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December 24, 2005 - Saturday, 11:05 a.m.
Christmas really is such a nice time of the year. It’s a time for remembering family and the years gone by. Dozens of Christmases filled with dozens of memories. For the most part, even if you didn’t see your extended family much, you usually saw them at this time of the year.
My parent’s became Bahá’ís when I was four years old. We actually got a tree and gifts for a few years from my parents, but by about the time I was seven we quit. It really made sense. There wasn’t a big reason to celebrate at home. We were never at home for Christmas.
We always got in the car a couple days before Christmas and drove to Hunter just outside of Fargo, North Dakota. We lived north of the Twin Cities then. It was only about 4 or 5 hours to Dale’s house, my dad’s brother. We had Christmas for that side of the family, AS a family on the night of the 23rd. I’d see all my cousins on my dad’s side. Phyllis always made a ham at some point in time before we got there, and we ate ham sandwiches and junk all evening. This was really the only time I saw all these cousins, aunts and uncles, other then a few days at the lake in the summer.
My grandma was there, and she’d always have knitted or crocheted something for us – scarves, mittens, hats, slippers… something. We must have done a gift exchange, but all I remember is running around and playing in the basement with my cousins. The adults would sit around a table and visit, telling stories about when they were kids, and current things happening in their lives. There was lots of laughing and a pleasant drone of noise. We kids didn’t usually sit around listening, and now I wish I had done that more. It’s been about 24 years that my grandma has been gone now. It’s this time of year that I think of her and can hear her voice (that very distinct voice she had) in my mind. I can’t even describe it, but it makes me smile.
My father, being a smart man, always attempted to drive anywhere we went at night. As kids we’d almost always fall asleep on the way to where ever we were going. It was dark, and warm, and the hum of the car lulled us. There were four of us until Char came along when I was nine. We’d arrive in the evening in Hunter… and then head out after midnight for my mother’s home. Almost instantly falling asleep after hours of playing.
We’d arrive at the farm in the middle of the night. It was awful to climb out of that warm car into the frigid North Dakota night to walk into the house. Grandma was always awake and happy to see us. We’d walk into the house as though in a dream and practically sleep walk upstairs and crawl into a bed. My mother and father would sit up a bit and visit and then go to bed themselves.
In the morning we’d wake up. It would be Christmas Eve Day and grandma would have lots to do to prepare of Christmas Eve. She always laid out a table of goodies. We’d be able to look at it most of the day, but weren’t to eat anything. We got to help some. Putting the gum drops on the gum drop tree was always a favorite. She had this Styrofoam, pointed cone covered in green wrapping paper, to look like a tree. You’d stand at the table and put toothpick into the flat side of a gum drop and then push the other end of the toothpick into the cone. It looked like a decorated Christmas tree when you got done. THAT is the thing I remember on the table. I remember that I liked gum drops, the regular ones, but not the spicy ones. It seems that she usually used the spicy ones, but I ate them anyway. There was a meat and cheese tray and more cookies and treats then you could shake a stick at.
In the late afternoon before too many people showed up, Grandma would make Oyster Stew for dinner. Now, I hated Oyster Stew (and I still don’t like it), but I loved those little round crackers. :o) She’d make macaroni and tomatoes for most of the kids. I think Camille was the only one that liked Oyster Stew. Grandma knew that we’d be eating junk all night long, and this was her way of giving us something nutritious before we started in on it. Some times my mother’s sister Beverly would show up with her kids for dinner. I was always excited to see them, but as well they were trying to develop their own Christmas traditions and sometimes didn’t come on Christmas Eve.
The BIG event was that Santa always came on Christmas Eve. It was ‘before’ he was going to go out and deliver presents to ALL the children in the world. I don’t recall the moment that I stopped believing in Santa. I just remember that it was always so special to have him show up. We’d all be running around eating and playing and then we’d hear the jingle of bells. My grandmother had, what must have been the bells off of a horses harness. It was about 4 or 5 of them, big bells about 2 ½ inches in diameter, and THAT was THE sound in my mind, of what Santa sleigh sounded like. When we’d hear those bells we’d know he was in the yard and coming up to the house. We would get so excited. There would be a knock on the door and Grandma would let him in. He was in his red suit and always had a sack of gifts. We could sit on his lap and tell him what it was we wanted for Christmas (last minute of course) or we could ask him questions. He’d hand out gifts to everyone and eventually would have to leave, as he had so much to do that evening. He’d wish us all a “Merry Christmas” and head off, bells jingling. This was the high point of Christmas Eve.
THIS was a big thing that Grandma always made sure happened. They had been doing it since my mother was a kid. Often it was my Grandpa played Santa, though he died a little over a year before I was born, so it wasn’t ever him for me. In actuality Grandma often had a neighbor who would come and do it, but still I do recall that my Aunt Cindy was Santa at least ONE year. It was the year that I was old enough to realize that Santa didn’t exist, but I remember watching as my younger sisters, with awe and a little fear on their faces watched Santa. That year Lynn refused to sit on Santa’s lap. She was only about 4 or 5, and he terrified her. She would have NOTHING to do with him, I think she even cried.We usually opened all of our gifts on Christmas Eve. Friends and family would drift in and out of the house all evening. At some point we almost always sang Christmas carols around the piano. I never heard that piano played except on that night. All the other times if any of us kids touched that piano Grandma would call from the other room for us to stop.
Christmas Day, family all came again. Grandma would make a turkey and she’d set the table with the good china. There were ALWAYS a few kids’ tables and I don’t know as I ever sat at the adult table. The food was wonderful and we often spent that afternoon playing cards. Whist. It’s game similar to like Bridge without trump suits. At the beginning of each hand each player either says “Grand” which means the hand will be played trying to take tricks. If everyone “Passes” then the hand is played trying NOT to take tricks. If you don’t play cards this is all gibberish. But farm people, they play cards. What else is there to do in the winter? Especially in North Dakota. Farmers don’t farm in the winter, and that is the time of socializing through out the community.
As kids we played Whist as well as the adults, though as kids we never got to sit at a table with adults. We played with each other looking forward to a day when we’d be deemed old enough to sit at an adult table and play a game of cards. Now other times of the year we did play with the adults, learning the finer point of the game, like how to read your partner and how to give signs to your partner by the cards you did or didn’t slough. (Had to look that word up to make sure I spelled it right. Slough (verb) [sluf] to cast something off, or to discard card (CARD GAMES transitive and intransitive verb to get rid of an unwanted card.) ) This is what you do when you can’t follow suit. Anyway!!
These are the types of memories that flood into my mind at Christmas time. I love the lights and the decorations. I love the smell of the pine tree. If I ever decorate for Christmas again, I’ll be sure to have a real tree, no artificial tree for me. Why bother? :o)
Once I got married we did decorate for Christmas, and buy gifts. My husband wasn’t a Bahá’í. I don’t remember creating any traditions, and 9 years into our marriage we separated. My first Christmas after we separated was spent in Israel visiting my parents, who were living there at the time. The last Christmas we spent together as a family, my parents were already in Israel (had been for only about a month), and the Gulf War was threatening. (It started around that time, though I don’t recall the precise time,)
One of these days, on a wild hair, I might decorate for Christmas. Get a tree, buy some decorations and just let it seep in. I miss those times spent with my extended family. So much has passed since those days. So many are gone, my mother’s brother, sister and her own mother… and of course her father – and then on the other side my Dad’s sister and mother… and again my grandpa. I grew up with no grandpa’s. I’m glad my kids had both of their grandpa’s around.
Obviously I could drone on and on for pages and pages. I probably should stop strolling down memory lane and do something productive. Maybe not. :o)
Merry Christmas. M.