I was an avid reader as a kid and loved a lot of the stories around Christmas. I still have this Little Golden Book version of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. I remember having a storybook for Twas the Night Before Christmas. I also enjoyed reading the various Christmas stories in book series like Little House on the Prairie.
I remember the days leading up to Christmas during my grade school years as being akin to those before summer break — absolutely no substantial learning took place. There were gifts for the teacher and classroom parties. I’m sure it’s no easy feat to hold the attention of fidgety 5- to 11-year-olds in either scenario, so I certainly do not blame the teachers.
I remember sitting inside toasty classrooms, making construction paper Santas with cotton-ball beards. I remember doing word finds and other games that revolved around the holidays. I remember singing many a carol, at least during my K-4th grade days (Catholic school). I don’t remember taking part in any Christmas pageants, strangely enough.
Growing up, we almost always drove from Silver Spring, Md., to Alexandria, Va., on Christmas Day, to spend the afternoon and evening with my grandmother, aunts, uncles and cousins. The drive was maybe 30-40 minutes back then. Sometimes Mom would take us through downtown Washington instead of swinging around the Beltway. I loved driving past the Pentagon and the lights of the monuments on the drive home at night.
Mom and my sister moved to New Mexico after I finished high school and so then I started flying for the holidays. I remember many dicey flights on Northwest to Albuquerque. After one harrowing landing on an icy runway in Minneapolis that caused the plane to buck and fishtail, one of the flight attendants announced over the intercom, “That, ladies and gentelemen, is why you wear your seatbelt.”
I’m actually surprised, looking back, that I didn’t experience more delays and problem flights given how much I was flying in winter weather between Washington-ABQ and then eventually Boston-Knoxville. Also, in all those years, I had only one lost bag.
Which reminds me of the time I arrived in Knoxville on Christmas Eve so famished that I begged Mom to take me to the Chili’s in the airport before we drove to her house. Halfway through my margarita, I was surprised to hear my name over the airport speaker system — I’d forgotten to claim my bag at the baggage carousel! Friends who’ve known me and my stomach know that it’s not unusual for me to have a one-track mind when I’m hungry.
This is post #11 in the GeneaBloggers Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories.
Some of my most vibrant memories are from the first time I tried something or learned something completely new. This blog prompt, which mentions Hanukkah, immediately reminded me of my first exposure to the Jewish holiday.
Up until I was 9 years old, I attended a private Catholic school and my exposure to other cultures was fairly limited. When I started attending public school in the 5th grade, one of my closest friends was Jewish. That holiday season, I was introduced to Hanukkah.
My friend and her mom did an excellent job of telling me the story behind the holiday and explaining the customs. I vividly remember my first time playing Spin the Dreidel (we played for gummy soda bottles and other candy). I had a blast! It was a wonderful introduction to the culture and I’ll always remember that time fondly.
This is post #10 in the GeneaBloggers Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories.
My Christmas morning “Red Rider BB Gun Moment” came when I was 16 years old. I had always wanted a TV of my own, but I never even bothered to ask — I could list the litany of reasons this was a bad idea on my own, without prompting them from my mom.
So, when I saw the TV box with a bow on top nestled under the Christmas tree that year, I just figured it was for my mom’s room or for her office. As my sister and I took turns reaching under the tree for gifts to unwrap, I didn’t give that one a second glance. No way that one was for me.
After the last of my gifts had been unwrapped, I remember being pretty satisfied with that year’s haul. But I don’t recall what else I got that year because of what transpired next. My mom pointed in the direction of the TV box and said, “Aren’t you going to open that one?”
“WHAT? For me? Are you serious?” was all I could say. Many “thank yous” and “I don’t believe its” then followed. It dawned on me a short time later that I knew exactly when my mom had gone to buy the TV — two days after I had picked her up from the hospital following surgery on a herniated disc, I chastised her for trying to go Christmas shopping with a friend of hers. In one of those role-reversal moments, I scolded her for trying to overdo it as she hobbled out the door. I even offered to go pick up whatever it was she was going to buy — of course, she turned down that offer.
The TV was a 13-inch — puny by today’s standards. But I spent many a night watching bad made-for-TV movies on it (we didn’t have cable). It then saw me through college, serving me and my college roomies well for our movie marathons. I still have it, though now it requires a special converter box to hook it up to a DVD player. I almost gave it away when I moved earlier this year, but there were no takers. I’m glad I hung onto it after all.
This is post #8 for the Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories.
Okay, so I got the appetizer out of the way. Now, I’m skipping straight to dessert.
One Christmas about a decade ago, while visiting my mom, I pored over her cookbooks, recipe cards and magazine clippings for the dishes I loved so much growing up. I was finally out of college, with a kitchen I could cook in, and I was desperate to recreate many of those dishes on my own.
Among the recipes I copied down were several for cookies. Chocolate chip cookies were the standard throughout the year at our house growing up, but at Christmas… Oh, at Christmas. That’s when all the special recipes were made — gingerbread men, chocolate butter cookies (for the cookie press), peanut butter cookies with Hershey’s Kisses on top, molasses cookies, pfeffernüsse (literally, pepper nuts), almond crescents, we made them all.
My all-time favorite holiday cookies always mesmerized me as a child, the way the powdered-sugared crusts of the cookies would split and crackle, revealing the dark chocolate yumminess inside. And all of this was topped with a nonpareil (Now, how do you pronounce that? Non-peril or Non-pair-eye?).
I so wish I had a picture of these cookies. Hmmm… might just have to bake some, so I can take some pics. That’s the kind of sacrifice I’m willing to make for you, my readers. In the meantime, imagine these with these on top.
Here is the recipe for Sugar-Coated Chocolate Cookies:
1/2 c. butter
3 1-oz. squares unsweetened chocolate
2 c. sugar
2 c. all-purpose flour
2 tsp. baking powder
3 large eggs, lightly beaten
2 tsp. vanilla extract
3/4 c. powdered sugar
1 pkg. nonpareils
Directions: Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees (F). Melt the butter and chocolate in a heavy saucepan over low heat; combine the sugar, flour and baking powder in a large bowl; add the chocolate mixture, eggs and vanilla; mix until smooth (will be thin). Cover and chill for 2 hours. Roll into 1-inch balls and roll these in the powdered sugar. Bake 2 inches apart on lightly greased cookie sheets for 10-12 minutes. Press one nonpareil onto each cookie as soon as they come out of the oven.
12/29/2009 UPDATE: Picture now available! Just baked a batch of these with my sis:
This is blog post #7 for the GeneaBloggers Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories.
My mom and dad used to have my aunts and grandma over for New Years Eve when I was real little. I remember trying to stay up with them at the age of 4 or 5. My dad would blow into a little horn (which I still have), resulting in ridiculous sounds at the stroke of midnight. I especially thought it was fun if one of my aunts and/or my grandma was spending the night.
In the above photo, the plastic Christmas tree I blogged about previously serves as a centerpiece.
I can only imagine my dad took these shots from 1985 because 1) it’s the kind of thing he would do; 2) he’s the only one my grandma would have stood for to take the photo; and 3) my mom and aunts all appear in similar shots from that year.
This is post #6 in the GeneaBloggers Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories.
Growing up, we celebrated St. Nicholas Day by putting our shoes outside of our bedroom the night before. When we awoke, St. Nick would have stopped by, depositing candy, coins and other such treats inside our shoes.
After crawling into bed and dozing off one night when I was 7 years old, I awoke with a start in the middle of the night. I had forgotten that the next day was St. Nicholas Day! I hurriedly pulled out my saddle shoes (part of my school uniform) and stuck them outside my door, praying that I hadn’t done so too late.
You can imagine what awaited me when I awoke: empty shoes. I was absolutely despondent.
I ran into the kitchen crying to my mom — St. Nicholas had missed me! Was I horrible child? Was it because I put my shoes out too late?
My mom had a stricken look on her face (guess who else had forgotten). You know what happened next.
It was early and my mom couldn’t think of anything else to tell me. She sat me down, hugged me and told me the truth about St. Nick and about Santa (they were both the same being and separate, in my 7-year-old mind).
Of course, then it all came crashing down. “You mean, the Easter Bunny? The Tooth Fairy too?” My mom just nodded and then gave me a very stern look. “Don’t you even think about telling your little sister.”
I was warned not to tell anyone at school either — my mom explained that many of the other students would still believe and it wasn’t for me to explain the truth. Of course, the notion of Santa came up several times in school between that day and Christmas. It was all I could do not to blurt out the truth.
This is post #5 in the GeneaBloggers Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories.
The outdoor Christmas lights that we had growing up, if we had them, were usually pretty understated. In fact, more often that not, it was usually a lighted wreath hung inside a window rather than lights on the eaves and shrubs outside. Back when my dad was alive, he did decorate the shrubs outside our first house with the huge, opaque glass bulbs that used to constitute outdoor Xmas lights. I know my mom loved to look at such strings of lights, when you could find them. They’ve since been fast replaced by the smaller plastic Lite-Brite variety we see today.
Some of my fondest memories are of driving around with my family in the evenings around the holidays to see how others had decorated their homes. Nobody wanted to be “that guy” who went all out, draining the local electrical grid, but you know you wanted to drive by and stare at whoever did. I remember a couple of doozies like that out in Albuquerque, N.M. That is also where someone (not sure if it was the city or a private citizen), would put a huge lighted star up in the foothills of the Sandia Mountains that could be seen from miles around.
This is post #4 in the GeneaBloggers Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories.
Today’s Advent Calendar prompt asks: “Did your family send cards? Did your family display the ones they received? Do you still send Christmas cards? Do you have any cards from your ancestors?”
I don’t really remember my mom sending out a bunch of Christmas cards every single year. I started doing this myself after college — I found it was a nice way to stay in touch with folks after moving away from my home state.
I went through some childhood mementos to see if I could find any Christmas cards that I received as a child. Instead, I found the gem below, which my mom helpfully labeled “Melissa’s Christmas Card to Santa 1980″ (I was 4).
I remember those stickers vividly — actually they were stamps and had to be licked to make them adhere to the paper. Mom used to stick them on gift tags she attached to Christmas presents. I distinctly remember licking those stamps while sitting at a tiny white table I had in my playroom in the basement of the house we lived in at that time. Perhaps I’m remembering making this exact card? I can only assume that the letters at the top were my attempt to sign my name…
From a genealogical perspective, this card has more than sentimental value. You may be able to tell from the scan that there’s also a drawing (actually, a watercolor painting, also by moi) on the reverse side. Turns out, the picture on the back and this card were made using a piece of my dad’s medical office stationary* and his office address is printed on the reverse.
After many years of buying Christmas cards that only required me to include a quick note and to sign my name, I’m making my own cards again this year. I’d like to think my technique has improved a bit — I’m still using plenty of stickers though! See below for some examples. The materials came from this year’s featured project by Creative Memories.
*My parents embraced recycling early — in addition to stray pieces of stationary, my dad would bring home reams and reams of discarded EKG printouts from the medical offices where he worked. Many a drawing was done on the back of these printouts — my sister and I were still using them for scratch paper years after he retired.