31 December 2023

Christmas Past


Most families seem to have their own traditions for the winter holidays in December, many of which get passed down from generation to generation. Some stem from the family's religion, some start up from events going on in the world, and some come from family circumstances.

Many of ours came from family circumstances. Because my dad, an electronics engineer, job-hopped a lot, we frequently found ourselves living in states far from the one my grandparents lived in. For several years, we (two adults and three kids) would get in the Kaiser (the car before the Studebaker) and drive from Ft. Worth, or Roswell, or Albuquerque, or Minot to the small town of Newton, Iowa, in order to spend Christmas with my grandparents. And, because we couldn't be in two places at the same time, we would spend Christmas Eve at my paternal grandparent's house where we kids got to open the presents they gave us, and we would spend Christmas morning at the maternal grandparents where we opened the gifts they gave us. In later years, after the grandparents were gone and we stayed home, the tradition morphed into we only got to open one present on Christmas Eve and the rest on Christmas morning. The latter tradition got passed down to our kids and then from them to their kids.

Because we kids were always shaking the gift-wrapped packages and trying to guess what items were inside, the folks would often resort to trickery. Sometimes, the package contained only a single note which led to a treasure hunt to find another note or more, while the real gift was concealed behind the couch or in a closet. Loose marbles might be placed inside a gift box to roll around and confuse the receiver of the gift, or an inflated small balloon might be taped to the box before it was gift-wrapped. The gift giver was only restrained by his or her imagination.

Food itself often became a holiday tradition. My German grandmother always made a gooseberry pie for my dad and a rhubarb (not cut with strawberries or other fruit) pie for me. My pie always had sugar crystals on the top crust. Plus, she made her pie crusts with homemade lard. My mom was the last in the line of pie makers to make her pie crusts with Crisco. Both grandma and mom cooked up cranberries in sugar water to serve at the Christmas table. None of that weak cranberry sauce in a can. In later years, mom added marshmallows to the boiling mixture and stirred them in until they melted. When the mixture cooled in the refrigerator, a beautiful white froth raised to the surface of the cranberry sauce. It makes for a nice presentation. I still make my cranberry sauce in the same way.

And, don't forget those retold Christmas stories that come out from Christmas Past. Like the year my folks gave me a B-B gun, but I wasn't allowed to handle it until after dad gave me safety lessons. My dad then inadvertently put a B-B into the ceiling. That was a quick end to Lesson One. Mom was not happy with the new addition to the ceiling in her living room. Of course, the year I got an electric train, I had to wait until my dad and uncles got through playing with it before I could start.

Naturally, kids could be mischievous too. Like the year I rigged the stairs at my aunt's house with string and camel bells so us kids would be awakened when Santa came. Unfortunately, one of my uncles tripped the camel bell alarm system way too early on his way to the bathroom.

Regardless of your religion, I'm sure you have your own traditions, foods and family stories. Now is the time to lay aside any thoughts of hard times you may have had in life and instead warm your heart with any of the pleasant memories you might have. And, if you want to share those warm memories of good times, please feel free to tell those stories here.

HAPPY HOLIDAYS to all.....

Now go make some new family traditions to talk about.

       .....and may 2024 be a year of many publications !!!


  1. Are we related? My Dad had a pair of Kaisers (the company that would later sponsor the Ellery Queen television show), my cousin fired a slug into their living room ceiling (gun safes were not a thing back then), and my father's family lived near Newton, Marshalltown, Zearing, and helped found the village of Clemons. Oh, and Newton is the home of the best cheeses made in the US, namely Maytag blue cheese.

    Happy New Year, RT!

  2. And happy holidays to you too, and thanks for the homely article.

  3. Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!


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