Christmas is quickly closing in and I wanted to make sure I got a note of Holiday Cheer out to everyone.
Sincerely hope everyone has an opportunity to spend some time with family and friends this weekend. Like a lot of you, our family is spread far and wide with the nephews and nieces all grown and raising families of their own. Where has the time gone? It’s impossible to assemble our families for Christmas with all of the demands on everyone’s time to be at ‘the relatives’ house for dinner, so we have all of my family visit for a weekend in August. Works just great. No problems with weather, icy roads, etc and it takes a lot of pressure off from everyone. We feed and house about 20 for a weekend of swimming, tubing, fishing, cookouts, a few fireworks, treasure hunts for the little one’s and wish everyone Merry Christmas and Happy Birthday all rolled into one!!! Works just great and everyone seems to enjoy it.
So our Christmas will be spent visiting my dad, father in law, sister and wife’s brother for a day or two. Pretty low key and a nice time to reminisce.
I grew up on a farm in north central Iowa with my mother, dad and one sister. Dad rented 80 acres and had a few milk cows, some chickens, a couple of pigs and a big garden. Our house was a very modest old farmhouse built in the late 1800’s with no running water. The central heat was provided by a big old oil burner that sat in the middle of the house which was our living room. I don’t think there was a bit of insulation in that old house as you never ever sat near a window in the winter. Our entertainment center was an old upright piano my sister played and a radio.
As a kid, the week leading up to Christmas included neighbors usually coming to our house and making candy. Each neighbor seemed to have a specialty, be it fudge, divinity, peanut brittle, popcorn balls, taffy, etc. All the elements of heaven for a kid. The last day of school before the Christmas break, my sister and I participated in school programs in the old single room schoolhouse. The little kids got to be at the front of the room closer to the stove and the adults in the back of the room. A neighbor showed up in a Santa Claus suit and handed out brown paper bags with a couple of pieces of hard ribbon candy, a few nuts and maybe an apple or orange. At home, our Christmas tree was cut from a grove across the road from the house and decorated with strings of cranberries, popcorn balls, glass balls, lights and silver tinsel. Christmas eve was spent at church with a reenactment of the nativity, singing and another round of brown paper bags filled with with the traditional ribbon candy and those nasty little hard candies filled with that soft raspberry filling.
Christmas day was the traditional jump out of bed at the crack of dawn and open your gifts. Kids today would be aghast at the gifts we were absolutely thrilled with. Nothing extravagant. Usually one toy you really lusted after all year like a bow and arrow set, a jackknife, a bat and ball. But then there was the usual new shirt, pants, socks etc. It took me years to figure out the clothes was stuff I was gonna get anyway, but hey, it was Christmas so it was now a gift!!!! There was always one MAJOR gift and a number of smaller items. We never questioned our situation or felt deprived, it was just the way it was!
My wife thinks I’m a bit strange (for a number of reasons) but one of the highlights of Christmas for me was the food. Christmas eve was oyster stew and chili. There was usually a bag of fresh tangerines, some delicious apples AND a large wood bowl filled with all kinds of exotic nuts. Brazil nuts, hazelnuts, pecans, walnuts, you name it. In the middle of the bowl sat a pair of nut crackers and a couple of picks to get the pieces of nut out of the shell. I can remember sitting at the kitchen table trying to learn to fine art of cracking pecans trying to get the entire nut out without breaking it. And if you were successful, it almost seemed a shame to eat it, but we did! And the tangerines were delicious. Hard to believe there was a point in time when fresh fruit wasn’t always in season and if you found it, it was expensive. We had peaches and pears year round, but in the ‘off season’ like winter, they came out of one of the jars that mom had canned that summer.
After church, part of mom’s family would come to our house or we went to their house for dinner. We always made it a point to get together with family even though it might mean a long drive on ice or snow. There was a wool blanket in the back seat of the car that helped keep my sister and I warm on the ride in really cold weather. Dinner was ham. Not turkey, not roast beef, HAM. You never asked what was for dinner because you knew it was Christmas, so it was ham.
One of the most exciting Christmas’ was the year my uncle Bud brought along a TV to our house. He had a little 9″ (obviously black and white) TV that we set up in the living room. I don’t recall what we watched, but I definitely remember getting the rabbit ears set up to pick up a signal was no small feat. Get them pointed in the right direction and then add some strips of aluminum foil on the ends for a signal boost. Oh, did I forget to tell you…..there was only one channel available where we were.
By New Years Day, the Christmas tree was dismantled. The tree was set up in the yard and suet or bread crusts were hung in the tree for the birds to feast on. The most grueling part of taking down the tree was salvaging the tinsel. For some reason, probably going back to my parents youth, we had to take each strand of tinsel and wrap it around a piece of cardboard, ready to use the next year.
It’s hard to believe in these modern times we’re going to be making memories for todays kids, but we are. If we do our part, 50 years from now, these kids will look back with the same fondness of the Christmas holiday as most of us do today. Believe me, it doesn’t take lots of money, extravagant gifts or trips to make wonderful memories. It’s traditions, being together, doing simple things together, sharing, kind words and deeds. Sharing the Christmas spirit.
If anyone has Christmas memories they’d like to share, please do. Smiles and happiness are contagious so let’s spread something good around!!!