My parents weren’t rich by any means. I can remember every year at Christmas, my mother apologizing to my sisters and me and saying things like: “Don’t expect much this Christmas”, “Your daddy and I just don’t have a lot of money”, “I wish we could afford to get you more”, etc., etc., etc. Yet, I never remember feeling disappointed one single year. I can remember as a young girl asking my father what he would like for Christmas and every year his answer was the same. “I just want everyone to be happy and everyone to be together.” And he meant it. He really did. He couldn’t have been more sincere when he said that, and looking back, I think my father got his wish. I think my parents did a pretty good job of teaching their three girls that Christmas wasn’t just about getting toys and presents.
I remember as a child, going every year to buy a Christmas tree. We would always go as a family in our station wagon, usually to the local shopping plaza, to buy a live Christmas tree from the boy scouts. This was a big event. I remember these trips usually being at night and it was usually a couple of weeks before Christmas. We would bring the tree home and watch our father cut a few inches off the bottom with his saw and then assemble the tree into the old metal green and red Christmas tree stand. Then we would bring it in the house. We usually let it “sit” in the stand overnight to let the heat warm the tree and allow the branches to fall. Then the decorating would begin. I recall a
fight argument breaking out every year between my parents, over the tree decorating, and this usually occurred while putting the lights on. These were the old big screw-in Christmas tree lights that got very hot and could burn you. This “argument” became the norm in our household and was “expected” every year. After the lights were on, then my sisters and I took over the rest of the decorating. We put the ornaments on, the tinsel, and then finally came the silver icicles (or “rain” as my mother called it). One year my mother had the bright idea that we would decorate the tree with angel hair. For those of you who don’t know, angel hair is nothing but spun glass. Yes, it will cut you and yes, it will make you itch. We had cuts all over our hands that year. And it seemed to get everywhere– in our beds, down our shirts, in our pants– everywhere. What a joyous Christmas that was! Needless to say, it was our first and last year to use angel hair as a Christmas decoration.
My mother always decorated the mantel at Christmas time. I remember her fake plastic poinsettias she would place on the mantel (that’s what they had back in those days) and her little Japan ceramic red elves and a ceramic Santa Claus holding a candy cane and Mrs. Claus holding a shotgun (yes, a shotgun). We don’t know what happened to her. And every year, there were six stockings hung on the mantel– five stockings for each member of our family and one stocking for Baron, our German Shepherd. One year, my mother got a country ham for my father and placed it in a cardboard box and wrapped it up and placed it under the tree. She left to go get her hair done and when she got back, Baron (who obviously loved country ham as much as my father did) had found the irresistible smelling package under the tree and took it upon himself to unwrap it and begin feasting on it. I’m sure he thought he had died and gone to heaven. Luckily my mother came home just as he was starting to enjoy his little present. Thankfully, he had only eaten one small bite out of the end of the ham.
Mother always put out a nativity set every Christmas. It was a set that she purchased at Woolworths (where she got most of her Christmas decorations). The stable was made of cardboard and had straw on the roof and the figures were made out of paper mache. It had a hole in the back of the stable for a single Christmas light and we always put a blue light in it to make it look like night. How I loved that nativity set. Our neighbors down the street had one almost identical to it. Their stable was lighted too and I remember them always having a red light in theirs. (It’s funny the things you remember). My sister still has the nativity set and she displays it every year. A few of the pieces have been lost, replaced, or broken and glued back together. I’ve seen the identical stable and figures on eBay from time to time.
I also remember a pair of Rushton Coca Cola Santas that used to sit on each end of our mantel. My sisters and I always loved playing with those. The real miniature coca cola bottles they used to hold in each hand were long gone as were their black belts. They were well-loved dolls and we still have them too.
Another “item” that always was out at Christmas time (always on the mantel) and purchased by my mother at Woolworths for around $1 was a Kreiss santa figurine. I dearly loved this figurine as a child. I can remember getting my father to pick me up to hold me up to the mantel so I could gaze at this figurine. For a little girl, there was something mesmerizing about it.
When my mother was slowly dying of cancer, she made my sisters and me promise that we would not fight over her “things” when she was gone. (See Three Sisters and An Unbroken Promise). One of my sisters and I used to joke that we would fight to the death over this Kreiss figurine. My mother found it hilarious that the only thing we found worth “fighting over” was a figurine that cost her $1 at Woolworths. On my mother’s last Christmas, she gave me the figurine and told me to take it home. I called my sister that night and jokingly gloated about having the prized Kreiss figurine. My sister and I decided we would “share” it and I would display it at my house one year, and she would have it at her house the following year. How’s that for civility? Soon after my mother died, I came across one of these Kreiss santas on eBay that my sister purchased and when we came across another one on eBay, we even chipped in and bought it for our other sister. So now all three of us have one of our own to display every Christmas. It has become tradition every year now for us to look these figurines up on eBay and follow the auctions on them. This year, one went for $78.77 with 13 bids! We envision our mother up in heaven laughing hysterically at this.
I really do believe (as you can see by this post), that it’s the little things in life that make us happy. For me, traditions are an important part of Christmas. These little pieces of my childhood bring back very happy memories for me at Christmas time. For me, Christmas wouldn’t be the same without that little $1 Kreiss figurine sitting on my mantel.
What about you? What Christmas traditions do you cherish? I hope each and every one of you will have a very Merry Christmas.