Nothing quite compares with the excitement a child feels around the Holidays. Candy and sweet crazed, scouring the department store catalogs and advertisements for gift list ideas, anxiously waiting in line to sit on Santa's lap, school holiday concerts, putting up the day's advent token on the calendar, counting down the days left until Christmas, and sneaking peeks to see if Santa has arrived before finally drifting off into a sound sleep the night before Christmas finally arrives.
I have a treasure trove of memories from my childhood surrounding the Christmas holiday, some of which I would like to share with you on this 17th day of December as part of the Blog Advent Tour. Come along, and watch out for the mistletoe!
As a child, Christmas began for me the day after Thanksgiving when my mother, brother and two of our friends would pile into the car for another family adventure. After my father retired from military service, we had settled in the town of Sacramento, California. Armed with treats, hot chocolate, blankets and dressed for cold and rainy weather, we would find a spot near the Capitol building to watch the annual holiday parade. In later years, my brother's friend would be in the parade, marching with the high school band. I loved those frosty mornings, my nose and hands chilled. Seeing Santa riding his sleigh at the end of the parade was the signal that Christmas had arrived at last.
Another favorite family tradition was touring the neighborhood to see all the Christmas lights. Some people would go all out with the decorations, while others, like my parents', would keep it simple. My mom would pop in a Christmas music cassette and we would ooh and aah at the colorful and creative light displays.
There was the annual Christmas party for the regional Camp Fire Girls and Boys, in which we all played games, including exchanging gifts, and then we would hit the neighborhood, candles in hand, to sing Christmas carols. How I loved those nights! Even as the chill air stung my skin and the hot wax threatened to burn my fingers, I sang my little heart out.
And I will never forget the Holiday pageants and concerts from grade school up through my college years. I especially remember the many performances my high school show choir held, visiting several different venues. I often ended up being the chauffeur, driving my fellow choir members around in my parents' mini van. The high school choir had a Christmas tree lot in which we each had to volunteer to work, helping people find the perfect Christmas tree and then carrying the trees to their cars. The goal was to raise money for the end of the year trips and new costumes.
Every year before Christmas, my father and I would set up the nativity scene. There was a little table we would clear off and then lay out a blanket before taking the various parts of the set out of the box and arranging them just so. It was a special tradition I treasured, one between just my father and I. After my first semester of college away from home, I remember the sadness I felt at having missed out on that tradition for the first time. By the time I had come home for the winter holidays, my brother had carried on in my place.
When my Grandpa John was still alive, our Christmas cookie tradition was quite the event. Every year shortly after Thanksgiving, the relatives would gather together to bake and decorate the holiday cookies, a recipe that was much like gingerbread cookies, but not quite. I was one of the decorators, banned from the kitchen where my mother, grandmother and aunts would be slaving at the counter and oven. I did not mind as I loved to frost the cookies and add the glitter and little candy pieces. There were all sorts of shapes from reindeer, snowmen, Santas to angels, Christmas trees, camels and wreaths. My grandfather, brother and I would get right to task as the women in the house carried the trays of cookies to the tables.
It was more than just your average cookie making event. We made hundreds of cookies. They were laid out on the dining room table and multiple card tables that had been set up throughout the house. Not a room was without a table full of cookies by the time we were done. The cookies would later be collected into tins and onto plates for friends and neighbors as well as for each of our own families.
After my grandpa's passing in 1989, the family tried to carry on the tradition, but it never was quite the same. Those early memories are among my most treasured.
On Christmas Eve, I often would call my childhood dog to my side, and we would settle on the couch where I would read her the Christmas story about Jesus' birth. Her ears would at first perk up, and then she would curl up on her afghan and listen with her eyes closed, the tree lights blinking. It was by that light I read. There were occasions though when she would much rather play, but I always kept reading anyway.
Christmas Eve also meant phone calls to and from Grandpa John to check on the status of Santa Claus and th reindeer as they traveled around the world delivering gifts. When my father was working those nights, he would often call as well and let us know that his radar system had picked up Santa's location, warning my brother and I to hurry to bed soon or else Santa might skip our house.
My brother and I would set out cookies for Santa and carrots and celery for the reindeer. Most often we would also put out a glass of milk, although occasionally we set out a can of soda instead. My poor mother was always afraid that my brother and I would check the kitchen for signs that Santa Claus did not really eat his treats, and so she made sure that there were nothing but crumbs left each morning.
With the coming of Christmas morning, my brother and I were always the first up in our house. Early on my parents had set a rule that we were to wait for my parents to wake before venturing beyond the invisible line that separated the bedroom hallway into the main part of the house. During the years when my father worked the night shift, our signal that we could come downstairs would be when he arrived home in the mornings. The older I got, the earlier I would rise so that I could be completely dressed, hair brushed and in order, just in time for photos. Oh, how I hated being photographed in those later years!
Once given the go ahead, my brother and I would pounce on our Christmas stockings to see what Santa had left us. There were always full stockings, even after the mystery of Santa Claus was revealed. We would then settle in for hot chocolate and cinnamon toast fingers before heading into the living room to open the presents under the tree.
It would not be until later in the day that we packed up the family presents in the car to take them to the designated home for that year's festivities. Sometimes we hosted Christmas at our own home and could just settle in and wait for everyone to begin arriving. Christmas was quite the family event, aunts and uncles, family friends, my grandparents, my parents, my brother and I would all gather together around the tree to exchange gifts, taking turns opening the pretty packages one at a time. Dinner would follow, a feast fit for royalty.
When I was about six years old, I insisted that if it was truly Jesus' birthday, we had to have a birthday cake with candles. From that day on, Jesus would have his birthday cake during our family Christmas celebrations.
After the festivities of the day died down and we were back at home, a glowing fire in the fire place to keep us warm, a mug of hot chocolate and a plate of cookies to enjoy, I would set out my Christmas presents and begin writing thank you cards. To this day, I still follow the same pattern: looking at each gift before deciding what to put down in the card, reflecting on the giver and the gift, and then expressing my heartfelt gratitude. My mother is a strong believer in sending out thank you notes, and made sure my brother and I always took the time to write them out ourselves from a very early age. It is a tradition I carry on today.
Let me extend a thank you to all of you for visiting and traveling down memory lane with me today. I wish you all a Happy Holiday Season! Oh, and you might want to be sure you haven't picked up a stray tinsel string inadvertently. It sure likes to cling to clothing!
Be sure and stop in and visit the other blogs along the tour route!
17 December - Stephanie (Stephanie's Confessions of a Book-a-holic)
18 December - Dev (Good Reads)
19 December - Callista (S.M.S. Book Reviews)
20 December - Tiny Little Librarian (Tiny Little Librarian)
21 December - Carla (Carla Nayland Historical Fiction)
22 December - Carolyn Jean (The Trillionth Page)
23 December - Booklogged (A Reader's Journal)
24 December - Kailana (The Written World) / Carl V. (Stainless Steel Droppings)
Past Tour Stops You May Still Want to Visit:
1 December - Becky (Becky's Book Reviews)
2 December - Lisabea (Nose in a Book)
3 December - Marg (Reading Adventures) / Lady Tink (Up Close & Personal with LadyTink)
4 December - Valentina (Valentina's Room)
5 December - Melissa (Book Nut)
6 December - Laura (Musings)
7 December - Wendy (Caribousmom)
8 December - Nymeth (Things Mean A Lot)
9 December - Raidergirl (An Adventure in Reading), Chris (Stuff as Dreams are Made on)
10 December - Dewey (The Hidden Side of a Leaf)
11 December -Suey (It's All About Books)
12 December - Chris (Book-a-rama)
13 December - Jill (The Well-Read Child)
14 December - Robin (A Fondness for Reading)
15 December - Alyssa (By The Book)
16 December - Rachel (A Fair Substitute for Heaven)