitchen became her bakery.  Bags of flour and sugar appeared, along with chopped walnuts and almonds, chocolate and multi-colored sprinkles, candied cherries, Hershey kisses and seemingly endless supplies of butter and vanilla extract – some of which ended up on her apron, her face and in her hair.   She was a woman on a mission and we knew better than to get in her way.  The end result was hundreds of cookies and dozens of loaves of Bishop’s bread, a kind of fruitcake – not like that Claxton stuff, that was designed to be re-gifted for decades and end up as a door stop – but a delicious mixture of dates, cherries, chocolate chips and nuts.  The cookies came in assorted varieties – snowballs, thumb prints, almond and rum balls, dusted with cocoa and powdered sugar, or rolled in walnuts.   There were some that came color coded, with the icing serving as the key to  what was inside before you took a bite.

Not all of those morsels were meant for us, of course.  Dozens of Christmas tins were filled with cookies, carefully layered for maximum eye appeal, each one placed in its’ own holly-printed paper.   The tins were to be delivered as gifts for close friends and family and our school teachers.   If you were among those who were truly special to our family, a loaf of that Bishop’s bread was added – Mom’s way of telling you how much you were loved.  I still believe that the cookie tins meant for our teachers were strategically scheduled to be given right before report cards came out, just in case there was any question about what grades or comments we, well I, could anticipate – I’m the middle child and the runt, so that might explain a lot of things.   What I do know is that the recipients of these tins accepted them as if they’d been handed a winning lottery ticket.

Then there was the Christmas tree selection.  Sometimes it was purchased at the local fire house, where the firemen wore Santa hats and handed out cups of hot chocolate while we browsed amid a forest of freshly cut Douglas Fir and Blue Spruce trees.  Having found the perfect one, it was tied to the roof of the family car, ready to be put into a pan of water and decorated by all of us.

I do revintage aluminum Christmas tree with color wheelmember a couple of years when the tree was an odd silver, sculpture-like thing.  It had to be assembled and a color wheel was pointed at it, turning it from red to yellow to blue to green.  I think it also served as part weapon, part security device, because if you walked across the living room carpet and brushed against it, that metal monster delivered a shock that made you think twice before attempting to get close to the wrapped packages again.   The color wheel was okay, though, and we used it to cast shadows on the walls while we performed our own hand-puppet shows in front of its rotating lights.

It didn’t stop there.  Mom had more to do, and she set about, writing dozens of greetings and going through boxes of Christmas cards, armed with her book of names and addresses.   Wreaths were hung, electric candles were placed in windows, the Nativity scene was placed on the mantle, and, late at night, the sound of packages being wrapped could be heard from behind the door to a room that didn’t need to be marked “Do Not Enter”.   I guess we were still young enough to believe that even the elves couldn’t do everything and Moms were enlisted to help with the presents.   Nearly every step in this process was accompanied by Christmas music coming from the radio or a record player or our piano.  Mom’s favorite carol was “Little Drummer Boy”.  It’s become mine, too, and I think about her every time I hear it.  Here it is, by the Harry Simeone Chorale – the version I grew up with, and still think is the best one.

By the time Christmas Eve arrived, we were beyond mere excitement, and to quell some of that pent-up energy, we were allowed to open one present a piece.  We could choose which wrapped box we wanted to open, so it became a matter of which one looked the most appealing – sometimes it was a new pair of pajamas, and sometimes, if you chose wisely and well,  it was the very one you most wanted from Santa.   After getting some sleep, my brother, my sister and I awakened on Christmas morning to find stockings chock full of games and books, carefully chosen to keep us busy and give our parents a few more minutes of sleep before the even bigger event.   We attended Mass, came home for breakfast and then descended on all of those packages we’d been keeping a very close watch over.  More often than not, Santa had lived up to his promise and rewarded us for being reasonably good children.   The only time I thought that there had been a mistake was the year I tore open some wrapping paper and found my first bra.  The box clearly stated it was a training bra, and, to this day, I have no idea what this  girly undergarment was supposed to train.  Nevertheless, I took it as a betrayal, perpetrated by my own mother, who, from the perspective of my 12-year-old mind,  obviously wanted nothing more than to humiliate me in front of my Dad and older brother.   It didn’t occur to me until much later that I drew more attention to it, and myself,  with all of my junior high school girl histrionics and caterwauling.  Perhaps, in retrospect, a simple “thank you” would have been a better course of action.

Now, a half century later,  my siblings and I, together with our spouses, have become the elders of the family.  Our children aren’t children any more, and they’re raising families of their own, pursuing careers and going to college.  Three generations are spread over six States, making family gatherings around one giant table next to impossible.  We celebrate the traditions of Christmas and Hanukkah, and new memories are being made.   We gather together on cell phones and through the magic of Skype, watching grandchildren open gifts, hundreds of miles away.    It’s not the most perfect way to celebrate the holidays, but the smiles and stories we share seem to make up for the distance.  We’re still a family, and we’re still bound together by all of the memories – old and new.

In this Season of miracles, may all of your holiday wishes come true and all of your memories be good ones.

Now, don’t wake the little ones – visions of Beggin’ Strips are dancin’ through their heads.


Merry Christmas, from all of us here at The Farm,


This entry was posted in Making Stall Talk, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

30 Responses to Christmas Memories

  1. melthehound says:

    Oh. My. God… I have the Biggest smile on my face right now. That Silver tree with the (2) rotating lit color wheels pointing at it. Dad’s parents had one and we borrowed it one year. I’ll never forget it. I was disappointed that they later gave it away without offering it to one of us first. Still though, that static Shock? Been there, Felt it :D. I can still remember it sitting there in the corner, with the blue decorations on it and the blue twinkle lights (not the big outdoor type lights). For some reason dad, for a number of years, had a thing about the tree being decorated only in blue. I can remember daring my cousins to drag their feet across the carpet and then touch that tree. It became a game to see who could get the biggest shock (hey, we were weird that way) until the adults made us stop. It was especially fun convincing my sister to do it.

    My grandmother made those fruitcakes that wound up being regifted until they became doorstops. Mom seemed to like them, toasted with butter on them, like you might eat fresh baked bread. Both mom and her mother were the bakers and every one of those treats you describe, we use to get every year too. The best of all though had to be the fudge of all varieties. Better than anything that can be bought in any store. I really do miss those times.

    Mom never liked the kind of Christmas music that described a reindeer’s nose, and grandma hated that song ‘Grandma got run over by a reindeer’.. They both loved the more traditional stuff and The Little Drummer Boy was among their favorites as well. I don’t think anyone can go wrong with it.

    Yesterday, I posted about the greatest gift people in my life have ever given me. Just for the smiles alone while reading your words, you are firmly a member of that group who has given me that gift, Empress. Thank you so much for sparking the memories 😀

    By the way.. That picture of the pups? Too priceless for words. Both The Hound and me send our greatest wishes back for the best of holidays. Thank you again.

    • I’m sure my memory has become very selective, but kids being kids, it’s probably safe to say that we had our own double-dog-dare-you moments with the carpet and that tree.
      BTW, not for nothing but your post actually sparked some of these memories, too. Please give Mel a special treat, courtesy of all our critters.

  2. nohausfrau says:

    Merry Christmas Empress! We too had an aluminum tree with the color wheel and I thought it was tacky beyond belief. Now I think they are awesome 🙂

    Those pups are so cute…

    • Just Wondering in Jersey says:

      I still remember the disappointment I felt the first Christmas I received nothing but clothes. Where were the toys and other interesting play things? Oh no, does this mean I’m growing up?

      We only had live trees until later in life so I can’t claim knowledge of the tree you spoke of but I sure do remember getting shocks in the winter time. Ouch. Of course we had to worry about the dog drinking from the tree stand 🙂

      I love those little doggies. Are they yours? Reminds me of the family of cats I raised. They used to cuddle up with each other too. So cute.

      Thanks for the memories. Merry Christmas to one and all. And a Happy New Year too.

    • Okay, I’m feeling better about the aluminum tree – sales must have been through the roof back then. Hugs to you and Mishka. 🙂

    • Beckygrey says:

      Thanks for the memory. We had the silver tree with the f our color wheel. What a nice walk down that lane. This picture is the best. It made me cry.

  3. Lisa Renee says:

    Hello Empress & merry christmas, may all your bulbs shine brightly. The smile I had as I read & then read again, I experienced the sweetness of your memories. Thanks for sharing, I spent some time in my head of the memories yours made come back to me. I begged for a training bra one year & clearly not needed. I celebrated both holidays, made out like bandits. After lighting the menorah night 4 I opened a box that had my first training set. Loved that stupid thing, everyone made all the natural jokes & thats the holiday I started a life long habit of telling people to kiss my ass. Never saw people laugh so hard in my life, I was 10.

    This is the perfect excuse to thank you for every single blog. I may not comment alot but I look forward to every one. Thanks for sharing your space with Jeff & the hound. He gives good post also. The both of you either teach me something or reevaluate a position I was sure on & more often than not laugh, alot. Great story tellers.

    Our FFA is leaving on Thursday. I have never seen her struggle with confidence. I think the look on her face is bittersweet, sprinkled with a touch of anxiety, a dash of conflicted, folding in a drop of sheer panic rolled into a huge ball of excitement. Bake at 350 till Thursday & get on the dam plane. Detox has answered so many questions for me, I hope I can throw a question or two at you also. I hit paydirt with my neighbors & he is a retired judge. I have no clue what she is going to experience, its my job to keep the drama to a minimum & can only do that with facts. I need a gauge for when she calls me bellyaching or is it a legit conflict. If she is struggling academically is it because she is not doing the work or is she having processing problems. I will have no clue. Any guidance would be priceless.
    I tweeted a picture of Ashley on a horse, shes her happiest on a horse & it made me think of you!
    I wish you and your loved ones a wonderful holiday season 🙂 Lisa

    • Lisa Renee, You’re more than welcome for every single blog and, yes, Jeff (along with his trusty sidekick) does give good post.
      As for my FFA, well, your description of her state of mind brought me right back to being a 1L and I broke out into a sweat all over again. I second guessed myself all the time, and wondered how I’d ever gotten accepted to law school in the first place. When I finished my first semester exams, I would make my husband drive me to the school every day to see if our grades had been posted, not because I couldn’t drive myself, but so he could catch me if I passed out. I’m sure Detox will tell you the same thing – it’s not just your daughter. Trust me, we’ve been there, too.
      If there’s anything I can do to help her, anything at all, to assure her that she’s not losing her mind, please let me know. My email (okay, our dogs’ email) is
      My very best to you and yours. 😀 (((FFA)))

  4. Baroness Beachcomber says:

    I share some of the same memories as you, and yes, we had one of those trees. We also had the entire 33 and 1/3 RPM Harry Simone Choir Christmas album that I played over and over and over in my record player. I happened to find the same CD a few years back and of course, I purchased it. Thanks for the memories. I wish you all the very happiest of holidays.

  5. empress… awesome post…thanks for sharing and for the thought invoking memories of my own…
    I wish for all to have a Blessed Christmas and I know I cant wait for this year to be over…..winks


  6. windycitywondering1 says:

    Christmas is not just for children and over the years the traditions become less work and more treasured. Trees come in all shapes, sizes and materials but it is those who gather around them with us that are the real presents. Thank you for sharing your memories with us! And may everyone find that little miracle, that turns into a memory that makes the season bright.

  7. Kaereste says:

    What a wonderful post! What a a great family.

    You didn’t mention if you did what I did … pilfered cookies from the tin a few at a time…. UNTIL my mother peered into the tin right before our Big Party to discover that over half of them were missing. Uh Oh.

    My folks were not religous but they made Christmas and Birthdays really big deals. We didn’t get toys or gifts at any other time of year but when Christmas morning arrived we really had a huge treat of the presents on our list to Santa and wonderful surprise gifts. One year a full swing set was erected in the livingroom. Another year bikes were by the fireplace. How on earth did that happen?
    When I was around 4 years old I was (of course) prowling around the livingroom at the break of dawn. I was so excited about well, everything! that I jumped onto the coffee table and broke it. LOL. Then I blamed our cat! I didn’t get in trouble, even for the giant whopper of a lie.

    I passed on the fun when my kids were little.

    So nice to read everyone’s family stories.

    And so, as Tiny Tim said, “A Merry Christmas to us all; God bless us, every one!”

  8. FLG (Benji's Butler) says:

    Dear Empress, Mel, Readers and Posters:
    There has been too much going on to fill you all in at this time, so I will simply wish everyone happy holidays. No matter which holiday or holidays you celebrate, may it (they) be everything you wish for and more. Love and Peace to all.
    Hubs has given me the most wonderful gift this year. We are now daddies to Mr. Benjamin, an adolescent Bengal cat. He will never replace Mr. Tigre, (whom I still miss deeply each and every day), but he has created a new loving place in my heart. He has really taken a shine to us as well.
    Happy Holidays!
    With much affection to everyone,
    FLG (Benji’s Butler)

    • Just Wondering in Jersey says:

      So happy to hear you have Benji to fill a place in your heart. I don’t know what I would do without my Mischa.

      I wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy and Healthy New Year.

    • melthehound says:

      Best wishes to you too, FLG & family.. Congrats on the new young one. I’m sure he’ll have you whipped into shape in no time so you can readily meet his demands.

    • FLG, What a wonderful gift from your hubs. Mr. Benji will now be the spoiled beneficiary of all those skills you perfected as Mr. Tigre’s devoted care giver and friend.
      Happy Holidays to all of you.

  9. The blog Christmas tree is up – color wheel and all. 😀

  10. LA_Debra says:

    Oh my, reading all of your comments brings back so many good and precious memories! We had an aluminum tree, and not everyone loved it. And my Mom made all my Barbie clothes. Thinking back, knowing what I know now, that must have taken her so much time and patience. And my brother and I would wake up early and be as quiet as we could be as we sneaked a peak at all the presents around the tree. And when we lived in the States, we’d road trip to my grandparents in Mississippi. I can still smell dinner with sweet potatoes and pecan pie, oooo and turkey and dressing. Sometimes I really long for those days. Ah well, lesson is enjoy what you have and cherish every minute.

    Peace and Joy to all.

  11. princesspindy says:

    We had that tree and the color wheel!!!!!!!!!! I remember when we finally got rid of it and could get a “real” tree, lol. Imagine my shock when I walked into 7th grade Science just before Christmas and there was the tree and the color wheel. My mother had “donated” it to science!! And of course, just when I wanted to be cool or at least invisible, the weird science teacher had to tell everyone where he got it… It was a great experiment in, what else, static electricity. And since there is about zero percent humidity in Los Angeles, I know how to “do” static shocks, lol!! I miss that here in San Diego, my poor kids never had the joy of sneaking up on each other and “zapping” one another. Thanks for the memories.

Comments are closed.