Let me begin this series of articles with a prayer I found in a book I just read titled “Fame” by Karen Kingsbury. “God, please now my future see, make it clear where I should be. Open windows, close doors, not my will, my God, but yours.” Amen. I pray that my memories of Christmas will spark creativity in yours. Open your minds and your memories to make for a better Christmas.
One of my earliest Christmas memories involves helping others. My Grandfather and I went every year to my great-grandfather’s to put up their tree. I loved this. Putting up another tree was not work for me. It was pure pleasure. The first thing I did when I got there was go up to the attic to find the decorations. Grandpa helped me carry things down to the parlor. Their decorations were the old kind that were very fragile. I never dropped a one as I put on those on the branches that I could reach.
We went back to great-grandpa’s on Christmas Day for dinner. After dinner we opened gifts. My cousins were there, too along with a lot of other people. We often played on the stairs so that we out of the way of the grown-ups. We never went up into the bedrooms.
On Christmas we went to my great-grandmother’s house in the morning. I do not remember opening any gifts there. It was fun to see my great aunts and uncles as well as great grandma. She always sat in her big lounge chair. She looked so tiny. She taught me some Dutch words. I recall reciting the days of the week as well as counting. She also taught me the words for the colors. I recall how proud I was to know the Dutch words.
Christmas at home was full of decorations. We went up to our attic to find them. I remember some candles of graduated sizes. When one burned out they all went out. You had to try each bulb until you found the one that was burned out.
Our ornaments were made of glass, too. The shiny balls picked up the light from the tree. My great-grandmother had a string of lights that bubbled that looked like electric candles. I always wished that we had some of those. We put on a lot of lights with bulbs the size that go into night lights.
One year we got some twirling decorations that set over the top of a light. The heat from the light made the foil pieces rotate.
Christmas was not about gifts. Of course, I got some gifts, but as I look back I realize the memories I have are stronger than any of the gifts I received.
The food we had was important, too. The first Christmas I remember was held at my grandma and grandpa’s house. I lived there. We had turkey and homemade cranberry relish. I would have been happy if that was all we had. Dinner was set up buffet style. We ate wherever we could find room.
We opened gifts after we ate. I remember no gifts I got in the early years, but I still have the little apron that I wore.
I loved to sing. Once we bought a piano my mother played for us to sing. At this point I had not yet taken piano lessons. I remember when “Rudolph” was introduced as well as “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus.” Years later my husband introduced me to the song that was the flipside of “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus.” It was called “Willie Claus.” I figured out how to play the chords to accompany us and we sang that at Ackley Grange one Christmas with our children.
Grandma always baked cookies. My favorite cookies were the cutouts. In later years my grandfather used to sugar the cookies for her. I have her recipe. It called for lard, but I have figured out how to adjust it to include butter. They taste so much better with the butter. Every year we had a cookie making day. I was never allowed to cut them out but I could help do the sugar. Grandma was very particular about her baking. She always made several German types of cookies. She made Springerles and another type that I do not remember the name of. I did not like those because you had to dip them. I did not like to have crumbs in the bottom of my mug of cocoa.
Grandma also made ginger cookies. She used a recipe that belonged to my grandfather’s mother. I copied that recipe, too. The first time I went to make the recipe I noticed that there was no amount of flour mentioned. I called grandma and asked her how much flour to use. Of course, she could not tell me exactly. Eventually I wrote down the amount of flour that I used so my children now have the complete recipe.
I have some of Grandmother’s cookie cutters. Each time I use them there is a connection with Grandma. If I could have one more chance to say something to Grandma I would tell her how much I like making cookies and thank you for her recipes and cookie cutters.
Ann Swanson writes from her home in Russell, Pa. Contact at firstname.lastname@example.org.