An Old Fashioned Christmas

Posted on 13 December 2009


Christmas in the 1950's

As Christmas is fast approaching, it inspires memories of some of the simpler holidays that I spent as a child.  With our economy currently at a stand still, you and your family may really enjoy some of the stories of past Christmases that I am going to share with you, as this is how my family used to celebrate Christmas on a shoestring budget.  It was actually fun, too!   It seems that  Christmas  has become so commercialized, we now expect more expensive presents and forget that it is really Jesus whose birthday we are celebrating.

 

When my siblings and I were younger, our dad used to go out to the woods and chop down our Christmas special tree.  With our excitement mounting, we would watch by the window and wait until he came down the path toward the house, dragging the tree behind him.  With a whoosh of cool air and the aroma of fragrant pine, Dad came through the door.  None of the decorating could commence until the tree was placed firmly in the floor stand.  A bit of cursing went on until it was positioned just so and standing proudly without too much of a lean.

 

Gathering around the tree, we then began deciding how it could become more beautiful.

 

Mom used to pop a big bowl of wonderful smelling popcorn.  She got out some needles and thread to make popcorn chains with which to adorn our tree. While we children ate popcorn and threw some at each other, it certainly took us awhile to make the natural garlands remotely long enough to be draped around the tree. Patience certainly is a virtue, because afterwards, our fingers were sore from being poked with the needle; by that time, we were ready to move on to something else.

 

Getting mom’s cookie cutters from the kitchen and assorted crayons, pencils, glue, and aluminum foil along with scissors, we were ready for our next stage of creation.  We traced the cutters around heavy cardboard and construction paper, we made bells, reindeer, stars, fir trees, gingerbread men, and good ole St. Nick.  We cut, glued, colored and wrapped some of our decorations in foil.  We got to go through mom’s sewing box, pressing into service odd scraps of cloth and homeless buttons.  Our ornaments were all homemade.  I can’t remember store-bought ones until much later in my childhood.

 

We also enjoyed making paper chains out of construction paper.  For our tinsel, we chopped up foil and tossed it about onto the tree, using bits of cotton to mimic snow.  Mom even let us use some sugar cookies to hang on the tree.

 

Our little neighbor friends used to make fun of our tree because they had store bought items.  In our hearts, though, our tree was more beautiful because we were truly showering it with our love.  The act of creating our tree each year brought the family closer as we sat together laughing and working toward the same goal.

 

My mom used to really love Christmas.  Since she and my father had six children, she could not do all of her shopping at once . Sometimes she forgot where she had hidden some gifts, so if she missed something we might have received it late when she could finally locate it.  Her wrapping paper could be very inventive: anything from paper bags to the comic pages or newspaper.   Like the curious little kids that we were, we were always hunting for her hiding places.  I remember one year, my two sisters and I discovered her secret stash of goodies.  I think we managed to devour most of it before we were discovered.  I have forgotten what kind of trouble we got into, but certainly our parents were not too happy with us.

 

The gifts we got were not always very expensive, but our parents tried to treat us equally with the amount of gifts that each child received..  Practical gifts were always given as well, such as new socks, underwear, and handkerchiefs.  I remember one Christmas, though, when my dad bought my brother a Red Ryder BB gun.  He was not old enough for such a present, but Dad was just so excited to have a boy to buy for, since three girls preceded his son.   My parents liked to buy gifts that all of their children could share, like sleds and the little red wagon.  I do remember that one year, I was so happy to get a Gretel doll that I would only have to share with my sisters.

 

Mom always tried to treat us to something special in our Christmas sock, such as our favorite candy or snack.  I always loved peanut brittle.  My sister loved chocolate covered cherries, and my brother always loved peanuts in a shell.

 

Such treats when we were younger were limited to special holidays and birthdays, so we were always happy to indulge in homemade goodies.  Mom would save some extra money so she could get the special fixings for cookies.  Having a walnut tree on our property, we kids also had the chore of hulling the nuts and drying them in the fall, a process that turned our hands a sickly yellowish color.  Trying to crack enough to make a batch of fudge was truly a pain, but it was well worth it, once we savored the wonderful flavor. Our fingers and thumbs were smashed a lot with the shelling, and more than a few shells ended up in the mix but we all survived nicely, thank you.

 

The Christmas baking was wonderful.  More of a pastime than a chore, we kids still bickered about whose turn it was to stir, crack eggs, or cut out the dough.. And, it was so much fun to roll out sugar cookies and get dusted with flour.  I remember the  wonderful smell coming from the kitchen and trying to outdo my siblings’ decorating skills.  Eating that first cookie fresh from the oven, almost before it hit the counter, was a superb treat!  We tasted the warm fresh goodness, savoring the sweetness.  Although mom did have to put her foot down so some cookies would be stored for the actual holiday.

 

For dinner, we may not have always had the traditional turkey or ham but our stomachs were full and we were happy.  Once we had meatloaf, which was okay, but least we had something to eat; not every family across America was as lucky.  During the summer, my dad always grew a big garden, so we always had plenty of potatoes to last through the winter, and mom canned vegetables from our garden.  So, we had mashed potatoes with gravy and stuffing with vegetables. For dessert, we might  have banana pudding with our homemade cookies or a special cake.

 

If there was fresh snow, my dad would make us some snow ice-cream.  With all the pollution now I’m not sure how many would venture to try this, but it was a special treat for us.  Here’s the recipe.  Take a big bowl of snow, add some sugar and vanilla and slowly mix up some milk and eat it immediately.

 

After our Christmas meal, we would play some board games or watch a Christmas show on TV together.  This was one of those days where we all stayed  close together enjoying the day.  In general, this was a fairly peaceful day for us.  We kids tried to tone down some of our normal, everyday squabbling in honor of Christ’s birthday.  We sure hated to see the day end.

 

I think this is what Christmas is all about, being with the family and really feeling the spirit of the holiday.  So, this holiday season, you may want to take a few tips from my childhood.  Instead of putting yourself into debt, put a touch of the old fashioned into the season.  It may take longer to make homemade cookies but it brings the family together and the kitchen sure smells great.   With a little ingenuity, you can find some good gifts to give to your friends, and I’ll bet they’ll cherish a homemade gift crafted with love more than they will a store-bought one. 

 

Enjoy your Christmas holidays and your Chanukah and Kwanzaa ones as well!





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8 Responses to “An Old Fashioned Christmas”

  1. Susan says:

    We may be gathering to celebrate the birth of Christ but it’s mothers who bring it all together. Not to disparage the role of fathers, especially as that role has evolved to encompass many traits once considered the exclusive purview of women, however it’s generally women who have the necessary inclination, patience and love to gentle the maelstrom of family dynamics and truly bring the spirit of Christmas alive.

    Merry Christmas to all!

  2. Lois says:

    This is a really sweet article; an antecdote to all the commercialism that now haunts Christmas. Oh, and I remember the Gretel dolls! My mother’s maid of honor bought one for me and one for my sister.

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