Friday, November 10, 2006
Holiday Traditions
As I've had fleeting thoughts about this post the last few days, what kept coming to mind was my childhood traditions. What made holidays feel special at our house.

We had 6 kids, born in less than 8 years, so it was full of excitement, and short on presents. That's what I realize, looking back. I wasn't aware of that growing up.

The weeks leading up to Christmas Day, we poured over the Sears catalogue, wearing out the pages of the toy section. There was always a baby doll I wanted. I loved each one dearly, and it seems I got a new one every year. Even today, the smell I associate with Christmas is "rubber baby doll." My most treasured was Thumbelina. There must have been more, for I remember every school morning I'd line them up on the pillows of the bed, tuck the covers under their chins, and tell them goodbye. I REALLY loved baby dolls.

We made paper chains at school, and more at home. Cutting strips of red and green paper, then glueing them together with those jars of paste that had the stick attached to the lid. Our tree always had string after string of those. We didn't buy our tree til a few days before to get one on sale. I suspect ours was generally scrawny, and to this day I feel drawn to the most pitiful one on the lot. A big treat was that each of us got our own box of icicles and Mom let us apply them as we wished. I remember icicles flying through the air and landing in clumps on the tree. My husband had a hard time, years later, understanding why I wanted to allow our children to do the same. Tossed icicles and engineers don't mix easily...There were candy canes on the tree, and by Christmas morning most had been consumed.

There was much planning, as each of us gave every single member of our family a gift. I often gave my father an ash tray, in spite of the fact he did not smoke. My mom usually got a pretty embroidered handkerchief. To this day I still associate Christmas morning with receiving a bottle of "Evening in Paris" cologne. I can still see the dark blue bottle, given to me every year by my brother, Jerry, who died two years ago. I wish I could go back and tell him how much I love that memory. It seems most of our gifts were wrapped in white tissue paper with squiggle ribbon, and I find myself copying that also. I can see my mom pulling on the strands of the ribbon with the blade of the scissors to curl it. Many years the packages had numbers or hidden tags, so we couldn't snoop.

Christmas morning was a blur. Six kids getting out of bed when our parents had had only a few hours of sleep. Pajamas and bed-head hair, the excitement of it all. It was as much fun to watch others open gifts as it was to receive them. I still remember my mother holding up a radio my father had given her. We all had a stocking, usually my father's socks which ended up stretched out; each stocking had an orange in the toe and a candy cane, maybe new socks or a headband. Often my dad was in his post office uniform while we opened gifts; as soon as we'd finish he'd leave to deliver "specials", and I know now that money earned on Christmas morning went a long ways toward paying for our gifts.

When my father returned from his morning's work, we'd load up, all six of us in the station wagon and drive to my grandmother's, about 100 miles away. The last seat faced backwards, and having a good dose of motion sickness, I got the treasured spot of sitting in the front between my parents. My siblings always accused me of faking it. Now that we're grown, I am still the only one who has motion issues.

When we arrived at Grandma's house, we'd jump out of the car and were off for the day. At some point, we had to be polite and open our gift while Grandma was watching. My cousin Carolyn and I opened ours together, to be more efficient. We always got the same thing, one blue, one pink. Maybe a hairbrush set or headbands, or a dresser tray. Looking back, I don't know how she paid for any of it, because money was scarce. Children don't know this. We were completely unaware. The house down the street belonged to my Aunt Jessie Mae, a woman who reminded me of Aunt Jemima in size and heart. She wore bandanas around her head, had the biggest bosom and smile I've ever seen. Her house had food all over the place, pie after pie, and interesting things like quilting racks, and live chickens in the back yard. We'd grab a plate of food and take off to spend the day in the woods, swinging on ropes over the creek, or playing chase with all our cousins.

At the end of the day, we'd hug everybody goodbye, climb back in the car for the drive home. Dirty, tired, full, happy. Materially there was very little, but to a little girl, it seemed to me to be a holiday full to the brim. The day felt perfect, ending with another doll tucked under my covers.

To read more of "Holiday Traditions", head over to Sandra's place, at Diary of a SAHM.

  posted at 8:18 AM

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