Traditional Christmas a la Chez Karen

Saturday, December 23, 2006
The Christmas "traditions" of my childhood no longer exist. Oh sure, the holiday itself is the same as it ever was although probably more materialistic than in days past. No, it's the small things, the typical holiday routines that are no longer there. But unlike many of the memories of my past, it's these ones that I miss. Don't misread me. I don't want to try and re-enact the memory of Christmas past, we all know that would never work as the family itself has changed it's makeup, for the good and bad. No, it's the feeling I associate with those memories that I miss. Or perhaps I'm just blowing smoke, who knows? What is certain is that some of my happiest memories are from Christmases of years gone by. Here's a bit of what our traditional Christmas used to be like...

There were some things that never changed, or at least didn't until my parents divorced and then it was never the same. Christmas Eve would be spent at midnight mass - my family was Catholic and while my parents were still together we were fairly religious. Church every Sunday, confession, my brother and I were altar servers and I seriously considered being a nun for a year. Then I discovered boys and decided I wanted to be a stripper. Or an astronaut. I finally settled on archaeologist. Anyways, I digress. Midnight Mass. When we lived in New Brunswick, I remember one Christmas Eve walking home from church and it began to snow. There was no wind, and as most families had drove to church, no one around. I remember looking up at the night sky filled with stars and snowflakes which fell on my face. I stopped walking and just stared upwards. It was one of the most peaceful moments I've ever felt. Not in a religious sort of way but just personally peaceful. Quiet. Alone but not lonely. Each year my mother would be the first person through the front door and while we slowly peeled off the layers of tuques, scarves, mitts, parkas and snowpants, she would dash about setting out trays of meat, cheese, crackers, pickles, nuts, chocolates, and numerous other goodies. We would spend another hour just sitting around chatting about nothing in particular and nibbling on the snacks.

Christmas morning. Most of us know how exciting that can be for a little kid. One of the things I miss the most is my dad's stockings. No, dad wasn't a cross dresser. Eeeeew. He was responsible for putting together our stockings. While my brother and I each had handknit stockings from our aunt with our names on them, these were just for show (I still have mine and it's hanging on the wall). We would awaken VERY early that morning and look over the side of our beds. Waiting for us on the floor was one leg of a pair of nylons stuffed to the ripping point with small presents, a mandarin orange in the toe, an apple at the top, and a small cereal box somewhere in the middle. We would have to lie there and wait until 8ish before we were allowed to wake our parents but once the clock clicked over to the magic hour, we would grab our unopened pantyhose and run screaming into our parents room. Along with the dog and cat, we'd throw ourselves onto their bed and start bouncing up and down "Santa came! Santa came!". The four of us would sit there eating our oranges and opening presents, the cat attacking the wrapping paper flying around the room and the dog spinning in circles on the floor because of all the excitement. Looking back on it, the stuff in the stockings never really mattered, it was the excitement, the anticipation. We were a family.

After that, it was downstairs to see the score that Santa had left behind. I can't honestly remember a single year that either my brother or I complained. My parents were very good to us. I remember the year my dad got a giant moving box full of individually wrapped duck decoys from my mother. That was hilarious. Our cat, Happy, got thrown into the box once it was emptied and then refilled with discarded paper. I believe he had a good time. My brother received a woodburning kit one year. I got a giant Barbie camper although I don't remember being all that into Barbie. I preferred the Matchbox cars my brother got, or the Star Wars figurines. There were the Litebrites. Many many Litebrites. They were always for my brother and I, but dad always seemed to get more enjoyment out of them. Bathrobes and slippers for mom. Always a puzzle and new wallet for dad. Clothes of course. And a tube of doggie chocolates for Ralph, the wonder dog who could say his own name.

Once the presents were all opened, we cleaned up the discarded paper and bows, made sure the proper tags were on each of the presents so we could send thank you notes to family and friends. Then....turkey. Mom usually did the cooking in our house but there were certain meals that only Dad was allowed to prepare. Christmas was one of them. I was his official helper (this would later be extended to assisting with tire changes, oil changes, car washes and new sparkplugs). First up - boiling potatoes. I know, you're probably thinking turkey first, sides later. Well, in our family (i.e. dad's family) our traditional stuffing was made with potatoes, sage, onion, bread and some garlic salt. Sounds blah, I know but if you've ever had it....mmmmmm. One giant pot of mashed potatoes later, mix in all the goodies, and the bird was stuffed and in the oven. Dad always made sure that there was enough stuffing left over that "wouldn't fit in the bird" as he put it so that he and I could make a couple of sandwiches out of it. We'd pour ourselves two really big glasses of Pepsi with lots of ice, cover our stuffing sandwiches in salt (oh yeah...) and pull out one of his new puzzles. We'd sit there putting it together (always do the outside border first, then the sky, and then the rest) for the afternoon until it was time to pull out the turkey, start the potatoes, carrots, gravy, etc. Good times.

Our presents usually stayed under the tree for a couple of days after we opened them (we could play with them but then had to put them back). I think this was in some way so that they could be shown off to our friends and neighbours who would come over to visit. Never really understood that but that's what happened. The tree would stay up until a day or two after New Years and then packed away for another 11 1/2 months. Things today are quite different but not altogether bad. There have been people who have joined our family and then left (thank goodness), and others who have stayed (thank goodness). Dad has another family to spend the holidays with but the pantyhose stockings are gone, the christmas tree is now white with purple decorations ONLY and pinkish/purple lights. They have their own traditions. My brother and I still spend the holiday together as we live about 10 blocks away from each other. Our mother is in town and she joins us as well. Most of my sister in law's family also lives fairly close so they, along with some longtime friends, get together and celebrate Christmas together. There's no more midnight mass, no more potatoe stuffing, and no Litebrite for someone to steal away from me. I miss those little quirky things that made our Christmases so special each year but we can't go on living in the past. There are new traditions to be made and new ways to celebrate with family and friends. However, there's nothing stopping me from stepping out into the midnight air and staring up at the stars this year. I can always do that - they're one thing that'll never change.

Any holiday traditions y'all would like to share?

3 comments:

Wandering Coyote said...

What a great post, Karen!

Similarly to you, Christmas was always happier for me in the past, when my parents were together. It was never the same after they split up, and I think this is when I really started to dislike this particular holiday. We had a stocking ritual, too, similar to yours, and we usually went to church Christmas Eve, and even Christmas morning sometimes. I've had the potato stuffing! Friends of mine used to make it for every holiday we had a turkey and it was fabulous!

I hope you have a wonderful Christmas, my friend! I hope the package doesn't take forever. Looking forward to opening yours on Christmas Day.

Barbara Bruederlin said...

What a lovely post! I felt as though I was there with your family, watching you carry on your traditions.

We always did Christmas a little differently from all my friends, in that my parents were German and hence we celebrated on Christmas Eve. We would open all our presents Christmas Eve (therefore I never believed in Santa and I'm sure I ruined many a CHristmas for little friends),and there would always be a beautiful colourful book from my grandfather in Germany.
But, as they always do, those traditions evolved into others over the years. It's inevitable.

Merry Christmas, Karen!

* (asterisk) said...

Great post, Karen.

Your Christmases sound similar in parts to mine. (Maybe everyone's are more or less the same? Who knows...)

But we would have Santa presents first thing in the morning of the 25th, invariably bouncing on my parents' bed, too. Then we weren't able to open presents from family members until after lunch. Indeed that is a tradition that continues in my family.

Red and I, though, adopt her family's Christmas tradition of opening all presents on the evening of the 24th, after dinner. That's tonight! I'm so excited!

One of my best pressies as a kid: the Six Million Dollar Man action figure. Indeed, I loved it so much that years later I bought a replacement at a toy fair... Still got that one.

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