My friend, Debbie over at Happy Days wrote beautifully recently about a poignant and heartwarming Christmas memory in her family, and asked others to write their memories.
Christmas memories are more collective than individual for me and revolve around my mother's way of creating Christmas in our hearts and in the hearts of everyone she met. Amidst all the craziness, noise and rough and tumble activities that go along with having 7 children, Mum was always so busy creating happiness for others year 'round, but Christmas was the best.
In October the excitement would begin as Mum assembled the ingredients and began to bake her famous fruitcakes. Once baked, and hopefully, not eaten while they cooled by the MANY cats who shared our life, they were lovingly wrapped in cheesecloth and stored in containers in the hall linen closet. Weekly she would pour some kind of liquor over them (not sure if it was bourbon or rum) and re-wrap them tightly. There was also a lot of other baking happening and the huge freezer in the cellar would begin filling with Swedish tea rings, cranberry bread, date and nut bread, cookies, and all sorts of yeast breads and rolls. No one who visited during the holiday left without a baked gift, adorned with a bow. Fruitcakes were mailed around the world to friends, and every egg customer's purchase was accompanied by a gift from the freezer.
A few weeks before Christmas my grandmother would put up a table tree in her "front room" and often I helped her to take out her precious and very old ornaments. She loved a blue butterfly which I'd made in school....probably 1st or 2nd grade! It was cut out of blue oilcloth and held together with a painted wooden clothespin. I had it until 2004. When my disastrous relationship ended I lost all my old ornaments. I'm over that loss, but it was tough. My grandmother was so very special to me.
Our Christmas tree was purchased a week or so before Christmas and not brought in until Christmas eve. Dad would bring in a heavy chicken feed bucket filled with coal, and that held the trees nicely, well most of the time. Upon occasion a cat or two brought the tree down with a great smashing of bulbs, etc. In the early years, we never saw the decorated tree until Christmas morning. The surprise was so delightful and we could not wait to tip-toe down the stairs, turn on the lights and see all the gifts set carefully around the tree. Decorated sugar cookies adorned the tree along with the delicate glass ornaments, and many handmade ornaments from our school classes, along with a few construction paper chains.
Christmas Eve was my favorite time as a child. All day we would help (or in many cases, hinder) Mum as she prepared for our annual Christmas Eve visit of my godmother, Eleanor and her husband, Jack. There would be the huge punchbowl filled with homemade eggnog, heartily spiked with rum, and many other beautiful canapes and goodies, all arranged on the elegant dining room table. We would help to deck the fireplace mantle with greens and candles, and eagerly await Eleanor's arrival. She'd arrive, bejeweled and dressed to the nines (as Mum would say), always wearing her very elegant mink coat. Without batting one of her false eyelashes, she would lay the mink coat on the floor or a bed so that all the cats could stretch out on it and have a Christmas nap. Somewhere there are pictures of that very event, but......can't find them now. It was a yearly event and we could not wait....Eleanor loved all animals, but cats were her favorites, and I am sure she is at least partially responsible for my enduring cat passion. Those parties seemed so grand to me as a child. In retrospect, I cannot believe how hard my mother worked on making those Christmas events so memorable. After a visit we children were urged to bed lest Santa not stop unless we were asleep, and the adults enjoyed the rest of their party by decorating the tree and setting out gifts.
Christmas morning was a time of "torturous" waiting to open presents until my grandparents would arrive so they could share our excitement. It would seem forever for them to be at the door. After presents, we would have a beautiful Christmas dinner.
I never cease to be amazed at the work that went in to giving us these beautiful, enduring and loving memories. Thank you Mum and Dad......you live in my heart everyday.