I just thought I’d share some of my Christmas Memories. Read all or part or just a paragraph if you like, and leave your memories in the comments.
Quick warning: this is LONG. Long as in about 2000 words long. Read at your own risk, and Merry Christmas!
My Christmases with my family have always been full of tradition and excitement. Christmas is not the same now as it used to be when I was little, growing up in northern California. After moving across the country to North Carolina, a lot of things changed, including Christmas. However, even though some things change, some have not, and never will. Christmas is my most treasured time of the year because of my memories and traditions I share with my family every year.
Every year when I was very little, on the day after thanksgiving my mom and dad would pack a lunch, dress us up in our warm clothes and hiking boots, and set out for the Christmas tree farm where my uncle worked. We picked out the tallest, healthiest, fullest, most beautiful tree in the whole enormous forest, cut it to fit, and set it up in our living room. Then we’d put on the special twinkle lights and the ornaments. Dad would pull out each ornament one at a time, un-wrap the tissue paper slowly, as if it was a sacred process, and then hand it to one of us to put on the tree. The kids put on the décor that was unbreakable, made of paper or heavy pottery, the Popsicle stick frames from Sunday school, and the cloth stuffed ornaments down near the bottom of the tree. Mom and Dad always put the delicate new ones and the special old ones up higher. When we were all done, Dad would put the angel on the top; a beautiful, glassy creature blowing a trumpet up towards heaven. When the lights shined on that angel, she sparkled a thousand and one colors.
I remember the year my sisters and I picked out three ballerinas ornaments for my mom. They were the same material as the angel on the top of the tree; they were perfect glittery, translucent graceful figures. Another special ornament is the little 3 inch nutcracker. When I was about six, my mom took me and my sister to the ballet in California. I’ll always remember the fright when the mouse takes the nutcracker away from Uncle Drosselmeiher and the thrill when the clowns jump out from under Mother Ginger’s skirt. I had worn my tutu to the ballet, and I felt like Clara herself when I got to put the nutcracker on the tree. The violin ornament is also special to me, because I’ve always wanted to learn to play a violin. I wished year after year for a violin, but I never got one.
When the tree was set up, Dad would go out with his ladder and nails, and put the Christmas lights up on the outside of the house. The long strands of lights looked like icicles, convincing me and my little siblings that our 40 degree Christmas season was frigid. Mom would set the light-up candles in the window, and we’d watch as she arranged the Christmas village under the tree. Every year, until she had them all, mom got a new building for her village; each one was hand decorated. Little gifts and treats are painted into the windows, the church had plastic bells and stained glass the decorated windows, and the bait and tackle building has a little fish shaped sign hanging from the front. When they were all set up, we’d turn on the switches, and the lights on the inside would light up, illuminating the whole miniature town.
Then the Christmas baking would start. Mom is famous for four things; white chocolate cranberry cookies, rocky road fudge, homemade fruit cake (grandpa’s favorite) and of course, her famous eggnog. During Christmas time, my dad lives on those cookies and fudge; but the fruitcake and the eggnog takes three days to make, and are for the Christmas Eve party only. It is a special process that only mommy knows, but she’d let us kids help measure out the ingredients, and we’d watch as she carefully cooked the eggs and strained them for a tedious 45 minutes and carefully soak the candied fruit in a funny smelling drink that we weren’t allowed to taste.
Making the sugar cookies with my sisters and my grandma or aunt was so exciting; I remember my sisters covering each other with flour, my brother putting so many sprinkles on his cookie that he couldn’t see the actual cookie any more, and my mom and I eating more dough than we baked. We would leave the kitchen in a condition looking like a tornado had just blown through, and as if we had just escaped from the oven ourselves.
Mom’s Christmas Eve party was the best one in town. Before the party started, we would pack up cookies on pretty plates with colorful plastic wrap, and go caroling door to door to our neighbors. We would walk down the streets, wrapped in warm coats, and comfy boots click-clacking on the pavement. We would dance and skip singing our favorite hymns, like “Angels we have heard on high” and “It came upon a midnight clear,” and an occasional “Frosty the snowman”.
Then the guests would arrive. Grandparents would come loaded down with more gifts than my parents thought suitable. Aunts, uncles, relatives that we hadn’t seen in many months, would come for “mommy’s special party.” In minutes, the tree would be overflowing, we would have to bring out extra cups and plates, and the truffles that we had hidden from my dad would be set out on the table next to the home baked cookies, breads, and pies. Mom would bring out the two batches of eggnog; the “adult batch” and the “kid’s batch.” She would play the Christmas songs on the piano, the kids would dance and sing. Dad would read the Christmas story from the Bible, once in a while he’d play the harmonica. Then Mom would then light the candles in the fire place, the bright green, red, and gold colors glowing like stars in the night sky. We’d sit and watch them burn slowly, and then die, the hot wax acting as a mirror to our shining faces. We would sit around, talking and eating the marvelous food we had prepared; the scent of honey cookies and rich sweet eggnog filling the room.
After the party, when the guests would leave or retire to upstairs guestrooms, mom and dad would let us sleep in the front room with the tree. I still remember staring at the tree all night; the dark tall branches extending out over the snow village, the lights casting strange shaped colorful reflections off the ornaments and onto the surrounding walls. I knew the pattern of those special twinkle lights by heart; first a soft glow, then a fast twinkle, then switching colors… I knew every pattern, and the exact order that it would come in and how long it would last. And I’d stare at that tree until I fell asleep.
Now Christmas is a lot different. We see The Nutcracker multiple times a year (unavoidable, since up until this year I usually played several roles in it). Mom and dad go to the art store to work the day after thanksgiving, and I get to sleep in for a few hours before hauling myself up to the storage area behind the closet in Mom’s and Dad’s room. I pull out the fake, plastic and aluminum tree and set it up myself, unfolding and untwisting the branches, the sharp fake pine needles poking my arms and face and leaving little red scratches all over. Somehow it smells like a pine tree, probably some artificial scent that was applied in the factory, and I remember the how the real tree used to filled up the whole house with the sweet woodsy sap smell. I get out the two large boxes of ornaments and lights, and put up the lights myself. Those special twinkle lights are used in displays in the art store now; we have some others to replace them. Then I call my siblings to come in and help me with the ornaments. I un-wrap those ballerinas, and now I see them as the cheap, worn, scratched plastic that they really are. The positions of the dancers aren’t even correct—but they bring back all the memories of getting my own special glittery tutu, and dancing to the music for the sugar plum fairy after my first ballet. The nutcracker ornament that I love is chipped and scratched, the beard practically torn off, and it almost brings tears to my eyes. No more do I have to give only the expensive ornaments to the older of my two younger sisters, even my ten year old brother handles the prized blown glass pieces, although he knows to put it up high where the cats can’t get to it. I put that same angel up on top, now I see why it lasted all those years—it’s made of plastic as thick as my thumb. To this day I still have an itch in my hands for the beautiful instrument violin, but I’m now content putting the perfectly carved and delicate violin ornament up near the top of the tree, where the dog won’t knock it down with his tail. My brother sets up the Christmas town on the fake blanket of snow by himself now, which is really just quilt stuffing with glitter poured all over it. By the time mom and dad get home, the first batch of mommy’s special secret cookie recipe is already cooling on the table, with empty glasses of milk beside the hot Christmas plates that we pulled out of storage from under the counter.
But some things never change. Every year, mom gets a new ornament from one of us. We still go caroling door to door and give cookies to loved ones. Mom’s Christmas party is still the best one in town, and she still makes that special eggnog.
Every year when I see those ornaments, when Mom gets out the eggnog and everyone claps, when I hear those words, “I bring you good tidings of great joy that shall be to all people…” I know that Christmas time will always be special. Looking at the Christmas tree glowing every night before I go to bed sends jolts of a thousand memories of different Christmases spent in different places with different people, but always the same love and joy surrounding each memory. I know that the Christmas season that I celebrate with my family will, regardless of what the world does to it with its mediocrity in gifts, nasty pre-bottled eggnog, and scratchy aluminum pre-lit Christmas trees, always be the rich, family oriented, Christ centered time that I remember from my childhood. I see the beauty of our brightly lit, decorated living room filled with guests whom I love, all gathered around the piano and beside the tree, singing “all is calm, all is quiet…” and the light in the eyes of my brother when he springs out of bed on the morning he’s been waiting for all year. Seeing that, even though little things change, like the fake tree and no twinkle lights, my family will always experience joy; the joy that comes with content people sharing a special holiday as a family. Even if we cannot afford to make a billion batches of cookies or buy extra gifts, Christmas will be wonderful because of the memories we share. We will sit around our little gas fireplace, drink cocoa from a box, and talk about the traditions and funny stories and reflect on our past. No matter if we move across the country again, or across the world for that matter; it’s the Christmas experiences and memories with my family that I will always treasure.