A COUNTRY CHRISTMAS
I come to all of those within Life’s struggle with the nth amount of love & due respect. I’ve had several individuals & readers tell me since Thanksgiving that they have Seasonal Blues which visit millions of people this time of year. I find it especially so with the elderly & those of us who were embedded with the true essence of the season. I would like to share some of my own thoughts & memories for the Holidays.
As a child growing up in a Village in the upper mid-west it was the grandest time of year. I couldn’t wait for the Village workers to put up the lighted Holiday symbols on our lamp posts. There was nothing like coming home from school at the end of a blistery day, opening the front door & being assaulted by the odors of my mother’s baking wrap around you in warmth & love. My mother would start baking right after Thanksgiving, first with the fruit cakes, cranberry bread, orange slice bread & Boston steamed bread. Then she’d start on cookies, a dozen different varieties & in the end there would be hundreds of them stored in containers throughout the house. Then came the candy; peanut brittle, fudge, sea foam, divinity, chow mein candy & more.
Growing up, we weren't well off, but we weren't dirt poor either..but we struggled. We couldn't afford to buy gifts outside of our family, so my mother would make up boxes & tins of cookies, candy & bread to give to relatives & friends of the family. My mother was a master baker! Her gifts were greatly appreciated due to her skills in the kitchen & because so many women had entered the work force due to inflation. Outside of the luscious smells that assaulted us when we walked in the door, we were each given a sample from the batches she baked that day. I remember when we would eat supper around the table where we could find a spot since the baked goods consumed the table in all of their glory. My mother wasn’t selfish with her baking or creations, she often allowed us to help her & decorate the cookies…with pieces of candy, frosting & often one of our own decorated masterpieces disappearing into our mouth, over the gums & right into our tummies.
We always had a real Christmas tree decorated with ornaments, handmade decorations & sometimes even strung popcorn. Mom was also involved in craft projects making some of our ornaments, center pieces & wreaths made out of pine cones which was no easy task let me tell you! My father to supplement his income for the season on weekends would cut wood on my grandfather’s farm & sell it to purchase our gifts. I remember one year it was atrociously frigid & my father was cutting wood, when he came into the house & took off his bombardier style hat with the side flaps, his ear lobes had blisters on them from the cold! Then there was the year when he cut up out of lumber a whole gunny sack full of wood blocks that we could erect things to our hearts content…but we didn’t always have the common sense to pick them up. He warned us he would burn them if we didn’t…well eventually he came home to find them on the floor of the front room & true to his word, we were kept warm that night with those blocks!!
Does anyone remember the fake snow kits that came with stencils that you could either put on your windows or spray your tree with? That’s the only thing I didn’t enjoy about the Holidays, it was my job after the Holidays to often scrape those stenciled beauties off the windows with a razor blade & clean the windows, try doing that in sub-zero temperatures!!
We always had my mother & father’s parents over on Christmas Eve…a light supper then the Dining Room table would be laden with oranges, a bowl of mixed nuts, mom’s breads all sliced on plates, candy & cookies placed on numerous plates. It was an incredible sight for a child to behold…all those sweets, treats & love in one place for us to devour. Then Santa would come to give us our presents…we could also open the gifts from my Grandparents. We would then be able to hit the heavily laden table & make pigs of ourselves. It was a grand thing to have all of that sugar in our system, because then we would go to mid-night mass with my mother’s parents.
Christmas Day, relatives would come to our house along with my grandparents…my mother was a master chef as well!! Later in life she must have thought so too for she had her own catering business! Oh yes, those were the times with so many precious memories. Christmas wasn’t about not being able to see the trunk of the Christmas Tree with more than our share of presents & gifts…it was about family, giving to others & celebrating the true essence of a baby’s birthday.
I don’t know when the evolution of our Holiday’s here in America began. There was a time when stores didn’t bring out the decorations & toys until after Halloween…there was a time when we thought of who we would see at Christmas time & not what we would receive. There was a time when people everywhere looked forward to the Holiday’s & not the economic burden & expectations starting after the Fourth of July. Unless you were well off you didn’t think of materialistic elements to make your child happy or become their babysitters. Today the perception that love is shown by purchasing an electronic device for a child’s happiness or babysitter on the home front does not meet the elements of love that so many seek or the quality time spent with family & friends.
Now on the Holiday set aside to give thanks for a bountiful harvest & another year of survival is spent camping out in front of large stores & corporate chains thanking them for kidnapping the meaning of our two most cherished Holidays. Too many prefer the company & comfort of a shard of plastic then a chat with Uncle Guido or perfumed hugs from Aunt Harriet! The financial burden of high expectations at Christmas has robbed too many of the true essence & meaning of Christmas.
Many choose to avoid family gatherings altogether & prefer to send a gift card with little thought of the recipient. We were always told it’s not the gift that counts, but the thought behind it!! How much thought do you suppose goes into a little card of plastic? I know one family that sends out 50 gift cards a yr…each for $25.00 while they’re at Nassau spending some quiet time on the beach for the holiday. I remember when you didn’t ask Santa for a large gift because they cost so much, today the little electronic gizmos & babysitters can cost a fortune. It seems as if everything in life is getting smaller…
There’s one thing the Holiday Evolution cannot take from my person…those endearing memories of so long ago of family, warmth, laughter, love & the celebration of a baby’s birthday. The gifts I received as a child so long ago are no longer, but the joyous memories, smells & sounds of the Holiday Season are with me still.
I leave you as I came with the nth amount of love & due respect.
Lady Gray/Rosemarie P.