Monday, December 24, 2012

Christmas memories

I love Christmas. I get that from my mom. Christmas music, Christmas lights, Santa, Christmas cookies....

Growing up, we spent Christmas Eve with my dad's parents. We usually had a Bohemian style meal of pork roast. With two holiday meals in a row, it was nice to not have turkey. Afterward, we'd go to midnight mass. I think I was a teenager before I actually stayed awake through mass. The choir would sing for an hour beforehand as parishioners arrived. That was the best part.

Christmas morning was spent at home, where we had donuts for breakfast after opening our piles of presents. The Christmas music would be playing. Yes, I know the words to a lot of Christmas songs. Even some of the obscure verses.

In the afternoon, we'd go to my mom's parents' or one of her brother's for Christmas dinner. There were a lot of cousins, so we'd play while the turkey finished cooking. After dinner, there would be another batch of presents to open, then time to play with our new toys. If we were at Grandma and Grandpa's, we'd try to find the chirping bird in the Christmas tree and giggle at the stegosaurus in the nativity set.

As we got older, the traditions changed a little. We no longer visited my dad's side of the family, opening Christmas Eve up to new traditions, like spending time with my sister's mother-in-law. With my mom's side of the family, we aged into the grab bag at 18, so instead of a present from each family, we joined the drawing of names at Thanksgiving.

Every year we would spend a weekend baking dozens of cookies: toffee squares, pumpkin cookies, Imperial cookies, sugar cookies, butter cookies, lemon squares, Bible class cookies, chocolate covered pretzels. We brought plates of cookies to our neighbors every year. They were also our contribution to the Christmas dinner.

Until I was in college, we had a real tree every year. One year, after a drought, the tree we brought lost all it's needles about 2 or 3 days before Christmas. One moment it looked ok, although it had been shedding some needles. The next, we heard a rustling sound as every needle fell to the floor. What else does one do but go to the nearest gas station lot and buy a new tree - then invite the neighbors over for an impromptu tree-trimming party. The best thing? Plenty of neighbors came over to help redecorate the tree. We served hot chocolate and plenty of those Christmas cookies. Before we knew it, the new tree was fully decorated.

Sometime over the holiday season we made time to go to downtown Chicago and view the windows on State Street. Marshall Fields always had the best windows, but other stores had neat displays too. Driving around looking at Christmas lights was another tradition. The downtown area of the town I grew up in had a Christmas walk every year. We'd wander through the stores, enjoying carolers and hot cider or cocoa, munch cookies, see Santa arrive on a fire truck. I remember going to Brookfield Zoo each year for Holiday Magic. Wandering around the zoo after dark, with every tree lit, was a special treat.

Over the years, all the 'grandkids' have grown up and most of us are married. There's a new generation of kids. We're more spread out and traditions have adapted.

Some years we spend Christmas with Chris's family and some years we make the trek up to Chicago to see my extended family. Christmas with my parents, my sister and brother-in-law and their kids takes place on the weekend.

We try to spend Christmas morning at home so the boys can wake up to presents from Santa under our tree. They are the perfect age this year, understanding Christmas and excited for Santa to come.

I try to bake a few batches of cookies every year (toffee squares, pumpkin cookies and Imperial cookies this year). We also go to the Indy Zoo to see Santa and the lights. The boys love decorating cookies with Mrs. Claus. We go to Fountain Square Mall to look at the decorations and see Santa. Our rule with Santa is that the boys can only ask for the one thing they want most; the rest has to go in a letter. The beauty of this is that they understand Santa is busy so they can't take up too much time, but it makes it easier to find that one thing they really want.

If we're home on Christmas, or on Christmas Eve, we started a new tradition: "Traditional Holiday Pasta". It started one year when we couldn't travel to Evansville due to a bad snow storm. Stuck at home, we made what was on hand. This year, we're hosting Christmas. It'll just be the four of us and Chris's parents. We're having lasagna for dinner.

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