I remember starting to get very excited for Christmas around Thanksgiving time. Thanksgiving was always a lot of fun, but, the real excitement grew shortly afterward when we would put up our Christmas tree. I have seen pictures of real trees in our house when I was very little. But, my fondest memories are of the fake tree that my Mom still has. I was quite a production putting this up. First, the branches had to be separated by size, using the little paint blotches on the ends. Then we would put the lights on, then garland (the silver tinsel-ly kind), and then boxes and boxes of ornaments. I loved the end of the decorating when you had to really search for a branch to place an ornament on.
The days and nights leading up to Christmas were lit with the almost magical glow of the lights on that tree. I would sometimes sit and look at the tree and make my eyes go out of focus to blur the lights, and the reflections from the ornaments, making them come together into one multicolored shape. I was a weird kid…I know!
Then there were all of the festivities outside of the home to look forward to. Talking with friends about what they wanted, going shopping for gifts (Daddy, if you up there reading this, I am sorry for all of the Aqua Velva. If I knew then, what I know now, I would have picked something better), and the classroom parties (I mean who DIDN’T want to get the Lifesavers Story Book? I mean seriously!). Watching all of the classic Christmas shows with just the Christmas tree lights on. Does anyone remember waiting and waiting to hear your name included on the list of “good little girls and boys” on the Santa & Friends show?
I was just talking to my Mom the other day about another of my favorite things. Baking Sugar cookies!!! We used to have the best cookie cutters. We had Santa with his bag of toys, reindeer, Christmas trees, and gingerbread men. We would bake the cookies and then decorate (and I use that term loosely) them with an icing made of confectioners sugar, water and food coloring. We would try to be very careful with the icing and make everything just right. But, in the end, the icing just flowed all together and made a very tasty piece of abstract art.
Christmas Eve we always went to Mass at St. Josephs Catholic Church in Old Town. Most of my family would attend the early Mass and then go back to my grandparents house on French Island. There we would usually have our “Christmas” with my Uncle George and Aunt Suzie and their kids. It would be noisy, crowded, chaotic and lots of fun. We would have sandwiches that we made ourselves, salads, pickles & olives, and other great homemade foods that we could gorge ourselves on. We would then unwrap the presents from Uncle George and Aunt Suzie and the extended family and they would unwrap our gifts to them. This is where the phrase “organize chaos” originated. There were usually between 7 and 10 kids and at least as many adults. Paper would fly, kids would get hyperactive, and the parents were probably just wishing for an end to it all.
Christmas Eve was also the night for a very strange tradition, which I will call the “Christmas Morning Wake-up Call Negotiations & Bribe”. I have one aunt who would travel home from New York each year for Christmas. Let’s just say that she wasn’t excited about the early morning hours. So, once my sister and I reached a certain age, she would negotiate the time at which we called my grandparents (her parents) to come to our house on Christmas morning.
Now, at this point, I should explain that I was a rotten little child when it came to the whole sleep thing on Christmas Eve. I believe at some point my parents would induce my sleep using OTC cold remedies (probably where I got my love for NyQuil). I know that, on more than one occasion, I would get up about every hour, go into my parents room and ask “Has Santa come yet?” My poor parents! It’s a wonder they didn’t “forget” me at a convenience store on some distant family vacation.
Back to the “negotiations”. We would start early, she would counter late, and at some point we arrived at a mutually agreeable time…usually in our favor. In later years, the later in the morning we went, the bigger the bribe she would offer. I don’t remember ever receiving the pay-off. But, that’s not what matters.
Getting up Christmas morning was always GREAT! We would go to bed on Christmas eve and there would be a few things under the tree. But, when we woke up the things “Santa” left had usually double or tripled the pile. I have some great pictures of our living room with very little floor space left to walk on. My sister and I (mostly me) would get Mom and Daddy up and then we would call our grandparents and wake them up to come over. Waiting for my grandparents to arrive always seemed like the longest part of the day. All of those presents just screaming to be opened and we waited. It was probably only about 30 minutes, but it seemed like an eternity. You know what else I remember? I remember my parents never being grumpy on Christmas morning. I know I personally attributed to their getting very little sleep. But, I don’t recall them ever being surly.
My grandparents would finally arrive and then we would all explore our Christmas stockings and then open the presents. Then things would quiet down a bit before Christmas dinner where my family and extended family would gather again to eat, drink and be merry. We always had turkey, Nana Collins’ stuffing (which my Momand Sister still make very well), Nana Hilchey’s 5-Cup Fruit Salad, more veggies than you could count and then pies, pies and more pies…including REAL Nana Collins’ mincemeat (which uses venison).
I hope, that when my niece gets to be my age, she looks back at her Christmas’ and has as many fond memories as I do.