Well, It Has Varied… a Lot
By Jeff Salter
Topic: How do/did your family countdown to Christmas? Did/do you have any special family traditions? [AS]
In preparation for this week’s topic, I re-checked my previous posts which dealt with Christmas. We’ve actually covered [here at 4F1H] quite a bit of territory already… though not this specific question.
The easiest and shortest answer is to say that I’ve experienced several different Christmas traditions, over various periods of my life: as a young child, as a teen still living at home, as a young husband, as a father of young children, as a parent with older children, and as a grandparent. Plus, there were stops along the way.
Having parsed out those different phases of my observation of the Christmas season, perhaps I can share a few memories from each.
As a young child
Some seasons, we all baked cookies, with little decorations of colored sugar or those silver things that looked like BBs. Each of us picked our own cutter designs and did our own decorations, and we kept them in separate boxes [I ate my cookies and my siblings ate theirs].
At least once each season, we would all pack up and go to New Orleans to “shop” … which really was to look at the extravagant decorations, especially those in the Roosevelt Hotel. One of the big city’s stores (Maison Blanche I think) had a goofy character called Mr. Bingle, who pushed the commercialized “spirit.”
I’d spend hours poring over the Sears and Montgomery Wards special Christmas catalogs — wishing and hoping, though realizing there was no chance I’d get anything expensive.
A fond memory is riding with Dad in the station wagon in our annual hunt for a suitable tree. For my ultra-frugal Dad, “suitable” meant free, as he squeezed every penny twice. I clearly remember him just pulling off on the shoulder of a road, and we’d walk into any un-fenced property and hunt down the fullest pine we could find that wasn’t too long to fit inside (or on top of) our vehicle. Often when we got it home we discovered it had a “bad” (flat) side, which Mom would rotate to be against the wall. One of these trees was so pitiful that we sent out to our own nearby woods and cut some extra branches to temporarily “graft” onto our Christmas tree!
As a teen still living at home
The year which really sticks out is Christmas of 1965 when we were in Iowa. I had just turned 15 and has a negligible social life (in this northern clime). I was still part kid and part teen and still found the Christmas catalog compelling. I had seized upon a gift I thought might actually be possible — some sort of primitive race car set. I talked it up with my mom and dad incessantly and must have believed they were actually going to act on it. As Christmas approached, I spotted a gift with my name and it was the size and shape of what COULD BE a low-end race car set. I had somehow deluded myself into believing they came through for me. Alas, when I opened that gift, it was a pitiful, vinyl-covered stadium cushion bearing the name of my high school. I was crushed.
As a young husband
My wife and I had only one Christmas together (before our first child joined us) — 1970. On my newspaper salary we couldn’t afford any gifts for anybody, so we crafted a gift for my folks and one for her folks. We found a little $2 or $3 counter-top tree at a grocery store to put in our little 3-room rental.
As a father of young children
For the Christmas of 1973 I was stationed at McClellen AFB in Sacramento CA and we had one toddler. We were living paycheck to paycheck on about $600 per month. What I recall most about that season was taking the city bus – they had a special “Santa-fare” [ten cents to go anywhere that you didn’t have to change buses]. From the stop near our apartment we could go non-stop to downtown. So, for 30 cents, the three of us traveled to a walking outdoor “mall” in downtown Sacramento and bought a couple of Christmas ornaments. I’m thinking we must have also eaten a minimalist lunch there, but can’t recall what it may have been. Then 30 cents to get us back home.
After my Air Force hitch and by the time we had our second child, I recall most of the Christmases being an effort to split the holiday time between my parents and my in-laws. Sometimes that got stressful. After my parents divorced, it was even more difficult because we then had THREE destinations for the holiday.
I remember a Christmas with my sister and her family in Mississippi… and at least one in which she and her crew stayed with us in Jonesville LA.
As a parent with older children
After many years of packing up our whole family and driving to the in-laws (or to one of my parents) I finally got my wish: to spend Christmas at our own home with just our own four individuals. Thus began what is the closest to a “tradition” that I can come up with: We’d let the kids wake us when they woke up (provided it was after 6 a.m., as I recall). Then they’d look at the tree (and gifts) while I made a pot of coffee and put a Sara Lee coffee cake in the oven. Then we’d open gifts. We lived in Bossier City for 26 years and our youngest was in kindergarten that first year. About half way through those 26 years, we already had kids leaving the nest, of course.
During many of these Bossier years, we’d have other family over for Christmas dinner… after all the gift unwrapping. This was sometimes my in-laws, but often my Mom or my Dad and Step-Mother. Sometimes different combinations of those parties.
As a grandparent
As a grandparent, first with very young grandkids and now with half of those grandkids in their 20s, it’s been different every year. Sometimes our local daughter’s family celebrates with us…and they alternate Christmas destinations with the other set of grandparents. Sometimes our Louisiana son’s family celebrates with us.
Our plans are complicated by weather, by illnesses, by medical issues that restrict my travel ability, etc. So each Christmas is different.
I don’t do nearly as much shopping as I did when our own kids were young.
Some of my previous Christmas-related posts (which I think you’ll enjoy):
[JLS # 618]