My Tragic Tale of Ol’ St. Nick

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.

Outdoor Decorations

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.

Christmas Cards

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).

Xmas Card to Santa 1980

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.

Handmade Xmas Cards 2009

*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.

Treasure Chest Thursday: Christmas Tree Ornaments

This is Post #3 for the Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories.

Being of German ancestry and having lived in Germany not once, but twice, my mom was partial to German glass Christmas ornaments to decorate our tree. I still have many that I remember hanging on our tree when I was little. They are so delicate, it’s hard to imagine how they’ve lasted this long. Below is a more recent acquisition.

Glass Nutcracker Ornament

Though not a glass ornament, I’m partial to this little guy myself:

Angry Nutcracker Man

Holiday Foods

Post #2 in the Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories.

I must seek out lebkuchen — German cookies that I’ve always associated with the holidays — during the Christmas season.

My favorites growing up were made by Bahlsen — they came in a variety of shapes and were either glazed in sugar with sprinkles on top or in rich, dark chocolate. I seem to remember that my mom would find them at Woodies (Woodward & Lothrop) department store. I will still pick up a bag if I spy them at the grocery store.

When I mentioned that I had a hankering for lebkuchen around the holidays to a German colleague, she gave me a box sent to her from an aunt of hers who lives in Germany. These cookies were made by a different company and were unlike any lebkuchen I’d ever had before. They were rectangular in shape and had a lot of nuts in them. They may have been more authentic than what Bahlsen produces, but Bahlsen’s cookies remain my sentimental favorite.

Bahslen also makes a pretty good pfeffernüsse (literally, pepper nuts), but I prefer the homemade kind, which are softer, with a powdered sugar coating instead of the hard white glaze on the Bahlsen kind. These cookies do have pepper in them, but it lends a really nice flavor — you should try them if you get the chance!

The Christmas Tree

Post #1 for the GeneaBloggers Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories.

My first Christmas was only a month after I was born. We were living in an apartment and my parents kept it small. Our tree was plastic, less than two feet tall and pre-decorated with plastic fruits, birds and other ornaments. It has made an appearance at almost every Christmas over the years, even if it wasn’t THE tree. I still have it and it will probably be my tree this year too. I love it.

My First Xmas Tree, Dec. '76

After spending Christmas morning at home, we’d usually trek to Alexandria, Va., for more presents, food and family at my grandma’s. She always had a fabulous tree.

Grandma Grace's Xmas Tree

After we moved into our first house, in the Woodmoor section of Silver Spring, Md., our own Christmas trees were of the live variety.

Christmas at Woodmoor

Our dog, Shadow, loved to lie on the Christmas tree skirt, until presents crowded her off of it. She always knew Christmas meant something special (usually in the form of more treats!).

Shadow Under the Tree (1988)

Over the years, my family switched from live trees to fake trees and back again. Several years featured multiple trees — a large one in the living room, a smaller one in the family room and then the tiny plastic tree would always show up somewhere.

Smile for the Camera, 19th Edition: Gift

This blog post is my submission to Smile for the Camera, 19th Edition. The word prompt is “Gift.”

In going through my old Christmas photos, I came across a shot of one year’s Christmas tree with a gift underneath that I remember very fondly — my first suitcase. You know you’re growing up when your pjs and toys deserve their own luggage. My first suitcase featured Snoopy in his “Flying Ace” finest.

The suitcase accompanied me across the Atlantic shortly thereafter, when I traveled to England and Ireland with my parents.

About to depart for Dublin, at age 4.

My All-Time Fave Holiday Family Recipe

This post/recipe is my contribution to the GeneaBloggers 2009 Holiday Recipe Cookbook.

My all-time favorite holiday family recipe has earned me quite a rep among those I’ve met at the parties to which I’ve brought these tasty appetizers (actually, I’m now required to bring these to most tailgates, showers and other gatherings). Good thing they couldn’t be simpler.

Some of my earliest memories of family gatherings feature these Sausage-Cheese Balls (alternatively dubbed Cheesy Poufs, Snausage Balls and Cheesy Sausage Nums Nums, by those who have had them).

Below is my mom’s hand-written recipe card containing the recipe, which has an (almost) embarassingly small amount of ingredients and work involved. They can be incredibly messy to mix together, but the end result is well worth going through all that.

I have made these with turkey sausage for those who don’t favor pork and they have come out splendidly. They are practically impossible to mess up. Too much Bisquick and you just end up with cheesy, sausagy biscuits instead of balls. No problem! Play it off like that’s what you meant to make all along.

I believe that one of my aunts came across this recipe when she lived on the Eastern Shore of Virginia. Our family has enjoyed them ever since.