Here I am, at Christmastime again. Every year, for a minute or two, I miss Christmases past. Tonight, I just happened to be thinking of our house in Tampa. (I looked at the house on Google Maps, but it is just trashy. Four boats, and at least four vehicles on the front lawn. What a shame.) We lived on a cul-de-sac with eight or nine other families. Each house had lights and some had Christmas figures – snowmen, (nearly unknown in Florida,) Santa and his reindeer, big plastic candy canes and a crèche or two. Lawnview Court looked pretty when Christmas came around.
We didn’t use a live tree, at least on the Christmases I remember. But after Dad set up the artificial tree, it looked healthier and fuller than any evergreen that grew in Florida. The least breakable ornaments belonged on the bottom branches, because no matter what, our cats always played around under the tree. We had family ornaments, some from my grandparents, and each of us put a bulb on the branch as high up as we could reach. Mom and Dad decorated the top of the tree, and then came tinsel time.
Tinsel time didn’t involve the happy abandon one might expect from the name. No tossing tinsel at the tree. Mom passed out small handfuls of tinsel to each of us. Then, those of us with the patience put tinsel on that tree one little silver string at a time. By the end, maybe only one or two kids would be left to finish the tree – the rest of got bored and headed off in other directions. But when all the tinsel was on the tree, that tree looked beautiful, which proves that Mom had the right idea, after all.
The lights on our tree were bigger than the LEDs we use now. The bulb of each light had a tendency to get very hot, so don’t knock on into tree spines. Dad strung up large outdoor lights around the door of the house, and on the front porch railing. I think I remember an outdoor tree, but I may be thinking of Bath.
I’m sure we had other traditions; when we children got a little older, a real treat was to attend the Christmas Eve service at the church, either at 8, or at midnight. When we got old enough to sing in the choir, we attended both services. The later service involved candlelight and carols, and then home to fall into bed.
Before bed, each of us brought a sock to hang – we had no fireplace, but Mom always managed to make a chunk of the wall look enough like a mantel to give us the idea. During those early years, we didn’t have fancy stockings; we each hung a sock, after we’d checked to be sure they weren’t frayed or ready to rip. Dad always hung a giant, wool, hunting sock – probably the only one in Florida on any given holiday. Dad’s stocking always got a big block of wood; we kids thought that Dad must have been bad, to get a split log from Santa in his stocking. Then, after we went to bed, Mom and Dad would fill each of our socks pretty much the same way: an orange in the toes, or maybe two, then an apple. We always got new toothbrushes in our stockings – to this day I buy a new toothbrush right before Christmas, carrying on the family tradition.
Each of us got a special gift in our stocking – it might be a necklace, or a deck of cards, or it might be one of those little naked troll dolls with the purple or blue or pink hair sticking straight up. I remember when I got one; trolls were all the rage – finding one in my stocking at Christmas was a treat. To top off each stocking, we’d have candy canes, and maybe little finger-sized chocolate Santas. I remember the Christmas I was old enough to help. We were living in Maine by then, but stockings always had an orange in the bottom. (When Mom was a kid, oranges in Maine were very rare, so to have one in a Christmas stocking was a thrill.)
When we got out of bed, Christmas morning, we were allowed to open one gift. Then we all went to the dining room to eat breakfast. My mom must have been exhausted, but she cooked breakfast for the nine of us. We were careful to behave, as best we could, which wasn’t always so well, given the occasion.
One kid played Santa, handing out the gifts to their recipients around the room.We each received a special gift, as well; something we particularly wanted. Among the packages of socks and hand-knitted vests from my grandparents, there would sit these special packages, wrapped in different paper from all the others. These gifts were from Santa.
After we had opened our presents, we might have had lunch, or a snack. One aunt and uncle or another would send a Figi’s tray, with nuts, and cheeses, and sausages. Between that and the candy canes, I don’t remember eating a lot of regular lunch that day. In the afternoon, we would split to play with new toys, or sit in the family room and watch television. We often had popcorn sometime on Christmas, usually in the afternoon.
Often, I know, I remember sad or angry times in my youth. In fact, as a young kid, I was sometimes miserable. But for this Christmas, anyway, I choose to remember a happy time.