Thursday, December 25, 2014

Our Christmas Traditions by Roseanne Dowell

Dedicated to my loved ones who are no longer here to celebrate with us, but I'll always have the memories, Mom, Dad, Mickey, and Mary. We miss you.  This article was first published in Good Old Days Magazine in December 2004.


I love Christmas.  Always have. It's my favorite holiday and it begins with Thanksgiving.  I'm sure it comes from being raised in a family of Christmas lovers. My mother started baking for the Christmas season the day after Thanksgiving. I
swear she made every type of Christmas cookie available. 
Back then, during the holidays friends and relatives visited often and she always served a plate of cookies or other type of bakery. Every day we came home from school to delicious aroma of something baking. Poppy seed or nut rolls, kuchens of every kind. Mom was quite a baker. On Fridays, we helped make Christmas cookies.
I remember several big 3# potato chip cans full of cookies. When she went out for the evening, she usually called to see if we were behaving. Our reward - three cookies. Of course, we took three from each can. Even with six of us (I had three brothers and two sisters) we didn't make a dent, but I'm pretty sure she knew what we did.
Our Christmas tree went up December 6th, the feast of St. Nicholas. We put our stockings up the night before and in the morning we were rewarded with oranges, apples, and nuts. Sometimes a hair ribbon or clips, maybe a harmonica or other small toy. 
My mother went all out for Christmas with an elaborate village set up under our tree, complete with hills, caves, and houses - all lit and surrounding the nativity set. It took a whole day for her to set it up. I'll never forget watching her  crawl on the floor under the tree. After laying a bed of cotton, she carefully arranged the caves in the back corner, built hills and valleys and placed the houses. She even created streams and ponds with tinfoil and mirrors. Everything led to the nativity set. A cardboard stable held animals along with Mary, Joseph and Jesus. Every year one of us got the privilege of placing baby Jesus in the manger. Once they were in place, she set up the shepherds, wise men, and angels. 
For many years, she place a wooden fence around the whole scene. There was a light bulb in each fence post.  For some reason, she quit setting that up. I wish I had that fence. My older sister had it, but my younger sister got it after Mary passed away. 
I followed that tradition for years and even made a ceramic village. I've since given the village to my youngest daughter and just the nativity set goes under my tree now. 
I'll never forget how the neighbors complained that we put the tree up so early because, of course, their kids wanted their tree up also. Not that it made a difference, with all the work involved, my mom wanted to enjoy it for as long as possible.  One year, when my oldest brother was in the Air Force, he couldn't make it home for Christmas, but promised he'd join us in January. Our tree started to lose it's needles and reluctantly my mom took it down. My father surprised us one day shortly after with another tree in much better condition. We put it up and kept it watered well into February. My brother's leave kept getting changed. Sometime toward the end of February, it was hopeless and we had to take that tree down also. Good thing, because my brother didn't make it home until the end of March.
On Christmas Eve, we had a traditional supper. My aunt, uncle, and four cousins joined us and after dinner, we went to visit my grandparents.
BobaÄūkyOur dinner consisted of Oplatky with honey (holy bread wafers like you receive at communion) mushroom soup, balbaki - little bread balls covered in either poppy seed and honey or sauerkraut. At some point, we added periogis to the menu. 
Every year my mom told the story of  how my uncle put honey on his oplatky and hid it on his chair (so his sibling couldn't take it) while they stood to say grace.  They sat down and he looked around and yelled that someone stole his oplatky. Of course no one had. He suddenly remembered an stood. Yep, there it was stuck to his pants. To follow tradition, I tell the same story every year.
 One of my favorite memories is the year my uncle dressed as Santa Claus. He insisted on wearing the suit to my grandparents. My  older sister and I often rode with them, while some of my male cousins rode with my parents.  On the way, we stopped at a traffic light, a man came out of the bar on the corner. My uncle waved and yelled Merry Christmas. The man stopped, looked in the car, scratched his head, turned and went back into the bar. Guess he thought he needed a few more drinks. The look on his face made us all giggle. Not that it took much back then to make us giggle. Mary, my cousin, and I giggled at just about everything.
I have so many wonderful memories of Christmas. I often sit and reflect on them as Christmas Eve approaches. Time seems to have gone by so quickly. It seems only yesterday my husband and I stared our own family. I carry on many of the traditions passed on from my childhood. In the beginning we put our tree up just like my parent's did. I've since purchased an artificial tree and put it up before Thanksgiving because Christmas is always at one of my children's houses.  Neighbors used to laugh at me for putting it up so early, but I didn't mind. I love the lights and festive atmosphere. As we drive around now, I notice more and more trees up early. It warms my heart. 
Now I make the Christmas Eve dinner  the Saturday before Christmas since everyone can't be here Christmas Eve. My brothers, sister and I still get together Christmas Eve. Some of our children join us, but most visit their in-laws .  I hope I can carry this tradition on for many more years. As I look back on the many blessings I've received through the years, I can't help but feel thankful. 
It's funny, but thinking back through the years, I don't remember the gifts I received, but I remember the fellowship with my uncle, aunt, and cousins and years later with my siblings. My mom had a wonderful sense of humor and she passed it down to us kids. As we married and had children of our own (we blessed my parents with 23 grandchildren), we quit buying gifts for each other. It was just too much. I don't recall how it got started, but usually about a week before Christmas, my sisters, brothers in law, my husband, and I got together and started exchanging joke gifts. My mother joined in after a year or so and my brothers got wind of it and insisted on being included. We moved the gift exchange to Christmas Eve - that was our Christmas with our parents - Those are the gifts I remember. We decorated one of my mother's old white hats (we must have sneaked it out of her house) with flags and miniature Christmas balls. 
Mary was entered into the cash explosion lottery and hoped to have her name drawn - she didn't. Someone got her an outfit to wear for the event if her
name was picked. A pair of wading boots, a yellow raincoat, and hat. I wish I had that picture of her. There were some interesting outfits over the years and we continue the practice to this day. I made a suit for one of my brothers this year. He mentioned he didn't own a suit. A dangerous thing to confess to us, so we remedied the situation. I didn't take a picture of the pants, but I glued ruffles on them like the fancy rubber pants we used to get our children.  
My one brother is a great garbage picker. He found a plaster elephant on his walk with my sister in law one year. Of course he had to have it. That elephant's gotten around the family and I ended up with him last year. My sister glued those little fuzzy balls and feathers on him. I decided to bring him back to normal and pulled all those fancy balls off - not an easy chore mind you. I repainted him and dry brushed him. If I say so myself he looks pretty good and now has a prominent place in my living room. 


Wishing everyone a blessed and Merry Christmas.                                                                                                                                                               
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