Sunday, December 14, 2008

Sweet Tradition

When I look back on my childhood, some of my sweetest memories are centered around traditions my family had. Those traditions helped ground me and hold me secure in the love of my family. I knew that from year to year, certain things would remain the same, even though changes were happening all around me. One of my goals as a mom has been to create strong traditions for my family, in hopes that someday my kids will look back with the same sweet nostalgia that I carry today. I thought it would be fun to recall some of my favorite childhood Christmas traditions, and share some of our deepening Family traditions. This blog really is mainly for me, but enjoy, and feel free to steal ideas if you'd like!

Childhood Tradition Top Five

#5--Deck the Halls! Every year without fail, we cut our tree on Thanksgiving weekend. Some years Mom's uncle Jim who was a forester in the Sierra Nevadas gave us our tree. Those trees were magnificent...the kind that you pay $150+ for at the tree lot. Some years we went into the Santa Cruz Mountains to a tree farm. Other years we ended up at Home Depot's tree lot. One disastrous year, we cut a tree on our neighbor's property (That tree was dry from it being a drought year, and lost 75% of its needles by December 20th...). No matter where we got our tree, it was always beautiful. I don't remember a single year when we decorated our tree without watching White Christmas! Dad supervised from his recliner, offering comments on the location of certain ornaments. The star Grandpa made was the grand finale, and the most coveted decoration. We took turns putting the star on the tree.

#4--Birthday Party for Jesus! We started this tradition when I was 5. We invited all the neighborhood kids over for a Jesus celebration. We played Christmas games, listened to my mom tell a story (she was an amazing storyteller!), and ate Christmasy desserts. It was a big hit with all the guests, and a tradition that continued until I was in 8th grade.

#3--Oh, the food! My family knows how to cook! Whether it was Oma's gingerbread house recipe (decorated with neighbors Kelly and Monica), Granny's scalloped potatoes, Aunite Maggie's creme de menthe bars and sugar cookies, Mom's poppyseed cake, or Dad's delightful Christmas Day feast, I loved it all. Oh, and when I say feast, I mean: Green salad with 5 pounds of fresh, cracked dungeness crab, prime rib with au jus, garlic mashed potatoes, bacon-wrapped green beans, Yorkshire pudding, and creme brulee. Oh, the sweet delight!

#2--Christmas Day and Christmas Corners! Christmas Day never changed. Once we were up, Jenny and I got dressed, headed out to the barn to give the animals their Christmas breakfast, and then came in for Christmas breakfast. Granny always sent us home Christmas Eve with a German pastry for breakfast. I never liked I just ate the scrambled eggs, bacon, and fresh fruit. Some years Dad made homemade cinnamon rolls. Now that I loved! After breakfast, we gathered in the living room, finished up our advent book, and sang a few carols before beginning on gifts. Stockings were first, full of little treasures: stickers, paper dolls, bracelets, socks, candy (Reeses cups and assorted See's chocolates for Jenny, See's Orange Crisps and York Peppermint Patties for me, marzipan for Mom, and chocolate covered nuts for Dad). Then came the gifts under the tree. We passed them out one at a time, oohing and aahing over each person's gifts. After all the gifts were opened, Jenny and I had to go back and wait in one of our bedrooms. Then we were called out to find our big presents. They were usually waiting on the hearth for us. My most memorable big gifts were a life-sized baby doll (age 8); two new outfits for my American Girls doll, Samantha (age 10); a gold locket (age 12); roller skates (age 13); my vaulting barrel (age 14); Tommy Girl perfume (age 17); and a "Christmas Starter Set"--stocking hangers, Christmas tablecloth, cookie cutters, tree stand, gold garland, mistletoe, (age 21), when Matt and I were newly engaged. Granny and Grandpa (in their head-to-toe plaid outfits)always joined us for Christmas dinner. After dinner, Jenny and I each picked spot in the house to set up our gifts. Those spots were our Christmas corners which stayed set up until New Year's Day. Then I spent the rest of Christmas curled up in my Christmas corner, reading my new books, listening to new music, and eating my candy.

#1--Christmas Eve! At 3:00 each Christmas Eve afternoon, we packed up all the family gifts and headed to Granny and Grandpa's house in Saratoga. Jenny and I arranged all the gifts under Granny's tree. Then we glued ourselves to the big window in the dining room to watch the lights come on across Silicon Valley, and wait for our cousins to arrive. Granny and Grandpa's house sits high on a hill overlooking San Jose. It is a spectacular view, firmly imprinted in my memory. Once Missy and Lotte arrived, the fun began. When we were little, we all played games in the long hallway, and wondered if each plane that flew over was Santa on his way to deliver gifts. When we got older, we sat and talked and laughed. We usually tried to plan some silly stunt to play on the family. At 6:00 we sat down to dinner. Those memories are crystal clear. I remember the old lace tablecloth, the arrangement of plastic flowers and fruit on the table. I remember the pictures on the wall, the texture of the carpet, the old house smell. I remember Granny's flowered dishes and crystal glasses. I remember the salad, the ham, the potatoes, the rolls, the raisin sauce, the comforting same, year after year. After dinner, we adjourned to the living room which was crowded with gifts, and always a bit too warm. Granny's tree sat high on a steamer trunk, glittering with antique ornaments and ornaments handmade by my mom, Auntie Maggie, and Uncle Jack when they were little. We lit candles and sang carols, accompanied by Lotte on the piano, and in later years by Jenny on her trumpet or French Horn and me on my viola. We have a very musical family, so the singing was always rich and beautiful. Then the cousins performed. Some years we had prepared serious musical pieces. Other years we wrote little plays. And sometimes we were just plain silly. I'll never forget Lotte parading around with Matt's new pajama pants on her head...
Then came the best part of all. All the grandkids gathered on the floor around Grandpa's feet. We sat like this every year until the year Grandpa died. I was 20...and I'm the second-youngest cousin. Then Grandpa opened the enormous family Bible and read the Christmas story from Luke 2. I can still see his face, hear his voice. I'll never forget. After the Christmas story, the reverence evaporated and the craziness began! One grandchild played Santa every year and handed out the presents. We opened them one at a time and savored each moment together. LAnd then, just like on Christmas morning, all the kids were sent into the back bedroom to wait. Then when we were called, we raced down the hall to find the gifts from Granny and Grandpa. They were always homemade. Grandpa was a brilliant woodworker, and Granny a wonderful seamstress. Those handmade treasures--a barn for my Breyer horses, a dollhouse, fully furnished, a beautiful desk--were the highest peak of my Christmas. We usually didn't finish until 11 p.m. Jenny and I changed into our new Christmas jammies, and tried not to fall asleep on the drive home. We rang in Christmas every year watching the Pope give his address at the midnight mass.

Now so much has changed. Grandpa passed away in 1999, and Christmas Eve moved to Auntie Maggie's house. I love Auntie Maggie's beautiful house with it's amazing decor. But it just wasn't the same. My mom died in 2003 which changed it even more. And then we moved to Arkansas in 2006. We went home that year for Christmas. Last year was the first year I was ever away from my family on Christmas Eve, and oh, how I missed it. I still get a bit misty when I remember that next week, Christmas Eve will be going on at Auntie Maggie's same as always, but I will be 2400 miles away. That's why it's so important to establish our own traditions.

Wow. This has gone much longer than I was expecting. I think I'll save our Family traditions for another blog. I've had a good break from wrapping gifts, and I think I'll get back to it.

What is your favorite Christmas tradition memory from your childhood? Please comment for me and share.


Stef said...

if there is one thing I do remember about your family (especially your Mom) its that you guys made and kept the BEST traditions! I loved how homey and cozy your parent's house was and how cheery your holidays sounded. Its so awesome for your kids that you're passing those on!

ErinL said...

Hi Emily! I enjoyed this post and was going to do one of my own soon but here are some of my favorite traditions....Paw-Paw reading the story of Jesus birth before we got to open presents, shrimp on Christmas (my family is originally from New Orleans), the ornament that I made when I was 5 that became a running joke in my family (I wanted it at the front of the tree because of its stunning beauty LOL!, mom begged to differ ;). When I married Larry he received that ornament as a gift and it now sits on the front of my tree!), enjoying Christmas Eve with my mom and her family while preparing to leave to see my dad at Christmas (not always a good memory since it reminds me how hard it was to live in a family of divorce).