Wednesday, December 22, 2010

the ghost of christmas past

I had this great idea to do a 12 Days of Christmas series, sharing family traditions, Christmas stories, holiday favorites and the like.  But this pesky thing called life got in the way and time ran out before the words flowed from the keyboard.

So I thought I'd do a couple.  I'm thoughtful like that.  Because I know you find these random stories about me interesting.  [I know, I flatter myself.]

This got pretty long.  I don't usually like to read or write long blog posts.  But they happen.  Just warning you.  Maybe it makes up for the lack of posting as of late.  Happy reading!

As a young child, our Christmas celebrations were very small and simple.  We went to a church that was very conservative and discouraged the celebration of holidays.  However, when Christmas was just a few days away, my parents would decide they needed to celebrate in small fashion.  Until I was about 10 years old, that was Christmas.

Sometimes a small tree.  Sometimes no tree.  I have several ornaments bought on Christmas Eve for our tree.  Because money was always tight, often my dad would find an abandoned Christmas tree lot a day or two before Christmas and we'd give a lonely tree a home.  This became a very fun family tradition as I got older, that we even carried on after my dad had his stroke and couldn't go out and get trees with us.

My mom always put an orange, a nut, and a quarter in our stockings.  Tradition from when she was a kid.  I don't remember any gifts.  I'm sure we got them, probably few and small.  But nothing stands out.  I wasn't sad or disappointed.  I knew no different.  The traditions we had, were what made the holidays fun.  One year, we didn't have stockings, so my mom set everything out on plates for us.  Just our regular dinner plates, but we loved it!

My brother's birthday is on New Year's Eve.  One year my dad took us to Toys R Us on his birthday.  I'm not sure if the intention was to buy him a birthday gift, or to buy everyone something.  All I know is it was his birthday, and I walked out with a Cabbage Patch Kid named Lynette Georgette.  Yes, I remember her name.  In fact, I still have her and her clothes although her shoes are long gone.  I also have her birth certificate. 

One time, I was attempting to clean marks off her face with alcohol or nail polish remover and I accidentally wiped off part of one eye.  But my aunt who is an artist repainted the eye for me. 

When I was 9, we returned to Southern California where my parents were from (I was born & lived in Washington until then) and Christmas was celebrated on a bit of a grander scale.  With four kids and a stay at home mom, gifts were not the focus.  We also now had family around us to celebrate with and aunts, uncles and grandparents to bestow gifts.

In fourth grade our family was marked by my school (my brother was in second grade) as one who could use some help for Christmas.  Days before the holiday, a load of gifts was delivered along with stuffed stockings.  They were simple, cheap stockings.  Someone had cut pieces of ribbon into pieces to form our names and ages, then taped across them.  We had those stockings for years.  Actually, decades.  Only recently did we finally get rid of the last ones.

Santa was never a part of Christmas in our house.  We all eventually learned the story, but my parents didn't give us gifts from "Santa."  However, growing up my dad's house didn't have a fireplace so my grandpa made a fake fireplace, that ended up being passed down to us.  Every year we'd haul it out (it moved to probably 4-5 house with us), buy new "brick" paper for it and hang our stockings with care.  It was really hard to part with it when it was time for my parents to downsize, but we have such great memories!

We've had years of plenty.  One year was "Disney Christmas" at our house.  My dad had a paper route (which we often helped on) in a well-to-do area and the homes were very generous with tips.  I happened to have a thing for Mickey Mouse.  One sister loved all things Winnie the Pooh.  There were many Disney Store boxes under our tree that year.

We've had lean years.  Probably more of those.  It's always been the thought that counted in our family. As we've grown into adulthood, that has faded a bit.  I'd like for it to come back though.  It's too easy to get caught up in material things, in having the latest trend, in getting the hot item that year.  One of my good friends was blessed to always get the biggest ticket items for Christmas.  But my family had a lot more fun.

There was great emphasis on choosing gifts for one another.  We had an annual trip for many years to a local mountain town where we shopped for one another.  When we were young, my grandma took us shopping at the drugstore every year for my parents.  We had a $5 limit per parent.  If we wanted to spend more, we had to convince a sibling to go in with us.  Then we'd climb back in my Grandpa's Pinto and at their house we'd wrap gifts and drink eggnog cut with milk.  Oh the memories.  I miss them, especially at Christmas.

I've been more purposeful in my Christmas shopping this year.  Partially in an effort to stay on budget.  But also, to make sure I get gifts that are meaningful and will be used.  An inexpensive or sale item that gets frequent use is of greater value than something that costs more, just because it's trendy.  I wanted to get gifts my children would actually play with.  Too many times I've picked up things I thought were cute or fun, but really didn't fit them.  I hope I've done well.

I want to have holiday traditions with my children that are fun and memorable.  I don't know if we've established those yet.  They are still young though, so there is time.  I want my children to look back at Christmas' past and remember the family togetherness, the laughter, the meaningful gifts.  I don't want it to be only about what was under the tree.

Thanksgiving and Christmas have always been about family for us.  Family and food.  Good, home cooked food.  Except for See's Candy. That's a must also.   Well, the last few years we've been getting tamales for Christmas, from one of the best Mexican places in town, so I think that counts as home cooked.

I hope these are the holiday traditions we are instilling in our children.  Just writing this was a wonderful reminder of why the holidays have been important to me growing up and I need to focus more on these aspects with the girls.

I'd love to hear a special memory or favorite holiday tradition you had growing up!

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