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The More I Love Christmas

Every December I reread a Christmas card Husband and I received in 2009 from Aunt Doris and Uncle Hugh. The front reads ‘The older I get, the more I love Christmas’ and inside a poem begins with these words: The older I get the simpler my holiday preparations become, the closer I feel to old friends as I write my Christmas cards, the more fondly I remember Christmases past.

To give credit to the poet I googled the beginning lines and found that same card is available from Walter Drake, but no credit is given to the writer. The words inspire me to step back, away from the hustle and bustle of Christmas, to appreciate Christmas moments, past and present.

Our Christmas tree is a memory tree. Each ornament tells a story. I love the plastic Santa astride a white horse that hung on my family’s tree in the 1950s. I cherish a plastic lantern, with a sprig of plastic holly, that was tied with a red bow onto a big white box Husband gave me in 1968. Inside that big box were smaller boxes and inside the smallest box was my engagement ring. I treasure the paper ornaments that Son and Daughter made in kindergarten. I hang many teacher ornaments that students gave me through the years. I remember a 6th grade girl handing me a wrapped box and saying, “Mom said you better like these. They cost a lot of money.” Now, thirty something years later, I love those birds more than the day I opened her gift.

Last week two Grands, ages 6 and 8, wore their mother’s red dresses and sang in their school Christmas program. As Elaine and Ruth sang Away in a Manger with their classmates, half my heart was in the past when Daughter wore those dresses. She was seven and a second grader when she wore one and sang Silver Bells at a Northeast Elementary School program.

As I drove Ruth and ten-year-old Lou across town a few days ago, they laughed at the music on my Christmas CD. “That’s sounds so old-timey,” one said and burst into a jazzed up version of Joy to World. I turned off the recorded music and we sang. I joined them in White Christmas and We Wish You a Merry Christmas. And my Grands laughed because I sang off key.

There’s no other time of the year that friends and acquaintances greet each other with such enthusiasm. We hold hugs a little longer. Shout Merry Christmas. Smile bigger. And there’s no other time that I enjoy opening mail more. I love Christmas cards. Greetings from friends and family, from across town and across oceans.

I look forward to Christmas Eve candlelight service. The tradition of worshipping and hearing the birth story from the book of Luke and holding a single lit candle while singing Silent Night. Celebrating the miracle of Christmas.

The older I get, the more I realize Christmas is a matter of the heart.

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Tis the Week After Christmas

 

images  ‘Tis the week after Christmas, and it’s time to take down, put away, and clean. To me, this week between Christmas and New Year’s Day seems like a whole week of Mondays. A time to start new, a beginning. On Mondays I am eager and have energy, and I think I can accomplish anything and everything. My day’s to-do list is long and usually morphs into my week’s list.

The giftwrap has to go! All those Christmas gift bags have multiplied and there’s a mess of paper and ribbon. Sort, trash, and pack away! And the sticky kitchen floor has to be mopped. How much honey and sugar was dribbled on it?

Put away Christmas. The dried greenery goes out the door. No more holly berries rolling across the floor. But I really like our big gingerbread house and carolers, one for each of our Grands and their parents. Why hide them away? And the nativity set, the one that’s graced our living room for 48 years, why stash it in a box just because the calendar says January?

Then there’s the dilemma of when to take down the Christmas tree. It’s said that you drag all your baggage and bad luck from last year into the New Year if your tree is up when the bells toll midnight on December 31st. Our Christmas tree is the perfect backdrop for my early morning reading corner and I’m still savoring every ornament that reminds me of Christmases past. If it’s really bad luck to leave a Christmas tree up after the New Year, then 2017 may not be a good year for me.

I could be inspired by my friend Alicia who does the same thing every year during this week. She cleans out drawers, every drawer in her house, she says. She hates that Christmas is over and this task keeps her busy and is her therapy. She doesn’t say, but I know, that she is a super organized and she’s needs everything in place. And she has a garage sale every spring so cleaning out gives her a jump-start. I think I’ll skip Alicia’s therapy.

My to-do list is long. It spans from trashing dry holly branches to reading the most recent Jeffery Archer book. From mopping the sticky kitchen floor to looking at Christmas cards that were glanced at and stacked in a basket. From cleaning to developing pictures and writing.

It’s seems like a good time to go through those hundreds of pictures on my phone. Develop some. Put them in the Grands’ albums. It’s time to make notes of Christmas memories. How my eight Grands acted as if they liked the new house shoes I tramped all over town to buy. How they really liked my new game, Bingo.

The cleaning and putting away can wait. I need quiet and calm. Time to relish Christmas memories and read a good book. There’s always another Monday and a new to-do list.

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It Wouldn’t be Christmas Without….

screen-shot-2016-12-23-at-8-09-58-amWhat are the ‘musts’ for Christmas at your house? I threw that question out to Facebook friends and they commented. Christmas is about family, friends, church services, gifts, games, movies, carols, food, and the nativity.

Traditional food ranks high on everyone’s list. Anne said, “We have the exact same food every year. You can add, but you CANNOT take away. We tried doing something different about thirty years ago and it was a disaster. The kids love their tradition.” So do adults. Vegetable soup, shrimp, spinach balls, fruitcake, dried apple stack cake, coconut cake, gingerbread houses. And while most of my friends enjoy southern foods, two honor their family heritage by eating eat lutefisk and lebkuchen.

Christmas isn’t complete without watching movies. We laugh when we know that Raphie’s father in A Christmas Story won a prize. Laugh before we even see the lamp, shaped like a leg and wearing a fishnet stocking. We celebrate that miracles still happen on 34th street and that George Baily learns that his life really is wonderful and we listen for the angel’s bell.

Two friends shared stories about boxes. Mike wrote that in 1989 he bought an aquarium for his daughters and the filter box was the perfect size for a small Christmas gift. Every year since someone gets the ‘fish box.’ It has continued to be passed around from person to person.

Jo’s story goes back to 1965 when her future mother-in-law wrapped a gift in a Texas Instrument box. After Jo married into the family, she learned about the box and always thought it was fun to see whom Grandma chose to get it. The family grew, and Jo never got the box. It went around the family over and over, and Grandma recorded the year and the box’s recipient on a paper she kept inside the box.

Jo writes, “I have to admit, I knew she loved me, but she never gave me the box and I couldn’t understand why. It was just a box, but not to this family, and you knew you were in if you got The Box. I gave up, but not without heckling Grandma, when she gave the box to my new son-in-law. Then, lo and behold, the last Christmas she was with us, before she died in the spring, I got the box.”

Jo’s family took pictures while she squealed and hugged and carried on like it was a golden box of treasure. The gift inside was a pair of old pillowcases from the 1970s, but never used. Jo says, “The perfect gift for the old box that carried so much clout, and now, I am in charge! I get to pick whose gift goes inside the box.”

I love the stories that friends shared. Myra said it best. “While we may have different rituals and traditions, we find such comfort in the power of consistency. It connects us with those no longer with us.”

That’s exactly why I make dried apple stack cake. Mom did.

Bagged or Wrapped Gifts?

screen-shot-2016-12-15-at-7-46-58-amscreen-shot-2016-12-15-at-7-47-38-amBags, bags, and more bags.  Blue ones with glittery snowflakes. Some with Christmas trees and Santa Claus. Some with angels. I will never use all the gift bags that have accumulated in my Christmas wrapping box. Do they multiply like wire coat hangers?

I told my oldest Grand, age 11, that everyone was getting gifts in bags this year because it’s easier and I have a plethora of bags. He dropped his shoulders and glared that pre-teenage stare. “Really, Gran? Last year you put our gifts in one bag. I didn’t like that. I like separate wrapped gifts.” I’d copied an idea to have a big bag for each of our eight Grands. Inside were two or three wrapped gifts, without ribbons or bows, wrapped loosely in tissue paper.

I plastered my biggest encouraging grin. “David, I know, but I’ve already got eight big bags and I can put smaller bags inside the big ones.”

“Can you just wrap mine? In a box? With ribbon? Probably nobody else cares.” And, really, I’m with David. A traditionalist that likes boxed, wrapped gifts with ribbon and bows.

Remember when Christmas gifts were wrapped in shiny red or green paper and plaid ribbon crisscrossed the package and tied into a big bow? When red and white striped paper was tied with green ribbon? When gold metallic paper and gold ribbon were for very special gifts? Someone would say, “That’s too pretty to open.”

And remember when packages were decorated? Mom saved every wax paper and toilet paper cardboard roll for Christmas wrapping. To make decorative candles, we covered rolls with red paper and cut gold colored flames and then taped candles and flames green packages.

I worked to make Dad’s present look like a shirt. After wrapping the box in solid colored paper, I cut and taped bright red or green paper to be a shirt with a collar. If we didn’t have paper that looked like a tie, I’d draw and color a striped one.

Construction paper worked best to create snow scenes on the front of a package. Green triangle trees with red ribbon roping and white three-circle snowmen. And aluminum foil held its shape to make 3-D bells and was perfect for five-pointed stars.

Some decorated packages were hazardous. Mom saved cut-off tops of tin cans. I glued small pictures from old Christmas cards in the middle of the tin circle and outlined the pictures with glitter. Multi-colored was my favorite. Using Mom’s heavy wire cutting scissors, I cut slits from the edge almost to the center of the tin and carefully bent the edges. I tied these tin wreaths to a bow on packages and some wreaths decorated our Christmas tree.

So this Christmas, I’ll give most gifts in store-bought, mostly recycled, decorative bags. But there will be a few wrapped packages under my tree. Shiny red paper with plaid ribbon. David will know which gifts are his.

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Give a Gift and Get it BAck

 

screen-shot-2016-12-08-at-9-01-59-am            It’s a plain white ten-inch tall teapot with a hexagon shape base. I gave it as a Christmas gift and got it back. When Aunt Doris’s kitchen cabinets were cleaned out after her death, my cousin said, “Here, Susan, this is yours. It has your name on the bottom.” I gladly brought the teapot home.

Every Tuesday night in 1970, I scrubbed and glazed ceramic pieces and made many Christmas gifts and then years later, some were returned. The teapot is my style, but that’s not true of the tall vase with pink and blue flowers that I made for Husband’s grandmother. It looked at home on Granny Ray’s living room French provincial desk and now sits in the top of my closet waiting for the right place. However, I love that the white and gold Christmas candy dish was returned. It brings back memories of Husband and me taking Daughter to his grandparents’ house for her first Christmas. Granny Ray held Daughter, her first great-grandchild. The candy dish, centered on her coffee table, was filled with Granny’s homemade chocolate covered cherry candy.

I made other gifts. A green felt Christmas card holder, decorated with sequins and silver rickrack, hung in Mom’s kitchen. When the glue on the pockets gave way, Mom stitched it, as I should have done. It hung in my kitchen for a few years and now it hangs at Daughter’s house. On my sewing room shelf is a needlepoint purse made from plastic squares. Simple nature designs decorate each square. I did the needlepoint and stitched it into its box shape, and Mom lined it and attached handles. Maybe it’s time I carry it; the Grands would like the butterflies and frogs and birds.

One of my favorite returned Christmas gift is inscribed ‘Presented to Dad by Susan, Allen, Alicia, and Eric. Christmas 1983.’ I’m thankful for the large print in this King James Bible and treasure the few notes Dad wrote in it.

When I was thirty, I thought a gift given, stayed given. Now I know better. And if children are smart, they’ll give gifts they want. Things they’d like to own, but wouldn’t buy for themselves. So I’m making my Christmas wish list with that in mind. What would my children like?

Local artists offer some fine gifts. A wood sculpture or vessel from Brad Sells’ Bark Studio or Andy Lane’s Against the Grain Wood Sculpting workshop. Pottery from Addled Hill Pottery where Susan Stone takes her inspiration from nature. Or how about a piece of jewelry crafted by Lenny and Eva? And then there are artists, like Marilyn and Adrienne, whose paintings could decorate my walls.

How about a jigsaw puzzle or a book? Diamonds? Rubies? Silver? Gold? Or make something homemade? Whatever gift my children choose, I hope it’s something they like because someday it’ll be theirs. That’s just how it works. Give a gift and get it back.

 

 

 

Christmas Moments

Version 2Eight Grands. Five, age 4 and under.   Four adults, the Grands’ parents. We had a full house for three and a half days last week when Son brought his family across country to celebrate Christmas and Daughter’s family came from across town.   As I reflect, those days were filled with moments to hold close. Some moments when a camera wasn’t close or couldn’t be captured in a picture.

Eight-month-old Annie lay on the floor when her four-year-old cousin, Elaine, first saw her. Elaine ran and stretched out on her tummy, just like Annie, with her nose inches from Annie’s. Both giggled and squealed, kicked their feet, waved their arms. Then Elaine gave her little cousin a nose-to-nose kiss.

Neil, age 2 ½, sat in the small rocking chair that was his dad’s and hummed to the Cabbage Patch doll he held tightly. Four-year-old Grands, Elaine and Dean, lay side-by-side playing with the Fisher Price playhouse and garage, toys that their parents once played with. These cousins parked cars and lined up the little people and disagreed about who had what first.

While playing in the bathtub, Neil named the three rubber ducks: baby, big brother, momma and hid them under washcloths. Dean held the biggest one, ten inches tall, and said, “This is biggest rubber ducky ever!” (The duck someone left on my front porch a few months ago. Thank you, whoever you are.)

More food crossed our kitchen counter than Husband and I eat in a month. Young to old voices recited the prayer I learned as a child: “God bless us and bless this food.” Every minute preparing and cleaning up messes was rewarded by Neil’s comment after one bite of sweet potato fries: “YUM! This is really good!” And the Grands declared Husband’s ice cream sandwich cake the best dessert.

Gift opening time. Such chaos. Such smiles. Seven Grands sat on the floor. Baby Annie in her mother’s lap. Son and Son-in-law good naturally wore flashing Rudolph noses, treasures from their stockings; their wives donned oversized plastic gold glasses. Lou, age 8, hugged her Little House on the Prairie books and said, “Thank you! I’m so happy to have all of these! Now I can turn down page corners and a bookmark won’t fall out because these are my very own books.”

Ten-year-old David said, “Oh, look! What a surprise.” after he ripped paper from the Lego set that he had chosen months ago and told me, “This one, Gran.” Ruth, age 6, passed her turn to open a gift and explained, “I know what’s in the big box. I want to open it last.” When she did, she hugged Samantha, her first American Girl doll. Amid the ripped paper, ribbons, and open boxes, 18-month-old Micah, his arms stretched wide, ran to me. “Gen!” he said. He snuggled in my arms.

I almost let the biscuits burn while standing at the kitchen window and watching Son and his nephew, my 10-year old Grand, play basketball. Surely, it wasn’t almost thirty years ago that Son was 10 and shot balls through that same goal.

Then came the morning when Son and Daughter-in-Law packed to fly home. Husband and I walked with their sons to our backyard creek. Dean threw rocks in the water, and said, in a pitiful voice that only a toddler can master, “Gran, I sure wish my cousins would come play with me.”

Even my young Grand knows the best Christmas joy is people, not his new matchbox car garage that I thought was the perfect gift.

Merry Christmas from Husband and me to each of you!

An Unexpected Christmas Gift

imagesChristmas, 1978. All the gifts, except two, had been opened. Two big square boxes wrapped in green foil and tied with red velvet ribbon and huge bows. Boxes big enough for small TVs or large radios or long winter coats.

“Open those two last,” Mom had said. So my brother, sister-in-law, Husband, and I opened all the other gifts – shirts, sweaters, gloves, coffee pots. “Now, Brenda and Susan, you can open your presents. But don’t let each other see.” I was perplexed. What would Mom and Dad get for my sister-in-law and me? And they always ‘evened out’ presents and there wasn’t another gift for my brother or Husband.

I tore a piece of the wrapping paper from a corner and saw a brown cardboard box. Dad said, “Your mother wrapped those gifts a long time ago so she’d be sure to have them ready for you girls.” His smile and wide-open eyes told me he was happy. Must be something he thinks we’ll like, I thought. Mom sat with her arms crossed in her lap and a sheepish grin. In past years, Mom and Dad sometimes made special gifts, like wooden magazine holders and crocheted afghans. Must be something like that.

I ripped the paper off one side of the box. “Is this really what’s inside?” I asked. Dad nodded. Mom grinned. The picture showed a pressure cooker. A big canner. Through the years, many times I’d helped Mom fill her canner with quart jars of green beans or vegetable soup or pears. But I’d never canned anything since I moved away from home. Why did I need a pressure cooker big enough to hold seven quart jars?

“Read the note your mother wrote. It’s inside the box.” Dad said.

“At the end of the instruction book,” Mom added.

By then both Brenda and I had opened our gifts, and with Dad’s help, we lifted shiny, heavy metal pressure canners out of the boxes. I took the top off the canner and found the instruction book inside. As I flipped through it looking for Mom’s handwriting, Dad said, “Read your mother’s note out loud.”

Christmas 1978

            Purchased Oct. 3, 1978 – Crouch’s Hardware

            Byrdstown, TN – Price $51.95

            The price is listed so 40 years from now, you can compare prices. I bought this on the last day of canning pears when I was good & tired. I knew if I waited, I’d decide it’s not a good present since you are smart enough to the get the unspoken message.

            Love Mom & Dad

           I got the message. As did Brenda, my brother, and Husband. Canning pears was the grand finale of my parents’ summer work. For many years, they had grown, harvested, and preserved berries, beans, corn, peas, potatoes, apples, and more – for themselves and for all of us. And they were tired.

Mom grinned. Dad’s face lit up with an ear to ear smile, and he said, “Next year, we’re playing more golf. We’ll grow a garden and even pick most things. And you’ll learn to use a canner just like your mother did.”

The next summer with Mom’s help, I canned beans, made pickles, and froze corn, berries, and apples. I made strawberry jam, grape jelly, and applesauce.

And when Christmas 1979 rolled around, Mom gave me a gift I truly appreciated. Four quarts of canned pears that she and Dad had picked from the tree in their backyard.