Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Christmas Past Matters to Me

My mom was what they might term today a "Christmas-aholic".  She loved Christmas!!!

Mom was born in the Depression and her parents didn't have two nickels to rub together when they got married in the early 1930's.  Mom was an only child and was doted on by her parents and her 11 Aunts and Uncles as well as her Grandparents, but not monetarily.  My grandmother wrote a letter to one of her older more well-off relatives to borrow $5(a fortune to them I suppose back then)so that their family could move their meager belongings to Norfolk so her husband could get a job at the Naval Shipyard in Norfolk, Virginia.  Life wasn't easy for my mother's parents....first the Depression and then the civilian deprivation during WWII(rationing)and my grandfather's ill health and inability to keep a steady job.  My grandmother ended up the family breadwinner by the 1950's and died at the age of 53 in 1967.

I had a pretty typical middle class childhood.  My parents married very young and struggled financially but by the time I was born our family was solidly in the American middle to upper middle class of the 1960's and 1970's.  Before that, when my brothers were young and I wasn't around yet, I heard our grandparents funded most of my family's Christmas.

Us kids never got special things though throughout the year as was typical during that time. We could expect 1 gift on our birthday and a small amount of presents at Christmas.....usually one big toy gift, some new clothing and a stocking of fruit and candy.  If we were lucky we'd also get a few little things from grandparents.
But Christmas wasn't just about the gifts.  It was about how my mother made Christmas special in other ways.

* The decorating--Mom decorated everywhere for Christmas.  We usually had a big tree and then a small tree.  When I was about 9 I got to put the small tree up in MY bedroom.  I still remember it was one of those silver metallic Pom-Pom trees that had a revolving base and a 4 colored wheel to reflect off of it. 
There were wreaths, holly, mistletoe and candles.  I think mom got her love of Christmas and decorating from her father.  He was an master craftsman and he made a full sized Nativity scene which graced my grandparents front yard every December.
Mom was crafty and also made ornaments for our trees.  One year it was a paint-by-number set of wooden ornies and the kit had sequins to glue onto the finished products too.  One year she made felt ornaments and sent some to our school's Christmas craft bazaar too to raise money for school activities.  She also made little drums(her homage to the little drummer boy), made dancing ladies with lace and chenille stems and wooden doll heads, and another year she made paper-maché dolls.
There was also crochet snowflakes when she was into crocheting.  Not only all of her handmade ornies she bought store-made ornies over the years(a few or a set each year)which were kitchy and very 1970's. And then there were all the ornaments she bought back in the 1950's(and I am sure some of these ones I inherited from her were my grandparents), the fragile glass ones.
I have TONS of ornaments(along with all the decorations she bought after us kids were grown)I inherited from mom.  I would need to put up 10 Christmas trees to use them all! lolz

* The food--Like Thanksgiving, mom went all out with Christmas dinner too, cooking and baking from scratch.  One, what I thought at least, strange tradition on Christmas morning was serving Oyster Stew.  Mom was from South Central Virginia(but she and her parents moved to coastal Virginia when she was five)but I still don't know if this was a family tradition from back in the country where she was born(oysters would have been a high treat once a year back there)or if she decided to embrace this stew later as a tradition after her family moved to the coast where seafood was readily accessible.  I am sure the fact that mom dearly loved oysters in any form/preparation had something to do with it too.  ;-)

* Sometimes a movie or a trip to see a live holiday show on the weekend before Christmas fell. And there was always a trip to see Santa at a local department store with much hoopla.  Many times either my father's employer or some civic organization he was involved in would hold a big party at Christmas where the children were invited.  There were snacks, games, sometimes a show and then Santa would hand out gifts to all the kids(and the gift was usually something your parents gave Santa to give you I found out when I got a little older).

* There was always the special trip Downtown with mom's friends and their daughters together to Christmas shop for gifts for our family and friends.  Searching the stores together for just the right gift to buy for someone with me clutching my dimes and nickels from my allowances, I had saved over months for this grand adventure. And somehow I always worked it out that I had enough gift money left to buy myself a Christmas Book of Life Saver candies. ;-) 
After the shopping was the lunch out at the Chinese restaurant which was our tradition.  I took this tradition and incorporated it into our ritual Christmas eve Chinese dinner out with my family. ;-)

My father handed over some money each Christmas and that was about the extent of his involvement in making Christmas happen at our house.  Mom would take whatever amount he budgeted for the Holiday, cash the check and put it into an envelope in her purse and mark off as she spent the money and hoped it stretched to provide for everything she had to buy.

The only time mom told me about my father actually taking an active role in Christmas was when my brothers were young.  He went toy shopping for them and took great enjoyment in that.  Father didn't have the best home life as a boy and after his father left the family there wasn't much money to throw around on toys so he got to live vicariously through what he bought my brothers. ;-)

In the 70's as my father's career was going well and he has making more money, mom would buy gifts for needy kids too through some local organization or other that asked for donations.  So I've tried to repliate that "share the joy" that mom modeled.

So where is this post going//trying to say?

I saw my future in-law's pictures of their extended family Christmas gathering this past weekend on FB.  Her Christmas tree was over the top!  It looked like it cost $$$ to put together with all the new and shiny baubles on it.....couldn't see the tree for the stuff covering it. lolz  And all the nice and new Christmas decor in the photos too.  I didn't see a glimpse of anything old or handed down. 
Then I see all the Christmas decor they sell in the stores and how a good number of people just chuck all that stuff out when the Holidays are over and buy it new again the following year.

Then I overheard someone in a store shopping for new Christmas stockings, asking their daughter which stockings should be buy this year?
It never occurred to me that people don't use their one and only stocking each year and only replace it if it gets lost, destroyed or worn out.

This is the ONLY Christmas stocking I've ever had!  It's been in service since December 1959.
(Disclaimer-I made myself another stocking after I married and we moved to NJ as "my" stocking had to stay at mom's house for when we came down for Xmas.  I had to have a back-up for Hubs to fill at our house.)

And then I read a fellow blogger's post HERE.
She talked about making Christmas magical for her family.

I especially liked this........"It was the continuity of the decorations showing up every year that gave me comfort and joy"...."I think back on my memories from my childhood memories and reflect on just how grateful I am for them and how much love the feeling when I am drawn back to those simpler times.  This is why I have put up older decorations in my house, to invoke the memories from our families past Christmases for those who live here, and for those who visit during this holiday season."

The newest and the best for Christmas is fine and good but it's not my thing either.  I find comfort in the rituals I knew as a child and incorporating vintage things into my home makes me feel safe and loved and a little closer to my mother who left us 19 years ago this year.

This Christmas rug has been part of every Christmas I've ever known and it will make an appearance every year until I am six feet under.

My oldest brother died in 2007 and my other brother has no children of his own so I inherited mom's Christmas Hoard.  I mutter under my breath every November when I drag it all down but you know, I wouldn't have it any other way.

Merry Christmas!



  1. What a lovely post. I usually use the same decorations over and over and over and over. This year with Mom's issues and being in Portland the week after Thanksgiving, I decided I would not focus on the decorations. I do have two trees up but they have lights only. Tons and tons of lights with bows on top of the trees. Next year I will do better with all the bells and whistles. This year I am just trying to keep my head above water.

  2. Love this post. Mom still has the Nativity scene from the picture on my blog today (a cat destroyed baby jesus so him are replacements since he and a shepherd went mia, I found the replacements at the thrift store to try and replicate the old pieces age). I still have a few of her ornaments and she still puts up a big tree so she has the rest. I love the old stuff, the new stuff just doesn't do it for me. An old work associate of my hubbys posted on facebook her living room which looked like puke green baubles hanging from the ceiling and all brand new green and black balls on the tree. Just not my thing. It looked like a department store. Lol, you can't see my tree either ($59 jobby from Walmart 15 years ago) but it is loaded with family treasures and vintage glass ornaments.

  3. To me, nothing can compare to the decorations of old - now called "vintage", right? I would take those any day over anything in the stores right now!!!! LOVE the stocking!!!!

    Sue L.

  4. Merry Christmas, Sluggy to you and yours. What a lovely blog post. :)

  5. Beautiful post Sluggy. I too love the spirit of the holiday much more than the commercialism and the buying new all the time. I remember always the food and the fun, and the practical gifts, but with a bit of fun like ice skates a few years (always at least a size bigger so that we got a couple years out of them if there was no hand me downs, curling irons or hair dryers, things my mom saved change to buy. I will always remember the doll I got when I was perhaps 1st or second grade. It by no means was the doll of the year, but a basic plastic type doll, that I absolutely loved. I hope my kids have the memories of a Christmas steeped in the history of family.

  6. Oh Slugs you and I are so much alike. I too inherited most of my mother's Christmas hoard and I am loving it! Also who replaces stocking every year? That drives me crazy.

  7. I so agree with you. I lost my wonderful Mom 29 years ago and she loved Christmas just like your Mom. I miss her so much it hurts. She was also talented when it came to decorating with nothing but her real claim to fame was the food. The woman could cook! Her parents were from the Ukraine...think pierogis, cabbage rolls and more.

    I am one of seven and the most sentimental, so I have several of the ornaments and decorations that we had as kids. I like the "old" stuff. There are so many memories associated with each and every item.

    It's not the same now that she is gone. We stumbled along with Dad and the stepmother until he passed away 11 years ago.

    Now, we are not so tight with one another anymore. Petty infighting, jealousy, money and other stupid shit has happened and we all pretty much go it alone. My Mom would be really pissed at the way things are now. I just thank God I have the best husband in the world who always has my back.

    Memories have helped sustain me thru difficult times and I am glad that I had the Mom I had with the traditions that she passed down.

    Holidays are hard...

  8. Oops! Merry Christmas to you as well! :)

  9. I also come from a Christmas loving mom. I have ornaments to cover 4 trees. She lost a lot of her tree ornaments to a tornado in the 1980's. I am heartbroken over the fact that after she downsized and gave me my haul I had lost my stocking from childhood. Apparently during one of our moves it stayed behind.


  10. I only had one stocking ever, also. And, I love Christmas so much. Mama said the people who lived next door to us dragged their tree out of the house with all the lights still on and had the garbage man take it off. I was four when she told me this. Even at that young age, I distinctly remember how strange that seemed to me. Merry Christmas!

  11. What a nice post and homage to your mom. My mom also made Christmas very special. Her house was full of fantastic food, beautiful cookies and lots of people during the holidays. She was the glue that held our family together and after she passed in 2002, it was never the same. The family fell apart, so my own little family started new traditions which included making the holiday smaller as far as decorations and gifts. We just spend more time doing something together. Sadly, this was our first holiday without our daughter so we've been very blue. We decided to go to the beach today (Christmas Day) and we enjoyed it so much that we think we will make it a new tradition every Christmas, weather permitting. Merry Christmas to you and your family.

  12. What a wonderful ode to Christmas!

  13. Christmas memories are priceless, aren't they? I loved reading your special memories Sluggy :-)


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