David's Reformed Church Congregation

David's Reformed Church Congregation
Congregation of David's Reformed Church, Montgomery Co, Ohio, Circa, 1900

Friday, December 24, 2010

Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories - December 24 - Christmas Eve Memories

Christmas Eve, 1968
Me, playing with my cousin, Patty

Today's prompt is Christmas Eve Memories and I have many memories that revolve around this special night.  It's interesting to note how many Christmas Eve "traditions" have evolved as I have grown older.  When I was very young, up until I was about 10 years old, we spent each and every Christmas Eve with my mother's side of the family.  The best thing about those nights was the fact that there were so many of us at the party. My mother had 4 brothers and 1 sister and they were all married with families as well, so when we got together, we were a formidible bunch!   The age range between the cousins was such that there was almost always someone else around that was close to your own age, so there were plenty of others to play with.  It was wonderful!  As the years went by and the children grew, the family "tradition" changed and those celebrations ended as the attention turned towards the individual families and their schedules, etc.. When I was 10 years old, my oldest brother was engaged and for a few years we spent Christmas Eve with the family of my sister-in-law.  This time the tradition was held at our home and after some simple sandwiches and present opening, we would all head to church for the Christmas Eve services.  After a few years of our blended family get-togethers, we spent a couple of Christmas Eve nights at home with just my parents, my brother, and my grandmother and we even opened all of our gifts on the night before Christmas once. This was a change in the tradition that we decided we did not like at all since it took away all the anticipation of Christmas morning.  The year after my graduation from high school, I was married and of course, the question of how we would spend our Christmas was of extreme importance to us.  We decided to host my husband's family at our home that Christmas Eve and and we would spend Christmas Day with my family. Thus began a tradition that continues to this day.  I'm sure that one day this tradition will also change, but if and when it does, it will certainly be replaced by another; just as sweet and just as cherished.    Merry Christmas to all and may we carry the spirit of Christmas in our hearts throughout the New Year!

Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories - December 23 - Christmas Sweetheart Memories

This picture was taken at Ludlow Falls, Christmas, 1982

Today's prompt asks us to share Christmas Sweetheart Memories and just as I began thinking about what my post should say, I happened to see an ornament hanging on my tree from Christmas, 1980. It's a beautiful, blue and white ball with a painting of a Christmas sleigh and it states "First Christmas Together". Now, 1980 was not the first year we were married, but it was the first Christmas my husband and I shared together and that was the first ornament we ever purchased.  We had started dating in August and a few weeks later, we were engaged.  It was quick and we shocked many people, but here we are sharing our 30th Christmas together.  I remember that first Christmas like it was yesterday.  We spent many days shopping together for our families and for each other.  We purchased giant stockings and had our names written on them in glitter.  Our goal was to fill each stocking with goodies for each other.  It was quite a challenge, but we managed to do it!  Interestingly enough after all these years I think I can still remember everything I bought for him, but I don't remember one thing he bought for me.
 I'm not sure if that's good or bad!
At the time we bought that first ornament, we had no idea what the Lord had in store for our future; three children, several different jobs, meeting new friends, saying goodbye to loved ones.  We have shared much joy in these past 30 years and, although it sounds cliche',  the time has flown by.  Our children have grown from babies with wonder-filled eyes to compassionate, loving adults waiting to begin their own family Christmas traditions.  My prayer and my hope is that they will find the same joy that began with our very first "sweetheart" Christmas in 1980. 

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories - December 22 - Christmas and Deceased Relatives

This is a reprint of the Advent Calendar post written for December 22, 2009.

                                                      The luminaries at David's Cemetery

Today's post is a response to the Geneabloggers.com Advent Calendar prompt which asks, Christmas and Deceased Relatives
Did your family visit the cemetery at Christmas? How did your family honor deceased family members at Christmas?

When I was a child, I don't remember visiting the cemetery at Christmas. We usually took my grandmother to place flowers on the gravesite of my great grandmother around Memorial Day, but for the most part, the only time I stepped foot into any cemetery was for a funeral service. I guess most people don't enjoy being in one unless they absolutley have to. Up until a few years ago, I had no idea how many of my ancestors burial places are located in David's Cemetery in Kettering. Once I began my research, I "found" them and I have been visting them regularly ever since.

But, Christmastime visits became more important after my grandparents passed away and especially after my father went home to Heaven almost 17 years ago. The cemetery provides the service of allowing the purchase of Christmas wreaths that are placed on the gravesites on December 1st. A few years ago, they began the practice of placing over 4,000 luminaries throughout the cemetery grounds on Christmas Eve. They begin at 5:00 pm and are kept lit until midnight, weather permitting. I can't tell you how beautiful it is or what an incredibly peaceful feeling it gives me to go to the cemetery on that night. It's not that I believe that my loved ones remain in the cemetery, but being there gives me the freedom to stop and remember and shed a few tears as I think about all the wonderful Christmases I spent with them.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories - December 21- Christmas Music

                 The Crosby singing doll, complete with microphone and pipe!
Okay. I'll admit it.  I love Christmas music. I have been known to start listening to Christmas carols in September.   I have so many favorites, it's hard to narrow them down to just a few.  Before radio stations finally began playing Christmas music all day, I used to buy tons of CD's and cassette tapes just so I could play them in the car to get me in the spirit for shopping.   Of course, I love Bing Crosby's Christmas songs, especially "White Christmas" and Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin are very welcome in my home.  I practically wore out both of The Carpenter's Christmas record albums.  "Merry Christmas, Darling" is a particular favorite for me.    But the carols that praise the meaning of Christmas are the best.  "Silent Night" and "Away in a Manger" are beautiful in their simplicity and truth.  One cd that I must listen to each year is that of John Denver's Christmas music.   "A Baby Just Like You", "Aspenglow",   and "Christmas Like a Lullaby" are  the perfect songs for listening to while gazing at the twinkling lights on the tree. I simply can't get enough of it.  So, while some people are lamenting how sick they are of Christmas carols, you can bet, I'm probably right here at my computer with my speakers playing those moonlight and mistletoe tunes!

Monday, December 20, 2010

Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories - December 20 - Religious Services

When I was very young, we attended the United Church of Christ that my maternal great great grandparents had had a large role in creating.  Originally a German Reformed church, it had "converted" to the United Church of Christ some years before I was born.  I think I was probably around 4 years old when I caught on to the fact that when the advent candles were being lit on the altar, it was getting close to Christmas.  I don't recall whether or not Christmas Eve services were ever held there, but there may have been.
When I was 9 years old we began attending the First Baptist Church of Kettering, Ohio.  My memories of my years there are quite vivid and very precious.  We began having candlelight Christmas Eve services at 11:30 at night when I was probably about 10 or 11 years old.  Earlier in the evening, we would spend time with my new sister in law's family and afterwards we would dress up and head to church. 

I still believe there is no better way to spend Christmas Eve than to share a special time of worship, singing praise to Jesus, the reason for the season!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories - December 19 - Christmas Shopping

This post is a reprint of my Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories post from December, 2009.

I had to laugh when I saw today's Advent Calendar subject was Christmas shopping. A few days ago I was telling my sons about an incident that happened when I was just 4 years old, but I remember it like it was yesterday. It was Christmas, 1966 and it was still a big deal to go shopping in downtown Dayton. It was a Saturday afternoon and my parents were going to leave me with my grandparents and my older brothers while they went shopping. I wasn't used to being left at home and the thought of going "downtown" sounded like a great prospect. I really wanted to go and I can remember crying something awful! Mom and Dad decided to make a deal with me. I could go shopping with them, or I could have one of my Christmas presents now. Well, obviously the idea of getting a present "right now" outweighed the thought of going to a place that only might be fun. Of course, I decided that the present was the best choice. I tore into that wrapping paper with gusto and I wasn't disappointed! It was Nancy Sinatra's "These Boots are Made for Walkin' " LP. I certainly thought I was quite grown up.   Oh, how I wanted a pair of boots like Nancy's! I have never been able to part with that album to this day. Isn't it funny how events like these burn so deeply into our memories? I'm sure that my parents never thought that present was anything special, but I think about it often and it always makes me smile. By the way, I would still REALLY like to have those boots.
Me in a pair of boots, many years after this story.  Not like Nancy's but still loved them!

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories - December 18 - Christmas Stockings

Our Christmas Stockings hang under our baby pictures in our hallway.

                     My son's "official" stockings; these are the ones that we filled.

I have always loved Christmas stockings.  When I was young we hung our stockings on the inside of our front door.  I can recall my brothers receiving things like mouthwash and deodorant in their stockings when they were teenagers.  I don't remember anything specifically that was placed in mine, but I assume it was small candies or jewelry.  After we moved to our new home in 1973, I don't recall the stockings ever being hung again since my brothers were now grown up and I believe my stocking had pretty much fallen apart by that time.  
When my husband and I were first engaged, we found two gigantic stockings while shopping at a mall and we paid extra to have our names placed on the top.  That first year, we challenged each other to buy enough presents to fill the entire stocking for the other.  What fun we had trying to find enough presents to fit into that space!  We still have those stockings 30 years later, although we certainly don't try to fill them anymore!   When our sons were born, my husband's parents bought each of them a special "plush" stocking with the head of a stuffed bear on top of each. Those are their "official" stockings and the ones that were filled each year.   In our hallway, under each of our corresponding baby pictures, we have  special stockings.  Mine is knitted with tiny bears all over it. At the time we purchased it, I was collecting stuffed bears, so it seemed quite appropriate!  My husband's stocking, of course, has a "Cincinnati Bengals" design, while the designs on my son's stockings include Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck, Snoopy, and a Teddy Bear.  We added a new stocking last year in honor of our daughter in law and it pictures an angel.  Throughout the years, each of our dog's has always had his or her own stocking as well.  There have been a few years when we may not have filled the stockings, but they always have their own special place in our holiday decorating.  It wouldn't be the same without them!

Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories - December 17 - Grab Bag - Big Brothers

Me and My Big Brothers
Christmas, 1974 brought about a big change in our family Christmas traditions.  The previous June, my oldest brother had gotten married and he and his wife were living in Williamsburg, Kentucky while he attended college. For the first time, my brother would not be spending his entire Christmas holiday with us and for the next couple of years, my brother and sister-in-law would spend the week before Christmas with her family and they would share Christmas Day and the week following with us.  I especially enjoyed taking care of their cat, Fudgie while they were home. That is, until we figured out that I was allergic to cats and I had to stop bringing her into my bedroom.  It was quite an adjustment for my sister in law, as well. since she was used to opening her presents on Christmas Eve, while we were early Christmas morning risers.  That first year, she had a very "rude" awakening when I misread the numbers on my clock and woke her up at 5:00 am rather than 6:00!
The following Christmas brought another big adjustment when my next brother was also attending college.  Having grown up in a household that was constantly active, it had been difficult getting used to being the only child living at home.  Adding to that difficulty was the fact that my mother had had to go back to work and my father was forced to start working second shift.  Therefore, the idea of all of them being home for Christmas was a joyful thought.  Just being there together, watching "Family Feud" in the morning or "White Christmas" in the evening was priceless.  One Christmas I remember in particular, my brother, Brian, had arrived home the day of my last day of school before Christmas vacation.  During that winter, I was involved in after school bowling and he surprised me by picking me up at the bowling alley. What a delight to look up and see him walking down the hallway.   Upon arriving at home, I was happy to see that he had decorated the house with fresh pine greenery and holly berries that he had brought with home with him from Kentucky.  We would stay up late watching old reruns of  "The Honeymooners" and "You Bet Your Life" together.  I surely dreaded New Year's Eve that year because I knew it would be time for my siblings to head back to Williamsburg too soon. 
If I was lucky, we would have a snowstorm large enough to keep them all from traveling back to school for a few days, and it did indeed happen once or twice during those years.  Alas, time flew by very quickly and before we knew it, they had graduated and begun their careers and their own lives and the extended stays at "home" ended.  Even after nearly 30 years married with a family of my own, I often miss those wonderful times when we were all at home, just enjoying being together.   For me, that is the best thing about the Christmas season.
The Family as it Was, 1979

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories - December 16 - Christmas at School

I wrote in my holiday parties post about the Rolling Fields Elementary School Christmas parties, so today I will tell you about a Christmas party we had when I was in high school. 
By the time you reach your teen years, school Christmas parties are a thing of the past.  As a matter of fact, kids today are lucky if they are even allowed "holiday" parties at school when they are young.  But, in my senior year, the kids in my American History class decided that we should have a Christmas party.  My teacher explained that she could not have the party herself, but that we were welcome to "plan" it ourselves.  So, one of the girls started a list and went around the room, asking each one of us what we might be able to bring to our "party".  It might have started off on a lark, but by the end of the day, we had a very large list of food and drinks that we would be sharing on the last day of school before Christmas break.  We actually found ourselves getting excited at the thought of having a good, old-fashioned school Christmas party.  On the day of the party, our teacher signed out one of the few tv/video recorder combos that were available at the school.  I don't remember what we watched, but I do remember a movie playing as we each passed out the goodies we brought to share.  It didn't last as long as the parties we had when we were children and the rest of the school wasn't having one at the same time, but it certainly was a great deal of fun!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories - December 14 - Holiday Happenings- Mom & Dad's Anniversary

Mom and Dad
December 14, 1951

I wish today's prompt had actually come on December 14 because yesterday my parents would have been married for 59 years.   On December 14, 1951, my mom and dad were married in a ceremony in front of their family and close friends at the Fairmont Presbyterian Church in Kettering, Ohio.  Dad had enlisted in the Air Force and would soon be leaving for basic training and they wanted to be married before he left.  It wasn't a fancy or elaborate wedding, but it lasted for 42 years, before we lost my dad to pancreatic cancer. I can remember mom telling me about the night they got married. There was a terrible snow and ice storm and my great grandfather even refused to drive the 40 minutes to the wedding from Sabina because he was worried about the roads. After the wedding, my parents had to drive to Sabina because that's where they were spending their wedding night. It was a treacherous trip and they were very thankful to make it to my grandmother's house safely.

During my childhood, I can't remember mom and dad ever making a big fuss over their anniversary.  Sometimes, but rarely, they would go out to dinner. Once, I can remember making a big fuss over it and they actually took me along to dinner with them.  There was more than one occasion when they would each take Christmas presents out from under the tree and present them as anniversary presents to each other.  When I was very little, I would make anniversary cards for them with glitter and construction paper at school.  I found a couple of them a few months ago in a box of old papers at mom and dad's house.

In 1986, when they were going to celebrate their 35th wedding anniversary, we decided we wanted to give them a party because we had been unable to do anything special on their silver anniversary.  Mom and Dad both tried to talk us out of it and said that we should just wait until their 50th.  But, we didn't want to wait and I'm so glad we went ahead with the party as planned.  It was just a small event with some close friends whom they had known for years. We held it at their home and my sister in law made a small wedding cake. We just had some punch and sandwiches.  Everyone told stories of how they had met my parents and we played a few rounds of "The Newlywed Game".  Thank heaven for videotape because we captured all those moments to share again and again.   My aunt placed an article in my father's hometown newspaper detailing the event.

It taught me the lesson that we should never wait to celebrate because we are not promised tomorrow.  Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories - December 14 - Fruitcake

My husband tells the story of how, when he was a child, he had his first piece of fruitcake.  Unlike the word, "eggnog", the name "fruitcake" seemed to describe something he would find enjoyable.  Fruit was something he liked and cake was certainly on his list of favorite things to eat.  Therefore, fruitcake, with it's combination of two taste sensations, should be delicious, he reasoned.  He found out quickly that things don't always taste the way they are described and he didn't like that tradition at all.  As he has gotten older, he has developed an appreciation for fruitcake, especially one that he purchased once at a "dollar" store and can't seem to replicate.  I on the other hand have only tasted one fruitcake that I could describe as being edible.  A former boss of mine, who happened to be a Presbyterian minister and counselor, made the tastiest fruitcake I have ever had.  I have no idea what ingredients she used, although I suspect there may have been a good deal of rum in the cake.  Regardless, I had the opportunity of working with her over the period of two Christmas seasons and after the first year, I have to admit, I looked forward to receiving one of the minicakes that she distributed to all our co-workers.  It's one of my fondest memories of working  for her.  But, since then I have never found another fruitcake that  I would consider "tasty".  But, I'm willing to keep trying! 

Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories - December 13 - Holiday Travel

Christmas in Sabina
My grandma, my dad, and my aunt

Holiday travel for my family consisted of driving about 40 minutes or so to my aunt's house in Sabina.  It wasn't a long journey, but it was one that I looked forward to every year.  When I was very young, I thought the song "Over the River and Through the Woods" was written about my own grandmother's home since just outside of my hometown, the suburbs quickly became a farm laden countryside. We crossed many a bridge and crossed by quite a bit of wood-covered landscapes.  There was nothing like driving past those old barns and seeing the horses and cows in the pasture on a cold Christmas morning.  We would alternate with my dad's side of the family and if they came to our house on Thanksgiving we would go to theirs on Christmas. The following year, we would switch.  I always knew that when our station wagon pulled up the driveway, there would be loving arms waiting to welcome us in.  It was a wonderful time and we continued the tradition until the family grew too large to accomodate everyone's schedules.  There was nothing like the food, the hugs, the conversation, and the fun that we all had when we were together.  It was truly what Christmas is all about and I miss it very much. 

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories - December 12 - Charitable/Volunteer Work

  One of the best things I have ever been a part of was the Toys for Tots program sponsored by the U.S. Marine Corps.   My husband was the Cubmaster of a Cub Scout Pack at our sons' school and I was a den leader.  We were privileged to participate in several Toys for Tots programs during those years.  Each one was different and special in it's own way.  The first year, we had two Marines actually come to our pack meeting.  Each one held a bag and the scouts marched up to the men, one by one. They gave each Marine a salute as the placed their donated toys into the bag.  What a memorable night for the boys and their families.  The next year, we were invited as a pack to the Veteran's Administration Center in Dayton, along with scout troops and packs from all over the area.  On that occasion, the boys marched up to the stage and placed their toys under a large Christmas tree. It was fun and very meaningful.  The year after that, a big event was staged at a shopping mall in nearby Beavercreek. It was a little challenging just finding placed to park at a mall so close to Christmas.  Once inside, the crowd made it difficult for the Marines to put on the program, but the kids still were able to donate their gifts to try to make sure that every child had a gift for Christmas.   I truly hope we helped to teach those scouts the lesson that it is "better to give than to receive".  Merry Christmas!

Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories - December 10 - Christmas Gifts- The Man from U.N.C.L.E. Gun

Best gift ever!

                                                        My dad, trying to put the gun together

For the first time, I have decided to write an "extra" post for a blog subject.  I just had to share the story of one of my brother's favorite gifts ever. 
In the movie "A Christmas Story",  Ralphie wants a "Red Ryder Carbine Action BB Gun".  In the 1960's the coolest gun on the market was not a BB gun, but a Man from U.N.C.L.E. spy set.  My brother loved that television show and his favorite character was Napoleon Solo.  On Christmas morning, he was thrilled to pieces when he opened that present and revealed the entire gun set.  This gun had a special spy scope and something like looked like a pocket knife, but when you pushed a button, it became a handgun.  Nowadays, there would be all kinds of anti-violence groups up in arms about a toy like this, but we thought it was awesome! You never knew when you would encounter some evil underworld figure out here in the suburbs and we had to be prepared!   I was able to capture these photographs of that Christmas morning from an old 8mm movie film we have.  As much as we hated that bright light shining on us on those holiday mornings, I'm so grateful that mom and dad invested in a movie camera!
My brother played with that gun set until most of the guns fell apart. Eventually, one of the guns ended up being incinerated in a bonfire that my father started in the backyard one night.  He thought the gun wasn't any good anymore so he thought he would just go ahead and get rid of it.  Unfortunately, he didn't ask my brother beforehand so by the time he found out that my brother still wanted the gun, it was too late!  We never let my dad hear the end of that and the story still lives in family lore to this day. 

There are always one or two presents that stand out in our minds from our childhoods.  Whether it was something good or maybe something not quite so good, it's good to take them out every once in a while and remember!

Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories - December 11 - Other Traditions

This prompt asks if we celebrate other traditions during Christmastime such as Kwanza or Hanukkah. Being an American family of German, English, Irish, and Scottish ancestry, neither of those holidays are ones which we celebrate.  We do have traditions that are tied to the Christmas season, however and they are events which we certainly look forward to each year.  At least one or two nights during the weeks preceding Christmas, we try to set aside an evening to watch our favorite Christmas movies.  These include every version of  "A Christmas Carol" that we can get our hands on.  Our favorite by far is Alastair Sims portrayal of Ebenezer Scrooge, but we love the new versions with George C. Scott and Patrick Stewart as well.  Henry Winkler's  "An American Christmas Carol" is special to us as well since it portrays depression-era America.  Of course, "It's A Wonderful Life" is not to be missed and we enjoy the Marlo Thomas version "It Happened One Christmas" as well.  But, we especially enjoy collecting dvd's and vhs tapes of old, obscure and  also favorite television shows.   The "I Love Lucy" and "The Honeymooners" Christmas episodes are among our favorites, as are the Jack Benny and Abbott and Costello's holiday shows.  Yes, we now know the jokes by heart, but that is half the fun.  One favorite video is one we purchased for just a couple of dollars last year.  It contains old Christmas toy commercials.  How much fun it is to see advertisements for the toys we wanted when we were kids!  It sparks wonderful memories and makes for great conversation starters.   As a matter of fact, I think it's time to get those movies started! Merry Christmas!
Watch the "I Love Lucy" Christmas Episode here

Friday, December 10, 2010

Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories - December 10 - Christmas Gifts

I am using today's Advent Calendar post about Christmas gifts to defend myself.  For many years, my family has been espousing the fact that I was a spoiled brat as a child based upon an incident that was filmed on Christmas Day, 1965.  The problem with the film is that it doesn't tell the entire story, which is what I intend to do now. 

I was 3 years old.  We had just had a joyous Christmas Eve with my mother's side of the family, followed by a Christmas morning on which I had received a treasure trove of gifts from both Santa Claus and my parents.  I must have really liked "Mary Poppins" because I received not only a doll in her image, but also her signature umbrella and traveling bag.  But for me, like it is for many children, a majority of the fun of receiving a gift was being handed a beautifully wrapped surprise and guessing what it could be.  The anticipation surrounding the moment when we would "tear into the paper" and discover something new and wonderful was as important as the gift itself.  So, on that Christmas morning, even as I was opening those presents under our tree, I was telling myself that even when I had finished opening all these presents, I still had ONE more present to open at my grandma's house in Sabina.  After my brothers and I packed up a couple of our favorite new presents to take along with us, we headed to Grandma's house.  After a torturously long wait, (was it REALLY important to eat lunch before we opened presents?) it was finally time......
All of the presents surrounded a small Christmas tree in one of Grandma's bedrooms in her tiny house.  As all of the kids ran into the room, my aunt and my grandmother started reading the tags and handing out the gifts. As each present was given out, my excitement was building. - Where was mine?  My brothers and my cousins were ripping into their gifts, wrapping paper flying in all directions. Suddenly, it was my turn! And there was my present.....
Sitting on the floor....
Under the tree.......
Was a doll in a box.....
Just sitting there....doing nothing.

The unwrapped doll

It wasn't even a doll I recognized.  And she was sitting there in a naked box.  No bows.  No paper to tear. No surprise.

Now, had I been 10, or maybe even 6 or 7, I could have been gracious and said , "Oh, thank you, Grandma. She's beautiful".  But I was 3 years old and I was heartbroken.  I didn't want to cry, so my disappointment came out by tantrum.  Dad's movie camera caught me standing with my arms crossed, shaking my head "no" as my grandma stood on the other side of the room showing me the doll in her box, while my mother stands behind me trying to convince me to take the wonderful present. 

 They just didn't understand.  It wasn't that I didn't like the doll. (as a matter of fact, there is later footage showing me giving the doll a bottle)  I was that I had been looking forward to having a present to open.  That was part of the fun and I didn't get to do that.  To this day, I don't know and I never will know, why Grandma chose to keep the gift unwrapped.  It could be that she got it too late to wrap it, or maybe she even ran out of paper before she got to it. (Remember, these were the days when stores closed early on Christmas Eve.) Whatever the case, the present wasn't wrapped and it caused me to make a scene that still lives in our family lore.
So, to keep the record straight for posterity, I wasn't a spoiled brat......really I wasn't.  And, I promise to always make the presentation of the gift as important as the present itself.
By the way, I love you, Grandma! :)

                                                 After I got over my disappointment!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories - December 9 - Grab Bag "The 12 Days of Christmas"

Since today is a "Grab Bag" entry, I get to choose my own subject and I have been waiting for this one!
This event did not take place when I was a child and my own children were not yet born, but it is by far one of my favorite Christmas memories.  It happened during the Christmas season of 1985.  I was working as a receptionist for a counseling center and I had been having a hard time getting into the spirit of the season.  During lunch one day, I picked up a magazine and read a story entitled "The Holiday Phantom".  In the story, a family took the song "The Twelve Days of Christmas" quite literally and they anonymously left gifts each day for 12 days at the doorstep of a family.  I wish I could tell you the name of the author or even the name of the magazine, but I can't.  What I can tell you is that that writer inspired my husband and I become "holiday phantoms" ourselves and we chose my sister in law and her family as our "victims".  Beginning on December 13, we left a new gift, each night, on their front porch.  We decided to begin with a small artificial Christmas tree.  We found a tree and then went shopping for a "partridge" to put "in the tree".  After doing some shopping, we purchased a silver bird that "clipped" onto a branch. Perfect. We also wrote a poem to go with the tree.  Now, to leave the tree and get away without being caught.   No problem. My husband figured he could sneak up onto the darkened porch and knock on the door and hide by the side of the house in the bushes until they had found the tree and closed the door.  He knocked on the door,  ran and then listened as the door was opened and the kids found the tree.  So far, so good. We got away with it.  It was so much fun hearing our nephews tell us the story of how they had opened the door to find their Christmas tree and how exciting it was.  Each day, we had prepared something to leave at the door. Candles, candy, etc. and we included a poem to go with each.   Since they weren't expecting anyone on the second night, my husband was easily able to get away from the house without be detected again, but once the kids were onto the fact that something was going to be showing up each night, they became determined to "catch" the culprit!

The boys were eager to "catch the culprit"

Now, things got really interesting.  Each night, not only did we have to come up with a new item to leave, my husband had to formulate a new escape plan.  By the fifth night, it was becoming more difficult to hide since the boys were now waiting by the door with shoes on, ready to run out into the night.  It also had rained and then snowed, so the ground had a coating of ice, making running treacherous.
On one night, my husband planned to run around the side of their house, jump the fence, run through their backyard, jump the other fence, cross into a neighbors yard and walk back home by going around the block. He knocked on the door, heard the yells and foot stomping in the house and began to make his escape.  He jumped the fence and began running through the backyard, forgetting that his sister had a clothesline strung across that portion of the yard.  Boom! He hit the clothesline and went flying! Somehow, he made it back up and over the back fence without getting caught.  The next night, he decided to cross into the next door neighbors yard instead of going through the back of the yard. Unfortunately, he forgot that our neighbor happened to be a former police officer, who, upon hearing his dogs creating a commotion outside, came outside with gun drawn!  My husband put his hands up and said "It's just me. It's just me."  To which our dear neighbor said, "Who are you?".  Luckily, he managed to explain to the ex-police officer what he was doing and at the same time, remain unidentified as the "Holiday Phantom".  By this time, we were both having such a good time with the "secret" gift giving that we were sad that it would soon be over.  The final night was going to be a real challenge since the family would all be at our home for Christmas Eve and it would be difficult to explain my husband's absence for a few minutes.  We were able to get my father in law to run some interference while my husband jogged to his sister's home and left the final gift, along with a poem that listed all the previous nights gifts.  (I was told later, that the order of the gifts that I had written was incorrect! I'm not sure what I did to mess it up, but that just adds to the story!)  I think the family enjoyed the experience of being given the gifts, but no more  than we enjoyed the experience of giving the gifts. We have had many laughs about it in the years since and I have often wanted to do it again for someone else.  None of the gifts was expensive, but the joy it gave us was priceless.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories - December 8 - Christmas Cookies

I think one thing we all share is the love of Christmas cookies. My problem is that I love them too much! Sugar, chocolate chip, candy cane, oatmeal; it doesn't matter. I am an equal opportunity eater! I have never been too adventuresome in my own cookie baking. However, for Christmas, 1988, my husband and I decided to come up with something fun to do with our 2 year old and it actually worked out pretty nicely!
I had always wanted to make a gingerbread house, but it seemed a little bit more difficult than what I was ready to try.  So, we decided to try a scaled down, simple version using square shortbread cookies from the store.  We bought several packages of "Lorna Doone" type cookies, cans of ready made frosting, tubes of decorator frosting, and various "ornamental" candies such as tiny cinnamon candies, sprinkles, etc.
Starting with a cookie base, we used the decorator icing as our "cement", holding the sides of the houses to the base and to each other.  The most difficult part was forming the triangled roof.  It was a little messy holding the cookies together until the frosting hardened enough to keep them in place, but that was the fun part.  Once the houses were together, we decorated them in various ways.  A few we gave to friends whose houses we "replicated" in frosting! It made quite an impression when had our display sitting on the dessert tables on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.  Everyone liked them so much that they didn't want to eat them!
We have never done this again, but just thinking about it makes me want to give it another try!

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories - December 7 - Christmas Parties

Growing up in Kettering in the late 1960's and early 70's, Christmas parties in school were wonderful.  Note that I said "Christmas" parties. Before politcal correctness, when we were taught Christmas songs in music  class and when the name Jesus could be spoken in class without retribution, we were allowed to have Christmas parties.
The day before Christmas vacation was no ordinary day.  The first half of the day was the Christmas party. Each student was to bring a small gift, marked "for a boy" or "for a girl".  The "homeroom mothers"  provided cookies, cupcakes, or drinks. We would all be seated at our desks as the "goodies" were distributed.  Then, we might play a game or complete a puzzle. Sometimes there were even prizes for the winners. Then, names or numbers would be drawn to choose who would pick the next gift. The first Christmas present of the year to be opened! Squeals of delight would fill the room as we all compared what we had received .  By now it was lunchtime.  All "sugared" up and brimming with excitement we would march to the lunchroom, everyone talking at once.  Rushing through lunch and playing through recess, we were now ready for the big finale.  After the classroom was clean and neat, we would line up, march to the gymnasium/cafeteria where the lunch tables were still standing and we would take our seats.  Our attention was turned toward the stage, where the movie screen was being lowered.  The principal would give his annual "Behave yourselves or you will be sent to the office to sit with me" speech.  The lights would go down and the show would begin. First up would usually be a  Jiminy Cricket, "You are a Human Animal" cartoon and then the film would begin. It was almost always a Walt Disney movie, like "The Absent-Minded Professor" or "A Tiger Walks".  We were always afraid that the bell would ring before we got to see the end of the movie, the end of the day always came after the end of the movie.
   It didn't get any better than that; a party, a movie, a two week vacation from school and Christmas was just a couple of days away!
As wonderful as Christmas still is today, it's hard to beat those days when I was a child, it was Christmas,  and "all was right with the world!"

Monday, December 6, 2010

Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories - December 6 - Santa Claus

Ah, Santa Claus. Was there ever anyone that inspired more excitement and terror at the same time?  I think there are many kids that have a kind of love/hate relationship with the "jolly old elf".  I don't remember ever going to visit Santa at Christmas.  The only real memory I have is being in the toy department of a store and hearing Santa and his elves walking around in the next aisle.  I just "froze" and hope he didn't come down the aisle in which I was standing!
When my kids were born, I didn't want them to be afraid of Santa because I think he is one of the truly fun things about Christmas.  My oldest son, Daniel, was born in October, so he was just an infant for his first Christmas.  We took him to the mall and stood in line for about 15 minutes so he could have his picture taken with Santa.  Originally, it was just so we and his grandparents would have a cute picture for Christmas, but it actually came in handy the following year when we started planning Daniel's next visit with Santa.

 Since he now had a "record" of visiting Santa and he could see pictures of himself being held lovingly in Santa's arms, Daniel was less reluctant to talk to him.  After the second year, he not only had a picture of himself with Santa, he now had a real memory of the visit.  By the third year, Daniel was an "old pro" at this Santa stuff and he was able to prepare his brothers for their first visits.

 It was at about this time that we stopped just visiting Santa at the mall and we began to attend the annual "Breakfast with Santa" that was presented by one of our local department stores here in town.  This was an event that you had to purchase tickets for, so the amount of children was limited to how many you could fit into the restaurant booths, making it a much more intimate experience.  We were escorted into our places by Santa's elves and we were served a breakfast of scrambled eggs, bacon, juice, and milk.  After a few minutes, we would be told to say "Merry Christmas, Santa" and in the big man would walk, carrying jingle bells and giving us all a jolly "Ho, Ho, Ho".  He would then go to each table and greet each child by name; (with the help of the name tags each one wore!).

 Afterward, he would take his place at a large red and white chair in front of the room and the children were welcomed to come up and sit on the floor all around him as one of the elves read "Twas the Night Before Christmas".  Following the story, each child was given a gift.  Twice they were given mugs that read "I Had Breakfast with Santa Claus" and a couple of times they received small stuffed animals.  Then, Santa would leave the restaurant and take his place downstairs to greet each child individually and hear their Christmas wish lists.  It was a precious time for our family and I carry those memories in my heart.  That department store closed it's restaurants a few years ago and the breakfasts with Santa and those with the Easter Bunny came to a sad end. The branch of the store where we attended our breakfast will soon be closed as well.  It certainly is the end of an era. I'm happy that my children were part of a generation that were able to see the magic of Santa Claus up close.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories - December 5 - Outdoor Decorations

Ludlow Falls, Ohio

We have never really had the opportunity to place many decorations outside our home.  We have no electrical outlets outside, so our outdoor Christmas cheer is limited to a wreath, a couple of flags, and some greenery.  I do have a lighted angel that hangs in the front window of our home and I usually have some lights that are visible from outside.  But, when I think of outdoor decorations what comes to mind the most are the times when we would load the kids into the van and take a drive around the city to see what displays our neighbors had created.  Our favorite sight to see was is one gentleman who for years would dress as Santa and stand in his kitchen window and wave to cars as they drove by. People would actually stop their cars and walk up to take his picture.  He became so popular that it became a traffic problem in his neighborhood.  As far as I know, he may still be performing his act to this day.

One event that was held annually for almost a half a century was the Christmas light display at Ludlow Falls, Ohio.  Each year the firefighters of the town would donate hours of time stringing thousands of lights across the waterfall.  During the periods of time when there was snow and ice on the ground, it was a spectacular sight to see. The best thing was that the event was open to the public and free of charge. It was truly a gift from the firefighters to the town. After enjoying the lights, you could enjoy the warmth of the firehouse and also grab a cup of hot chocolate.  Unfortunately, due to economic concerns, the holiday lights display ended a few years ago. It such a shame that new generations of children will never have the opportunity to see the beauty of that waterfall all dressed up for Christmas.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories - December 4 - Christmas Cards

I have always loved both sending and receiving Christmas cards.  Nothing can cheer me faster than finding a beautiful greeting from a loved one waiting for me in the mailbox.  I especially enjoy reading "newsy" annual letters and seeing family photos.  When I was a child, we would display our cards all around the living room, beginning on the inside of the front door and spreading out around the room as needed. This is a tradition I have continued in my own home. Sometimes, I even hang them up before my husband gets a chance to read them!
I began sending Christmas cards when I was in high school.  We would write our friends names and their homeroom numbers on the front of the envelopes and for 5 cents a piece (which was given to charity), "elves" would deliver our cards to our friends in their morning classrooms. It was one of the few times during the year when I looked forward to going to school.
  After my husband and I were married 29 years ago, we began a tradition of sending cards each year, oftentimes with family portraits or pictures of our sons.  As a result, friends and family watched us grow from the 2 of us to the 6 of us.  Computers and social networking are changing the way we receive and send greetings each year and while I enjoy receiving those "e" greetings, nothing will ever take the place of finding those Christmas greetings in the mailbox.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories - December 3 - Christmas Tree Ornaments

One of my earliest memories surrounding Christmas involves a delicate glass ornament, similar to the green one pictured here.  I don't remember exactly how old I was, but I must have been 3 or 4. Interestingly enough, I can remember what I was thinking at the time, but just WHY I was thinking this is anybody's guess.  I was standing in front of the tree, admiring the twinkling lights and the shiny tinsel.  One particularly pretty ornament caught my eye and I remember sticking my finger into the silver indentation on the side of the pink ball. Then, for reasons which I don't understand, I thought to myself  "I think I will eat this" and with that I grabbed the ornament off the tree, put it into my mouth like an apple and took a big bite.  In that same instant, the fragile glass shattered, my mother screamed, scraped me up and ran the 15 feet or so from where I stood in the living room to the kitchen sink.  She hung me upside down, head first over it and started to frantically pull bits and pieces of broken glass out of my mouth while she and my brothers proceeded to ask why in the world I would have done something like that.  Once my mother was satisfied that I had not ripped my mouth into shreds or damaged any internal organs, she put me back down and gave me a lesson about not eating the Christmas decorations.  To this day, when I see this type of ornament I am instantly taken back to one of my first "What was she thinking?" moments!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories -December 2 - Holiday Foods

There is nothing quite like holiday foods. My earliest memories of holiday food at Christmas revolve around Christmas Eve at my uncle's home.  Of course, the main thing on my mind was presents and how soon we would get to open those presents. And, we wouldn't get to open the presents until after dinner. So, let's get this dinner thing over with as soon as possible.  All of the kids would eat dinner at the kitchen table, while the adults would eat downstairs.  Our parents would fix our plates and give us each our own bottle of Coca-Cola.  After we ate the "nutritious" stuff, we could have those wonderful cookies that were sitting on the table in the dining room.  My mother's side of the family was very large and we had literally "tons" of food to choose from.  I don't remember specific dishes here, but I do remember how much we all loved having our own bottles of Coke. No wonder we couldn't go to sleep that night!

Christmas Day was spent with my father's side of the family.  All the food was wonderful, but there were several items that became staples in our holiday traditions.  My aunt made a delicious dessert called Cherry Delight.  It consists of a graham cracker crust, cream cheese, Dream Whipp, and cherry pie filling.  I think my brother could have lived on Cherry Delight alone!  She also made Divinity Fudge like I have never tasted before.  My mother started making buckeyes every year and she continues to do so.  We also have a cheese ball each Christmas that even my kids look forward to.  We usually don't make any of these things at other times of the year, because they are so associated with Christmas that it wouldn't seem right.  It may not be politically correct or even medically sound, but I think at Christmas there is nothing wrong with eating something just because it tastes so good!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories - December 1-The Christmas Tree

Christmas Tree with presents, circa 1963

It's the most wonderful time of the year once again and our Christmas tree is the focal point of our decorations and the center of the holiday action.  When I was very young, we had a live Christmas tree in our living room, glowing with those large colorful bulbs and pieces of tinsel that would stick to you when you walked by and clog your sweeper when you ran over them. I'm not sure when it was discovered that my brother and I were allergic to the beautiful pines, but sometime around 1971, after my father bought an aluminum tree during a visit to an auction,  our Christmases with live trees came to an end.  I don't recall being too disappointed because the aluminum tree was the "in" thing and it was very pretty.  It came complete with the noisy color wheel and red and green "pom-poms" that were attached to the end of each branch.  Aside from the fact that it took forever to put up, we were pretty happy with that silvery symbol of Christmas spirit.   We used that tree for several years until we bought a new, green artificial tree.  I thought sometimes that it might be fun to go to a farm or even a lot and buy a real tree, but we thought our tree was beautiful and the ritual of decorating the tree each year with our special family ornaments was something we looked forward to.  Our trees were not of the "designer" variety.  We used the same roll of garland and with the exception of a new ornament now and again, our tree consisted of beloved handmade ornaments from our school days, a vintage collection of decorations from the early days of my parents marriage, and some items that were gifts of love from other family members and friends.

When my husband and I were married, our first tree was a small, tabletop model that he had purchased for me to use in my bedroom the year before we were married.  It was tiny, but it was perfect with our "First Christmas Together" ornament hanging proudly in the front.  In subsequent years, we had a used tree, and then finally, we bought a tree with enough branches to hold our growing collection of ornaments that enumerated all the milestones in our family.  We have always loved our tree, but, one year, we decided we wanted to give our oldest son (and ourselves!) the experience of going out to a Christmas tree farm to cut down a tree.  My sister in law decided she wanted a live tree, so off we went with her to find the "perfect" tree.  She picked a farm about an hour away from our home. No problem.  The drive would just be a special part of the experience. Right after we arrived at the farm, it began to snow.  Great! This would just add to the Christmas spirit.  The wind began to pick up and it got colder and colder.  For whatever reason, we just couldn't seem to find the "right" tree.  My 4 year old son's excitement and patience was wearing thin.  Cold, tired, and hungry his anthem became "Just pick one!".  My sister in law pointed at one and said "Okay. That one!".   Using the tree saw that was provided by the farm, my husband was able to quickly cut down the tree and it was wrapped and placed into our van and with a sense of relief we headed back home.  By now, it was getting dark and we were now very ready to get to decorating.  Upon unloading the tree and setting it up in the stand, we discovered that the tree must have been growing on a hill and it was too crooked to stand up straight in the tree stand.  So, my husband began to try to level the tree by cutting the stump, little by little.  Unfortunately, we don't own a tree saw and the one he was using quickly became covered by tree sap and soon was almost useless. He would cut a little bit, pick the tree up, sit it in the stand, and it would fall over!  By the time the tree became level enough to stand up straight, it was no longer the majestic evergreen we had started with, but was instead a shadow of it's former self and became the inspiration for our tradition family rendition of "Oh Christmas Bush". We laughed so hard, we cried.
So, while the memory of the "Great Christmas Tree" hunt may not have been exactly what we had in mind, it certainly will be an experience we will cherish.

                                         The 1971 "Shiny aluminum Christmas Tree"

Our first Christmas Tree, 1981