This month on the blog,
I’m sharing cherished times
in a photo walk through my Christmas past.
I started by updating a piece about holiday traditions
I first published in 2017,
but honestly, nothing has changed much in four years.
(Well, except for Evil Covid!)
That’s a good thing to my way of thinking!
Please read on for a feel-good photo walk through five decades
to summon memories that may be ringing in your season, too.
Is it lighting the menorah? Hanging an ornament your child made on a Fraser fir? Baking Grandma’s special holiday cookies again? Planning a Kwanza celebration?
These joyous celebrations are the stuff of memories and become the traditions you pass down through the generations.
I wonder how holiday traditions start.
Maybe they develop based on where you live. For instance, I grew up in a coastal Connecticut town, an hour from New York City, that was a microcosm of diversity. My classmates had surnames that usually had an equal number of vowels and consonants. Their parents often spoke with thick accents of their native countries.
I enjoyed sleepovers next door at my BFF Elaine's house, where I learned about Hanukkah and devoured her mom's blueberry blintzes and latke.
I can't remember how we started, but Elaine, her brother (Michael Meatball, we called him. Don't remember why!), and their parents spent Christmas afternoon with us. While our parents chatted over coffee and dessert in the kitchen, we kids jammed our small living room to share Christmas and Hanukkah toys. How cool is that!
Other traditions develop organically. What begins as a good idea one year becomes something people clamour for the next.
I remember the first year Mama and Grammy Chris started baking holiday cookies right after Thanksgiving. Because we gobbled up those sweets almost as fast as they came out of the oven, we generated the need for an endless stream of fresh-baked cookies. Mama and Grammy Chris happily complied.
Another natural evolution: picking out our tree from the church lot and hauling it home to decorate.
We draped tinsel, strand-by-strand, over the branches (throwing tinsel in clumps was not allowed). Topping our masterpiece with an angel was always last. Making sure the dog didn't tip over the tree was constant.
Ooo'ing and ahhh'ing over outdoor Christmas decorations was another family tradition that started as Dad drove us home through quiet streets after the 7.30 children's Christmas pagent. We kids couldn't get enough of that magical Yuletide sparkle. In fact, Mama told me the first words I ever spoke were at Christmastime, when I was nine-months old and said, "Lights. Pretty, pretty lights."
Come Christmas morning, I couldn’t wait to run downstairs to see what Santa brought, BUT I had to wait until my youngest sibling was awake. As oldest child, I almost felt sorry for the little ones I dragged from warm beds on many Christmas mornings.
Season of Changes
This joyous season is tinged bittersweet this year since we lost Dad in February and Mama before him in 2011. Reality smacks me. Our parents and grandparents are gone. Most aunts and uncles, too. Some cousins. Hub's little brother, taken far too young.
I take comfort remembering they still surround us in our Christmas traditions.
As unofficial family historian, I keep track with short notes about the provenance of our Christmas decorations tucked inside each one.
When we unwrap the set of gold pine cones, we remember Paw-paw Pete, who gave them to us to hang on my first tree with Hub. Or those glass-blown ornaments Hub’s parents give us each year that hold pride of place on our tree every season.
I even have Grandma Ethel's teeny Depression-era glass balls, tucked proudly into the small wooden sleigh handcrafted by Grandpa Jerry in the 1950s. These nest by the delicate crystal tree Mama gave us on her last visit to North Carolina in 2008.
And those glue-smudged, kid-made ornaments crafted with such effort and love! I can't bear to toss ‘em, even though they’re aged and worn (below, middle).
Two of my most precious treasures are the gifts Mama Marg gave to all her four grown children in the 1990s. The sea-faring New England village (above, left) symbolizes our love of the ocean and our childhood growing up on the Connecticut coast. Another year, she sewed four fabric crèches for each of us (above, right).
These gifts tug at my heart when I pull them from the attic. Profound sadness from missing loved ones mixes with joy in feeling their presence.
But we still channel Mama and Granny Chris in cookies we bake. My sugar cookies are never as tasty as theirs, so I switch to easier drop-chocolate concoctions.
We’re also perfecting our version of Hub's Mom's to-die-for peanut brittle. We're blessed she still cranks out yummy batches for the family each Christmas.
As much as I love drawing from the past, Hub and I have started our own tradition. We sprinkle a gazillion Christmas villages throughout our home, their glow warm and welcoming on long December nights.
We finally stopped buying these lighted Yuletime miniatures because we ran out of room to display more!
Recently, we combined our villages into one huge display on the dining room table.
Of course, it must be circled by Hub's toy train. Yep, we gladly eat, balancing dishes on our laps or trays, during the holidays. Food takes second place to watching Christmas trains.
I also started another tradition ... taking a break from writing and social media the last two weeks in December to be with family and friends.
This season, I’ll focus on gentling my heart and wrapping my soul around how our family has changed:
Missing more dear ones.
Reconciling that my siblings and I have reached "eldest member status" in our family’s orbit.
Wondering how it all went by so fast.
Embracing our next generation, who are now grown with little ones and new traditions of their own to discover.
Most important, feeling grateful that friends and family are healthy and safe during our second Covid December.
From our home to YOURS.....
all the warmth and goodness
of the holidays
and much joy celebrating YOUR traditions new and old.
... Travel safe.
... Stay well.
... Catch you in the new year!
I love this crazy busy time of year and would also love to hear about yours. Hey, if you celebrate a holiday or just enjoy this time of year, what's your favorite December tradition? How did it start? What are you looking forward to this holiday season? Please share in the comment section.
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