Before the medical mayhem descended on me, I had planned on writing a post about Christmas. Here it is. A bit delayed.
One of my brothers is in the process of moving to a new, smaller home. In the process, he’s trying to get his pile o’stuff down to size. He came across something really interesting. When his eldest son was little, he had a holiday school project. It involved getting his grandparents to write a description of what Christmas was like when they were little. My brother found my parents’ Christmas recollection, written in cursive, of course. He sent me a copy.
My mother grew up in Freehold, New Jersey in the 1920s. She recalled that Christmas began:
“…at Thanksgiving time when my mother made fruit cake. Then, every once in a while, she poured a little brandy over it. That was served to our visitors at Christmas. My Dad went to the apple farms and got a bushel of Delicious, Golden Delicious, and McIntosh each. These he sent to my uncle and two cousins a basket full to each after he had mixed them…
“On Christmas eve, we went to bed early (at least I did). I guess that is when the rest of the family got ready for Christmas morning. I was the youngest of the family and even when I no longer believed in Santa I didn’t admit it. I wasn’t about to lose out on a good thing. It was at Thanksgiving that I started to look for hidden presents.
“Christmas morning we got up early, took a quick look at the tree, and unopened presents and went to seven o’clock mass. When we came home we ate breakfast and then opened our gifts. I guess we ate fast and I didn’t do much praying.
“When I was very young we had a tree [that] had metal holders for candles that were never lit. My parents were afraid of a fire because the tree never came down until the feast of the Epiphany… “
So it seems my mother was quite the scamp. And who knew that fruit cake was actually something people enjoyed. (I suppose the brandy helped.) And giving apples was very low tech.
My father was four years older. He was from Mechanicville, New York. He recalled:
“On the day before Christmas we purchased a tree at the local grocery. We waited on Christmas eve until the smaller children were in bed. We then put the tree in the parlor and decorated it.
“Christmas morning we rose early and attended church. After church, we opened our presents and had our Christmas breakfast.
“There was a great assortment of presents. The older children received skis, sleds, skates, and other toys that older children enjoy. The younger children received dolls, books and clothing. As a rule the youngest would rather play with the empty boxes and wrappings than play with toys.
“Christmas afternoon we had dinner of turkey, cranberries, ice cream and pies. It was a very busy day for everyone.
“I hope you have a Happy Christmas in a tradition like ours.”
The summary of gifts makes me suspect that my father’s recollection compressed many Christmases into one. His was not a well to do family.
(The list of goodies made me recall the Flexible Flyer sled we had and our toboggan. The latter was the vehicle that nearly did my four brothers and me in on the scary descent from the first tee at Albany municipal golf course one winter. If you are ever in Albany when there is snow on the ground, go to Muni as it is called. The best sledding I’ve ever seen.)
Reading these letters, I could hear my parents’ voices in my head. That is a pretty cool Christmas gift indeed.