Our family traditions were pretty simple.
The tree, always a Scotch pine, would go up about week or so before Christmas, decorated year after year with the same glass ornaments; the styrofoam balls pinned with rikrak and sequins that my Mom made; upturned pillbottles filled with a little cotton and a small figure created by my Nana; plus the new ones that we toted home year after year from school.
In grade six we had to sew a stuffed ornament. I made a snowman... called Snowy. Snowy was very lopsided on the bottom and had too little stuffing. I didn't realise you were supposed to stitch and then turn things inside out so that the stitches were hidden. He was lined with horribly crooked, uneven stitches. He was hideously ugly, but Mom put him on the tree every year anyway, and my siblings all laughed at him. It was a mercy for poor Snowy the year a mouse found that box of ornaments and ate him.
The star would always go on last, and always by my Mom.
Along the railing was hung a fluffy gold garland, and from the centre hung an elf dressed in retro gold lame, sitting hugging his knees. There were two reindeer candles, one had his neck snapped cleaned, yet the head remained loosely attached by his cotton wick spine. On each of the front windowsills sat a set of tiny plastic reindeer drawing a tiny Santa's sleigh. One set of reindeer were sans antlers, having been chewed off early in life by my brother when he was a baby.
Once the decorations were in place, the presents needed to be wrapped in gloriously gaudy papers. We took turns going into Mom's bedroom and each wrapping a gift with her, the final touch being peeling off the paper to reveal the underside of a pointy ribbon bow. Once the presents were under the tree, we would have to re-arrange them over and over again everyday until Christmas. The dog would chase the cat up the tree.
We would go to Christmas Eve Mass, and listen to the NATO/Interpol Santa tracking on CFRB radio, before we went to bed. Cookies and milk were left out for Santa, and carrots for the reindeer. Most years, my uncle would come to stay with us. He would sleep in my sister's room so we bunked together on Christmas Eve, and the excited whispers carried on long into the night, despite the repeated threats that Santa would not come until we were asleep.
We always woke up super-early, of course. We could open our stockings right away. Always, there was one of the gigantic oranges and the matching Red Delicious Apple, and a handful of nuts, a candy cane and some miniature toys.
Next would come the big presents, those left by Santa, and carefully selected from our early December letters to Santa. And of course, there was our childhood delight at watching our parents open the gifts that we had chosen for them, decisions which were laboured over, sometimes for minutes. There have been an odd assortment of gifts over the years. Typically Dad was easier, Old Spice, a wallet, a tie. But Mom was harder. We wanted to be sure it would be pretty, yet useful, and something that would surely make her smile... like the frozen meat saw that I bought her one year.
After the unwrapping was a gigantic Christmas breakfast. The rest of the day was spent playing with the new toys, and snacking on Christmas cookies ... shortbread, gingerbread, fruit cake, mincemeat tarts, Nana cookies (not sure what those were actually, other than something that far-far Nana, the one in PEI, used to make at Christmas). And then came dinner. This was always a full-on turkey feast, with stuffing and cranberries. Dessert was a Bouche de Noel or Yule Log.
Boxing Day meant a trip to visit with city-Nana, the non-PEI Nana's house. Again, there would be loads of wonderful baked treats. Each year, Nana would give us each a deck of cards, and usually a sweater. Often times, the three girls would each get the same sweater, each in a different size. In a family fond of hand-me downs, my younger sister could easily wear the same sweater style for 5 years. My older sister was lucky, once she outgrew it, she never had to wear it again.
As we count down to the big day, I wish everyone a wonderful Christmas. I hope you create many happy memories this year.
Please feel free to share your memories here, too.