Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Christmas Memories

I've been thinking about some of my favourite Christmas memories. Until the mid 1970's, we always had a real tree. My grandfather and father had planted a lot of different types of trees on our property - including evergreens. They were really good for creating wind rows, which helped protect the property during strong winds and storms. Over the years, they purposely planted some of the trees closer together, so that as they grew, some could be cut down as Christmas trees. Eventually, we used most of the ones that were suitable for decorating. Buying a real one was expensive, so we bought an artificial. It wasn't the same, but it was a lot less work. We did break down and buy a couple of real ones over the next few years, but the artificial one was just easier to deal with and we could enjoy the decorations a lot longer.

When I was very little, we used to have a set of "bubble lights". They were the coolest thing! Once the lights got warmed up, they would bubble up this little eye dropper like end. It was really like a mini lava lamp! I loved to watch those things and I was so disappointed when the last one finally burnt out. Mom always tried to find more, but she never did.

My sister is twelve and a half years older than me. One year, when I was about 5, there was a large, shallow box under the tree that was addressed to both of us. What could possibly have been in there that we could BOTH use? It was driving us nuts. There was a rattling noise when we shook it, but it was also very light. Turns out, mom had bought us matching slippers and added peanuts in the shell to throw us off!!

Our family loved disguising gifts. We'd wrap little things inside a number of boxes, or add peanuts for noise or small stones for weight. One year, my brother taped an LP to the bottom of a larger box and added all kinds of junk fillers inside the box. At the bottom of the box was a note that said to turn the box over!

Mom sent me on a mini treasure hunt one year. She had made me a pair of green cords and a matching jacket. She had done all the sewing, while I was in school and had been very careful to make sure that there was no scraps of material or threads lying around when I got home every day. Rather than wrapping it, there was one envelope for me under the tree. Huh? Only one present? It led me to three or four more clues that took me to the front hall closet where the outfit was hanging in an old garment bag! The pants and jacket fit perfectly!

We always opened our gifts on Christmas morning. We were allowed to open our stockings before mom and dad got up, but everything else had to wait until mom, dad and us kids were all in the living room. This could be torture as my dad LOVED to "delay" his entrance. He always made sure that he was last out of bed, then he had to do any number of things before he came in the room. When we still had livestock, he'd go check the animals first. He'd also go to the bathroom, then decide that he should shave while he was in there. He'd brush his teeth too. Then on his way through the kitchen, he'd decide to stop and peel a mandarin orange! We'd all be calling ; "Come on dad - hurry up - PLEASE!" He'd keep hollering "Hold your horses - I'll be there in a minute!" My mom's dad used to do the same thing to them when they were little!

I don't recall Christmas gatherings with my dad's siblings as they were busy with there own families. We did however have gatherings with my moms siblings until the the early 1970's. It finally got to be too hard to coordinate all the schedules to find a suitable time to get together. Around that time, we also started hosting our immediate family Christmas dinner on Boxing Day so that we could all attend. That way some family weren't running between two large family meals with in-laws in one day. Mom didn't care what day we all got together, as long as we were all together at some point.

The day after actually worked quite well for us as it gave her and dad an extra day to get everything ready. Some years, mom was even finishing sewing or knitting for one of the kids or grandkids on Christmas night. I recall many Christmas Days helping mom wrap presents and make some of the food for the next day! It also gave at least one or two family members an extra day to shop as they could hit the Boxing Day sales, before they came to the farm!

Everyone would arrive around 3:30 or so. We'd eat dinner around 5:00 then we'd open gifts. My older brother wore a full beard for many years. He also owned a Santa suit and would dress up for various Christmas parties and go around to visit "kids" of all ages in their neighbourhood and circle of friends. When my nieces and nephews were small, he used to bring the suit with him. He's slip off after supper on some quick errand and change, then come in shouting "HO HO HO"! He'd hand out gifts and candy canes then slip out while the kids were opening gifts! He was always shocked when he'd come back in and find out that he'd missed seeing Santa!

After the gifts were all opened, we'd wash up the dishes from the main course and get the dessert ready. Waiting a while between courses, always gave us a chance to relax a bit and let the dinner digest - besides there were always at least two or three desserts and a tray of baking to choose from - so we had to wait till there was room in our tummies!

In 1980, dad decided to make lamps out of pieces of diamond willow that he found. He cleaned the wood, stained it and drilled the holes for the light fixtures. He bought lamp fixture kits and did all the assembly himself. Mom spent hours looking for just the right type of shade. She finally found some that looked sort of like a rustic burlap that were the right size and shape. The photo that I have doesn't do them justice as the lighting was poor and the plastic was still on the shades. He let each of us choose our own lamp. I picked the second from the left as it had a smaller base that would fit well on my end table and I loved the wood grain. I still have that lamp and it is one of my most cherished possessions.

Somewhere in the early eighties, we started playing a gift game after dessert, Everyone brought at least one wrapped gift under $5.00 that was suitable for male or female. Gag gifts were often included but it could also be practical things like tube socks, candles, rubber scrapers, candy, etc. The gifts were all placed in the middle of the floor. We had two decks of cards. One deck was dealt out to everyone who was participating (each person had three or four cards usually). The second deck was used to draw cards. When one of your cards was pulled, you had to hand it to the dealer and take a gift from the pile and unwrap it so everyone could see it. Then the next card was shown. The owner of it could either take a gift from the pile OR turn to someone with an opened gift and say "May I please have ____?" You had to let them "steal" the gift as long as they remembered to say Please and Thank You - if they forgot either one they lost their turn and whatever they wanted! This would continue until all 52 cards were drawn from the deck. There were usually only about 20 gifts so you knew some stuff was going to get "stolen" and that you would likely get left holding some unwanted "treasures". The "treasures" often made encore appearances in the following years. One gift that made numerous appearances was a can of beans and a roll of toilet paper! You weren't allowed to "hide" gifts so that others might forget what you had. Some people would "steal" just for the sake of "stealing" and making the game more interesting! You quickly learned that if you were too excited about any one gift, the odds are someone would try and steal it. Depending on the gift, you sometimes begged people to "steal" it from you! You just had to hope that one of your cards would come up near the end, so that you could get it back! It usually took about an hour or so to play and was always good for a lot of laughs and good natured teasing!

After loosing so much of my sight in 1990, I didn't go out to the farm very often for Christmas. I'm not a good winter traveller and with all the people and commotion around, I found it a little too overwhelming for my senses. It was very disorienting and difficult for me to move around safely. The last couple of years that dad was around, my sister hosted the dinner at her home about an hour away. She still hosts for the family that wants to come every year. There is still always enough food to feed an army, gifts for everyone and lots of laughs and good cheer!!


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