A Traditional Christmas

~Silent Night – Kelly Clarkson, ft. Trisha Yearwood and Reba McEntire~

I’m pretty sure that my idea of a Traditional Christmas is probably very different from others.  With my parents being divorced, it meant a flurry of activities with all three sides of my family.  Getting all that in probably meant that my mom had to do a lot of juggling to make sure that I was included and didn’t feel that I’d missed out on something vital.  There were years when there were conflicts, I’m sure, but for me, it was always seamless with the exception of missing Christmas Eve gift opening with my father’s family. 

It wouldn’t start to be Christmas for me until the old-fashioned, colored, bubble lights went up around the town square.  As soon as I’d see those, I knew it was time for magic.  At some point, my mother would FINALLY give in and take my siblings and me to the corner department store that had the most magical place of all – Santa Land.  It was in the basement of an old town square store.  I can still recall the smell of fresh popped popcorn (that even now seems to hang in the place even though it has long since seen its last days as the local 5 and 10).  My brother and I would descend the stairs two at a time.  He was forever looking at cars or big yellow earth movers.  For me, it was always the Barbie section. 

In the weeks coming up to Christmas, my siblings and I would find every Christmas cartoon we could think of in the TV guide and circle them in red so we’d be sure not to miss them.  My favorite was “The Year without a Santa Claus.”  I loved the snow miser.  Each year, I’d hope that it would be the year we finally got snow for Christmas.

A few weeks before Christmas, my father’s mother would come and get me.  Usually, she took me to their church where we’d get to take pictures with Santa.  In my case, he was Santa’s helper as it was really my grandfather dressed up in a Santa suit.  There was usually a Christmas program and gifts were passed out to us kids.  These were usually paper bags with things like oranges, apples, nuts and peppermint sticks.  Some years, my grandfather’s Marine buddies would host a Christmas party.  If that party happened, a good many more of my family was around as many of my Uncles were servicemen.

As the eldest kid, I was lucky to be able to go with my dad each year to find our “real” Christmas tree.  There were no Christmas tree lots that I recall.  In those days, we’d bundle up with hats and gloves and head off into the woods somewhere.  Dad, carrying his ax, would go deep into the woods and inspect different trees.  With a lot of dramatics, he’d finally pronounce a tree “THE” perfect tree and then he’d commence to chopping it down.  I don’t remember all his criteria, but I do remember that a tree wouldn’t be perfect if it didn’t have a single firm base.  If a couple of trees grew up together to form a tree, it was nixed as an option.  One year, the one we brought home had a very big bald spot in the back.  Without missing a beat, Mom put the bald part toward the wall and decorated it just as beautifully as she always did. 

Christmas was always a lot about family.  Usually, my mother’s sisters and their families would come to our house, which meant seeing all my cousins.  Sometimes, the oldest of us would watch all the younger ones while our parents went Christmas shopping.  Other times, it was just a chance for late nights, where our parents played cards as all of us kids ran around in the basement playing all manner of games we made up. 

Christmas Eve was probably hectic for my parents.  We’d usually start off the evening at my dad’s parents house.  My dad has a pretty big family and we’d all draw names.  My dad’s mother would always cook a big dinner and presents had to wait until the meal was over and all the dishes were done.  Us kids would run around outside.  We’d probably ask if it was time yet about every five minutes.  On these Christmas Eves, I always remember there being old-fashioned candy around.  To this day, anytime I see bon-bons, I think of my dad’s mother. 

We’d usually leave well after dark and fall asleep on the way home.  As soon as we got through the door of our house, my dad, who was always the most fun, started getting us all worked up and excited.  We could barely contain ourselves and then it would be time for bed.  Every year, my brother and I would make a plan to guard the hallway so that when Santa arrived, we could catch him.  My sister, younger than the two of us, would always be fearful that we were going to scare Santa away.  It was her voice of reason that finally guilted us to bed.  It would be about that time that my dad would bring out the jingle bells and run around outside just to get us even more excited. 

Christmas morning would find the three of us up early.  We’d descend into the living-room and find all the things that Santa left for us.  Each of us with our own distinct areas.  One of my favorite years, Santa brought me a real typewriter.

At some point during the day, my Mom’s sisters would arrive and everyone would compare toys.  My cousins and I would wander off to my room to play with a game or later on, get dressed up.  By mid-afternoon, they would say their farewells and head off to their grandparents. 

Around that time, my father’s mother would come and pick me up to take me to her house.  Usually, the men were out hunting until dark and the house was empty.  My grandmother and I would bake cookies or make divinity candy.  Later in the evening, we’d have a big meal with all the family.  Usually, we’d finish up in her living-room where I’d open up my gifts from this side of my family. 

In the days to come before school started back, it would be a whirlwind of more family and laughter.  Mixed in with all the memories are distinct smells of hot cocoa, real trees, candles, apple cider and gingerbread.  I feel very blessed to have those memories and I cherish them dearly. 

Nowadays, most of the family members that were the glue holding all the rest of us together have passed on.  Those of us in my generation on down have, for the most part, moved away. 

I sincerely believe that traditions are vital to each of us.  For me, they built a sense of comfort and belonging.  Christmas was the one time of year that I saw most of my rather large family.  There was something about having that many people around – it just felt…warm. 

It was also a very spiritual time, though I didn’t mention that much above.  I don’t really recall going to Christmas Eve/Day services; however, the religious aspect of my background was always front and center with prayer, gospel Christmas music, and the story of the Christ-child, which was read or told to us often.  And when I think about decorations, there is one that stands out in particular.

It belonged to my grandmother, my father’s mother, and it was around every year until it finally fell apart (I believe I was around forty or so).  It was a white plastic church, complete with stain glass windows and a steeple (see one like it here).  During Christmas, it set on the mantle over the fireplace.  In the back was a windup music box that played Silent Night.  I recall that many times, someone would wind it up and my whole family would stand in front of the fire and sing along with the music as it played.  I remember not long before my grandmother went into the hospital for the last time, she sent me into the attic for something as she could not longer navigate the stairs.  As my feet hit the last one, I spotted the church tucked away on a shelf.  As I gingerly pulled it forward, I noticed that the plastic was crumbling away.  As delicately as I could, I turned the wind up.  The music box spittered and sputtered and did it’s best to play Silent Night for me one last time.  Since then, I have thought about getting a music box for my own home, but I have never actually done it.  Maybe some traditions are just too painful to continue.

Over the years, I’ve developed new traditions for my husband and kids.  Mostly on a much smaller scale.  Now that our kiddos are gown with kiddos of their own, my husband and I find that we need new traditions for ourselves and over the last few years have began to do that.

What are your Christmas traditions?  I’d love to hear about them!

Until next time, I hope that all of your Christmas traditions are more awesome this year than ever!

~PJ

Hat – Forever 21 (assortment here); Scarf – Cracker Barrel (similar); Jacket – Old Navy; Top – Old Navy; Leggings – Walmart; Boots – Coach (similar here); Handbag – Apt 9 from Khols.

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