On the left is the Christmas tree surrounded by presents from 1954. On the right is the Christmas tree surrounded by presents from 2018. I am struck by how much I have continued the same Christmas traditions from my childhood. The trees look to be about the same size; they seem to have about the same number of ornaments; and they seem to have about the same number of packages beneath them.
It’s interesting to notice that, although subconsciously, I seem to have set ideas about proportion, decoration and sufficient gifts established many years ago. I had a close friend that year whose tree was flocked white and had identical pink glass globes adorning it. I remember thinking how odd that was. I had no desire to have a tree like that when I was grown. Another family had the first fake Christmas tree I had ever seen, but I certainly didn’t want a odor free tree in my future home. I did covet a set of bubble lights that I saw at one friend’s house. Fortunately, my husband bought me a set one year without even knowing that about me.
We open presents Christmas morning. We have stockings for each family member secretly filled by another member. We have Chinese food on Christmas, though, a departure from the roast beef I had every Christmas as a child. I guess I have stepped out a little after all.!
My late mother-in-law did this exquisite needlework tapestry on brown linen with red and blue threads. I hang it each Christmas on the door of our front hall closet, so it is the first thing one sees when entering our home. I have done much needlework in my life, but this work amazes me when I consider how carefully she designed and executed it. I was grateful that my husband brought it home from her estate, knowing how much I would appreciate it.
The “Twelve Days of Christmas” song played throughout my childhood, and my siblings and I would try, usually unsuccessfully, to remember the verses all the way through. Today I am only able to sing the song if I start at the beginning. If you just give me one random group of ladies dancing or lords a-leaping, I am at a loss. I sang it in the school chorus at an assembly and was very happy to be able to slow down and take a deep breath at the phrase “five golden rings” before the song picked up steam again counting down to the final “and a partridge in a pear tree.”
There have been fun depictions of what it would look like if the loved one actually received all those presents and the chaos that would ensue. Parodies also abound. However, the song really points to the twelve days between the celebration of Christmas and Epiphany. Where we live, that twelfth day is celebrated as Three Kings Day with a parade featuring a camel to represent the magi coming to visit the baby Jesus. The Puerto Rican community here goes all out to celebrate that day, and school is even released for the festivities.
As I looked around our decorated(thanks to my grandchildren)home this afternoon, I realized how each object had a particular significance for me. I have never gone in much for decorating for its own sake. Instead I am surrounded by furniture, art and china handed down to me from earlier family members. In fact, until I was in high school, my parents never bought any furniture since so much was already available.
My grandfather was one of seven children whose father worked as a law clerk in Chicago. Money was scarce though adequate. The paper decoration above hung in their home one hundred years ago. It cheers me to think of him every Christmas and to remember his family’s frugality. Two favorite recipes came from his family. “Carpenter (his last name) spaghetti was just spaghetti noodles and grated “rat” cheese. No meat. No tomatoes. The other was canned chipped beef in white sauce over toast. Before I left home, my mother insisted that I learn to make white sauce in a double boiler. She felt it was an essential skill. I haven’t made it in many years, but I still have my grandmother’s double boiler and could still mix butter, flour and milk if forced into service.
I will share a couple more possessions over the next couple of days. I hope it encourages you to be grateful once again for the things handed down.
The gifts need to go back to church tomorrow, so while I was wrapping them (the ones in the foreground) I went ahead and wrapped the presents for the grandkids. They are coming to church with us on Christmas Eve and then will return Christmas morning to tear into their packages.
I used to wait to wrap the kids’ presents until a few days before Christmas, but they have become skilled at finding my hiding places. Now they will just have to shake and poke the presents to guess what’s inside. It seems silly sometimes to wrap things since the paper usually gets discarded. However, I do enjoy seeing that display of red and white under the tree.
When I was three years old, I was given a present wrapped in special light blue paper with an angel with real feather wings on the front. This was an extravagant wrapping, unlike anything I had ever seen, and I insisted that we keep the paper. After that first year my mother always wrapped my best present in that paper. I knew to look for the angel package and open it last.
(The photo also gives you a little glimpse of our home. It is heated with steam radiators, seen on the right. It was built in 1929 and has wide baseboards and a chair rail all around the dining room. The paint and wallpaper were applied by me when we moved in years ago, and they have held up wonderfully. I have enjoyed pictures of other blogging friends’ homes, and wanted to share ours.)
My family was not religious and we celebrated Christmas purely as a secular day. But curiously one of the things we did each year once we had a television in 1955 was to watch “Amahl and The Night Visitors.” This operetta by Gian Menotti was commissioned by NBC and was shown throughout my childhood at Christmas time. Though it eventually was presented in color, we had only a black and white television, so we always saw it that way.
The story centers around a very poor family of a mother and a boy with a leg injury requiring him to walk with a long cane. The boy, prone to exaggerating, has trouble convincing his mother that he has seen a very bright star. Then she is furious when he insists there are three kings at the door. But in fact these are THE three kings on their way following THE star to pay homage to the baby Jesus.
Because the role requires a boy soprano, every couple of years there was a new Amahl. We argued each year about which boy sang the role best. We never discussed the meaning of the play, nor did we absorb its religious significance.
This week I listened to the forty-five minute performance available on line. As an adult, I came to have Christian faith and the operetta moved me deeply. Still part of the emotional impact hearing it again came from remembering the experience of being at peace with my family together. I will always be grateful for that yearly respite from the usual turmoil at home. Thanks Amahl.
The decorations across the street were still deflated when I went to take pictures of them, so I went down the street to this display. Both of these scenes are in the same front yard. I am not sure what the figure in the background represents, but the bear and Santa in his hot air balloon are pretty obvious. They also have lighted boxes, lit stockings and the last set of those icicle lights around. This yard used to be populated with those straw reindeer, but they must not have survived last winter’s series of blizzards.
If you joined by blog since last Christmas, you may not have seen our display. I repeat it below:
We keep these large displays in the downstairs bath tub( providing startled reactions from visitors who don’t expect them!) The angel was in several pieces and my husband nearly gave up reassembling her this year. But a night’s sleep gave him an idea of a sturdy repair, and she is back in the front yard. The blue lights on the mountain laurel in the background are very luminous and can be seen two blocks away. They are my grandchildren’s favorites.
Now I am off to wrap presents for the church drive. Each year we take gift tags with specific requests from people in homeless shelters or transitional housing home to fulfill. My grandkids picked out the gifts on Saturday, including toy trucks for a nine year old and a comforter for a 72 year old. It’s gratifying to have a concrete way to give to others.
In our neighborhood we like outdoor Christmas decorations. These have followed different trends over the years. When we first moved here, the trend was for icicle streams of lights, lots of little lights that hung in strings off the gutters. We had left behind large glass bulbs in strings where if one went out the whole string went out. In my childhood this had produced gales of laughter as we exchanged bulbs one after another until we found the burnt out culprit.
Next the trend seemed to be some sort of bright light beam aimed at the house. This wasn’t very exciting and didn’t seem to catch on. The following year brought a host of deer made out of some kind of straw like material. The deer were posed in various ways and filled the front yards. However, they weren’t lit so they lacked appeal after dark.
Now came inflatable yard figures animated by a fan blowing to fill them. For some reason, presumably to save electricity, most of these are turned off in the day. This leaves the sight shown above. Here our neighbors have a Santa and a Grinch lying deflated on the ground. Since this is the trend for 2018, our area is littered with these forlorn decorations.
Tonight I will try to take a photo of an inflated display. Until then…