When we were young times were hard, especially financially. Mom had her hands full with 5 of us, and no husband at home to help, so holidays weren’t exactly a bright spot for her.
As kids, we were all into wanting a great time at the holidays, especially Christmas, so over the years we made up our own fun, with many things becoming “traditions”. I was the fourth of 5 kids, so most ideas, especially in the beginning years, were the ideas of my older siblings. I was all too happy to go along with whatever pulled us together. As time went on, each of us flavored these traditions in our own ways, and even added to them along the way.
One of mom’s rules was that we were not to bring a tree home until the December 15th or after. This way, it wouldn’t be as dry by the big day. So, once it was the 15th, we were all over her for the tree. Some years, someone would give us a tree, because we just couldn’t afford one. Other years, someone with a pass would take one of us to choose and cut a tree! I don’t remember being there for that part, but I do remember the fragrance that would fill the house as it was brought in to dry and be decorated.
We would string the usual popcorn and cranberries, string the lights up, hang the ornaments – many of which were homemade over the years – as well as the garlands we had made, and finally hung the tinsel. Now, hanging the tinsel was an event all it’s own. It was to be perfect. This was my brother Chuck’s thing, and he was a master at the patience and skill of hanging tinsel on the tree. (Still is.) It was an art form, really.
While we were making and putting up decorations there were certain traditions as well. One was to have hot cocoa with marshmallows one evening, and another was to have egg nog and sing Christmas carols another evening. It was a weekend event, just the tree alone!
The amazing thing is that during this time, we were all together more than at any other time of the year, and getting along! Completely!
We would have game nights and play gamesin a room lit by the tree lights and sip our treats. This memory is a warm fuzzy for me. Everyone would chat casually, sharing things that would not be shared all year, and enjoy each others’ stories, thoughts and jokes. It really was a great time.
The week before Christmas, we would each get a buck or so to shop for each others’ stocking stuffers, go down to the Woolworth’s Store and pick out 5 things, one for each sibling and one for mom. We usually found cute little glass animals or something like that. I cherished every one of those.
Then Christmas Eve night would finally come! We would stay up until a certain hour, and one by one we would go in to the living room and stuff something in each others’ stockings (socks, whatever), then leave so the next guy could have their turn.
We would have the hot cocoa, popcorn and whatever else was available (home baked goodies) and bring our pillows and bedding out to the living room floor. We would determine to stay awake all night. As a young child, I don’t remember ever making it all night, but I sure did try. I didn’t want to miss any of the stories, jokes, play and ‘whatever was being shared’ to help us stay awake. We always gave it our best effort.
One thing I remember is that we were up very early, and mom wasn’t having any of it. We could be up at 5:00, but she wasn’t to be disturbed until 6:00 – 700. She made a tradition up that we could get in to the stockings while we waited, but had to wait for her to be up, and breakfast eaten, before gifts could be opened.
The fun part of this was that we had to bring her a cup of hot tea to wake her on Christmas morning, which she would not wake up to touch. It would then grow cold, and you had to go and do this again…however many times it took to get her awake enough to sip it in bed and agree to get up. (Talk about holding the kids hostage! smile!)
Anyway, breakfast would have to be eaten, then gifts could be exchanged. Things were always tight, money wise, but there was always something to open, and usually more than one gift. Mom had a way of getting something special as a “main” gift. It might not have been your biggest dream, but it was always good.
Sometimes, it was your biggest dream. Like the year I got the new, leather-bound Scofield Bible that I had wanted so badly. That was the one that the pastor used and most of the adults had, and I wanted one very much. I was in my teens then, and it was a precious gift. I still have it.
I remember that same year that my brother, Chuck went into the sea scouts and had a naval uniform to wear which made him look the spit-an-image of our dad. My mom and sister had found the navy goat for him (stuffed of course!). It was too funny. He also got some “birth control” pills which were labled on the bottle with the words, “not to be taken before, during or after, but instead of”. We laughed so hard at his face when he read that. They were jelly beans or something like that. The “baby” got a bike. I think it was from my sister. It was a memorable year for the gifts because they were all something that really touched our hearts and made us realize that our desires could sometimes be met, even in the gifts we hadn’t asked for.
Over the years, traditions were built on, even as adults. We began to take drives during December to look at the Christmas lights and decorations around the area. Half way through the evening, we would stop at a 7-11 store and get a cup of cocoa or a mocha to sip on the rest of the ride. We would pack kids into the station wagon, or whatever car there was that year and all of us pile in. This was most often shared with my brothers, their families and my husband and I.
Many years, there would be rides early in the decorating season, to scope out where the best lights and decorations were, and which neighborhoods were amazing enough to go to on the family drive. These investigative rides would be with Teri and I, or Danette and I, and we have found some wonderful neighborhoods over the years. These rides themselves have also become tradition for us.
I am someone who loves to have the real Christmas tree. Bringing the real tree, with it’s fragrance, the lights and color signal to me that Christmas is finally here and kicks me in to the spirit of the holiday. My husband does not like a tree in the house, and gets stressed about every needle that falls into the carpet, as well as how crowded the place seems to him with it in the house. So, after a few years, I stopped having a tree, and got one for the nephews and gave them our decorations. I would try other things, pine boughs, centerpieces, that sort of thing so I could have the fragrance of the fresh tree, but my husband just couldn’t deal with it and be happy.
For me, Christmas is about love, joy, peace, comfort, closeness, all the good things in life. To have the pine in the house robbed my husband of any of those things, which meant it also robbed me of it. So, I stopped trying to have the green in the house, and learned to find other things to signal the advent of Christmas joy! Traditions transition according to what works with who you are sharing them with.
(One side note is that I was always sick over Christmas, sometimes seriously. Usually, it was double pneumonia along with various other illnesses. Later in life, I found I was rarely ill during the holiday season, and then not nearly as seriously. A few years ago I learned that I am allergic to pine! And it is a BIG allergy with high numbers. God knew this all along, and allowed it to be revealed to me AFTER I had decided to give up my beloved pine in the house for love. It was a decision of love and consideration for my husband rather than a health decision, and that makes me happy! God is blessing me with my own personal health for this transition! He knew already whom I should be married to. Once again, I can be sure I have the right husband for me.)
I love wrapping the gifts, and even that had to change when we got our cat. She tears into it with such a joy and vengence that, for a season of years, I didn’t bother to wrap things, and when I did, it was covered in tape everywhere and with repairs. There were notes that said, “wrapped with love by Shelley and Baby”. Too funny.
A few years ago, I found a two-foot tree that you just pull the branches down and fluff them, put the tree in the base and turn it on for color and light. I brought it home and set it on the bookshelf. My husband loved it! I thought I would hate a fake tree, but after all the years of no tree, it is great to have the beauty, color and light! Another tradition transition.
When we all were married and kids were coming along in the family, we needed more transitions. There were now in-laws, and our own mother as well to try to share time between. So, I suggested that we have a Christmas brunch in our family instead of the huge dinner. This allowed us to get together for gifts and food, but leave us open to have meals and family time with the in-law families and friends. It worked out real well for all of us.
The new “traditional meal” became biscuits and sausage (country) gravy, with scrambled eggs and orange juice. This was quick, easy and something everyone liked. We kept this tradition for a couple of decades, and it served us well.
One year, a friend of mine was having a personal crisis on Christmas day, and found herself alone and distressed. I was able to take over the reading from the advent booklet, a candle, some grape juice and some anointing oil and go to her, comfort her, and give the Lord an invitation to comfort and strengthen her. He did and we had a great time that afternoon. I could do that because of the changes in our family and personal traditions!
Often, I fix a ham dinner and invite my dear friend, Danette to join us for an early dinner. It works out well because her families gather for brunch and gifts, also. Then, each family goes to their own plans for the rest of the day. Sometimes, this leaves her alone for the rest of the day. I decided to fix ham rather than turkey so that she can join us. She does not eat poultry, and my husband favors ham, so this works out for us all. She brings stocking stuffers, and I have some, too and we fill stockings for the three of us, just for fun. We also exchange gifts. Over the years that has also transitioned and we have been flexible as to how and when we do this.
One year, while Danette was living in Alaska, she came home in January rather than December, so we just adapted and did our Christmas together in January, and made changes as we saw fit. It was great fun!
In the past few years, things have changed again, and I, again suggested a new transition to my family. I had learned that IHOP was opening for Christmas, during breakfast time and lunch. I thought that if we each covered our own expense, we could eat what we chose, enjoy it, not have to cook, clean or worry about who paid what for it all. My brother and sister-in-love who live in Chico joined us, along with their foster teens, and we all had a great time! We went back for opening gifts at their place, with their tree. It was wonderful!
We have now done breakfast at IHOP for Christmas for a few times, and this last couple of times we even opened gifts there. It didn’t lose any of the “feel” of Christmas like I was concerned about, because we enjoyed each other so much. Plus, the breakfast, itself was a special treat, another gift for each of us.
This year, we had family come through town, but not at Christmas. They were with their kids and grandkids for Christmas, and we got our time with them on their way home. It was a good visit, and felt just as wonderful to have this many of us together in one place to share a meal of turkey sandwiches.
Tradition is what we make it. We made it ourselves, and we can change it to meet the current need or desire, and to include whomever we wish. When we bring it into the present, it becomes a present to us.
Recently, one of my favorite CD’s is my old Nancy Griffith CD that has the song, “Love at the 5 and Dime”. I just recently realized that I enjoy it because it is about a Woolworth Store! It is a warm fuzzy for me, and always will be. I am thankful for the Woolworth Store that was a part of our famiy tradition and memories. I am thankful for family, for love, and for Traditions, those that remain, and those that transition to embrace our lives and loves.