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Christmas Memories

This is Mom and Dad Christmas of 2006. Look at the pile of presents.

This year is different. So different. Even without Covid, it would still be unbelievably different. Last year we celebrated without my dad who had passed away a few weeks before Christmas. This year we celebrate without either of our parents as Mom passed away in June.

I have been sad and teary today, Christmas Eve, thinking about having Christmas with neither of them here. As siblings, we made the extremely hard decision not to get together for the first time in our lives because of Covid. I then made plans to go to my daughters instead. I thought doing something totally different would help. But it doesn’t.

So, I decided to write about my Christmas memories instead. And celebrate Mom and Dad in my memories.

We grew up poor. Not because my dad didn’t work. He was an extremely hard worker and always worked at least two jobs sometimes more. He just didn’t get paid very well and Mom and he made the decision that Mom would stay home and raise us kids. We weren’t a family that had new clothes, new shoes, new toys or anything like that (except one day a year). We wore thrift sale clothes and we didn’t mind.

When we went to the store, there was no seeing something we wanted and having our parents buy it for us. There just wasn’t money for impulse buying.

But Christmas; Christmas was different. Mom and Dad scrimped and saved all year to make our Christmases special in so many ways.

In our house, no tree was put up and decorated ahead of time. It was put up by my parents after we kids were in bed on Christmas Eve. They were often up most of the night wrapping our gifts to put under that tree. We had orders that we couldn’t come out of our rooms Christmas Day until we heard my dad say, “Merry Christmas” and then it was a stampede of six kids rushing to see the tree and what we got.

I think we always stood just inside the living room looking at the tree in wonder because it was a surprise and always so beautiful. My dad was one who put one piece of tinsel on the tree at a time. They made it so special for us kids.

When my brother, Jimmy, and I were teenagers, they let us stay up and decorate the tree. I remember it was difficult to see the tree after we were done because he and I put so much tinsel on it, and not one piece at a time. I’m surprised Dad didn’t make us take it all back off again and do it again. It was so fun to do and we felt so grown up to be allowed to do it.

After Dad’s “Merry Christmas, there was a rush to sit so we could open the presents. When my Grandma Campbell was still living in the apartment in our house, she always joined us for the gift opening. So, Mom and Dad, six kids, and Grandma. Given that we didn’t have much money, you would have thought the gifts would be sparse. But, no, that’s not how it worked at our house.

Remember, they scrimped and saved all year. There was a huge pile of gifts under the tree every year. And almost every year, we got what we asked for as long as what we asked for was reasonable. I remember all of us kids dreaming through the Sears and Penny’s Christmas catalogs. Hours and hours of browsing and wishing and writing out our lists to cross out and add to over and over again. I think they always tried to get at least one thing on each of our lists and other things besides.

One year, as a young teenager, I asked for a record player of my own. And I asked for a specific record, Aquarius. Well, I got the most beautiful orange portable record player. The record wasn’t the right one. They got me Venus. I never told them it wasn’t the one I asked for and still played it over and over anyway. I played that record player until it completely wore out.

Dad always handed out the gifts. One at a time. And the next one didn’t get handed out until the first had been unwrapped and exclaimed over. It wasn’t so bad when we were kids. But when we had kids and there were scores of people waiting for gifts, one at a time, it took three hours to open them all.

Mom was the mostly silent helper during gift opening. She helped the little ones. She showed us how things worked, things like that. At times, her excitement matched ours though, she was so pleased to see us pleased. So was Dad. I think they lived for Christmas. They started saving for the next Christmas as soon as that one was done.

I don’t remember a lot of Christmas baking being done. Mom didn’t like to cook that much. We had cutout cookies and maybe fudge but I don’t remember much more than that. We always got hard candy for Christmas and that’s what I remember the most eating for sweets at our house on Christmas day. Until we got older and brought treats to share. Then we had all kinds of sweets.

The entire day of Christmas was magical in a way. New toys. New clothes. Games to play together. Candy to eat. I don’t remember having a big meal but I’m sure we must have. I guess food wasn’t much on my mind when I was a child. Gifts and the joy of the day were my focus.

Mom and Dad were like kids in a candy store themselves. They loved sharing Christmas so much with us kids. They were always happy to see our joy and excitement.

As we got older and got married and left home and then had children of our own, Christmas morning was still the time to spend at their house, opening gifts and sharing treats. In the 70’s, Dad bought a video recorder and when you walked in the door you were blinded by its bright light as he recorded us. Those movies are priceless now. That recorder was huge and sat on his shoulder because it was heavy.

Later, they bought a newer one that wasn’t so large. Christmas was the most important day for that to come out for sure. When they were busy with other things, one of us would run it, usually my sister Pam.

When we had kids and they had grandchildren, Christmas exploded. The tree sat on a table so there was more room for gifts under it. And still it was almost buried with gifts. And Dad and Mom had so much joy as they welcomed each of us. Their living room was only about 12’ x 12’ maybe and yet we managed to squeeze probably 30 people in it with more in the kitchen. There was never a speck of open floor space in the living room. And people often sat two deep, kids on laps everywhere.

Mom’s Christmas growing up was full of treats her mom made, the best cookies and divinity and popcorn balls. I’m not sure how many gifts they had but I know her Christmases were special because her mom always made our Christmas Eve celebration with them special. I don’t know how Dad’s were. I guess I don’t remember asking him. But somewhere along their lives, they both developed a love for Christmas that they passed on to all of us.

Christmas day will always belong to my family, even this year when we can’t get together to celebrate. Their grandkids always spent at least Christmas morning at their house. Many stayed for the day. This will be the first for all of us, kids, spouses, grandkids, spouses, great-grandkids and great-great grandkids. The first without the two who started it all and kept it going all these years. But they will always live on in our memories and Christmas Day will always carry a magic in it, their magic.

Merry Christmas Mom and Dad! Now your joy in Christmas is complete as you celebrate with the reason for Christmas this year, Jesus Christ. We miss you. And we will still celebrate because we know that’s what you want for us. It may look different this year and every year from now on, but you have left a Christmas legacy that will live on as long as we live. We love you.

Merry Christmas to all.

4 thoughts on “Christmas Memories”

  1. I was never at your house on Christmas Day, but I do have memories of your mom’s decorations. I also remember your dad having bowls with Brach’s “pick a mix” caramels and candy. One year when I was a teenager your parents gave me a present! They were silver stud earrings, that I cherished so much! Many years, Pam and I rolled out, baked and frosted cookies at the table. Oh the mess we must have made, but your mom was never one to scold us or kick us out of the kitchen. I am proud to have the Campbell’s sugar cookie recipe in my files yet today! The fun part of Campbell’s Christmas was that I was able to share in playing with the toys and listening to the new records….that you kids received. I remember listening to the Venus record, Jean! To say that I wasn’t just as fortunate to have amazing Christmas memories at my own house growing up would not be true, but what a blessing it was to be the lucky girl to have TWO families to share Christmas traditions with! Thanks, Jean, for sharing this post and reminding me once again how special your family was to me. We might have been poor, but what a rich childhood we had!

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