What was Christmas like when your kids were young?

What was Christmas like when your kids were young?


Karen started one Christmas tradition early and it was one of my very favorites. Sometime in November or December she would start getting the kids to draw a picture for each month of the year. The Winter picture might be a snowman. November could feature a Thanksgiving turkey. Karen would buy a small calendar about 2” x 3” with one page for each month. They would glue the calendar pages to the drawing and bind them into a calendar for the whole year. I guess it was quite a challenge for her.

Lance and Butch with yearly calendar

I hadn’t remembered it before I ran into some pictures, but one year we celebrated Christmas with Karen’s Uncle Clint and Aunt Dotie Prior. Their daughter Becky had not married yet but they must have talked her husband-to-be, Mark O’Connell, into playing Santa. Here he is with our kids, Lance and Wendy.

Santa with Lance and Wendy

One of my favorite presents when I was a kid was to get what I called a “set”. Usually toy soldiers of some sort. I started Lance out on these early on, but I don’t seem to remember them as as big a part of Lance’s life as they were for me. Here he is with his Uncle Bun getting ready for some heavy play.

Bun and Lance with a World War II play set.

I have one bittersweet Christmas memory. We were fairly poor in our early life with our kids. We never had a lot of money for presents. But I was convinced that they should have as good a quality as possible. Lance had wanted some real tools to play with so in the months before Christmas I went around buying one tool here and one tool there. These were the real thing. Saws could really cut. Hammers could pound nails. They were pricey but good. I bought a little tool box to store them in. We wrapped each tool individually and put them in the tool box. On Christmas morning Lance opened them and came over to me. I asked him what he found and he replied, “Not very many toys.” My heart broke into a million pieces for the mistake I had just made.

Lance and his real tools


Butch and I both grew up in Cedar Rapids and stayed here all through our married life. All of our siblings moved away from Iowa and lived in other places. We had the unique and fortunate situation of our two families living in the same town as us and enjoying each other’s company. From the very first Christmas we had together, our two families celebrated in one big group. Even after we lost both of our dads, our mothers were here and family members came “home” to see them. When we moved to our house on Mansfield Avenue, my sisters and their families all came and stayed with us at Christmas, usually from Christmas Eve to a few days afterward. Our kids were surrounded by their extended family. They both developed close relationships with their loving aunts and uncles.

Christmas Dinner

The days leading up to Christmas included getting the tree, from a local lot, putting it up and decorating it. When the kids were little, the whole family went on that outing together. In the kids’ teen years, Wendy and I took on those duties and had our own adventures. We had lots of hand-made as well as store-bought ornaments to put on the tree. Before our kids were old enough to help, Butch and I had made ornaments from colored paper, foil, popcorn and other materials. We made a set of 20 or 30 paper snowflakes that we still have to this day. Some were destroyed over the years but we just added more to put the finishing touch on the tree. Our topper was a peace symbol made of stiff paper, felt, and glitter until Butch carved me a special one for our 25th anniversary. The kids also made ornaments in school or in Brownies or Cub Scouts that we still have. When our granddaughter Rachel and I decorate our tree these days, there is a story for most of the ornaments that recall long ago students, souvenirs of trips, and old friends and new.

Butch and Lance with the Christmas tree topper

Another part of Christmas was cookies. We made lots of varieties because everyone had a different favorite. We had decorated sugar cookies, roll poly balls, cherry winks, snicker doodles, chocolate covered pretzels and a big batch of Chex mix. The kids picked out a selection of cookies for Santa and a pile of Chex mix for his reindeer and put them close to the fireplace. The stockings were hung up on the mantel for every kid who was sleeping over. My sister Linda’s boys brought theirs from Indiana almost every year.

Lance and Wendy

We always had a large get together at our house on Christmas Eve. We had a meal, played games, talked and laughed, and tried to get the kids to bed at a reasonable hour. We had a rule that the kids could not come downstairs until 6:00 am or so. Then they could wake us up and see what Santa had brought. Lance and Wendy told us stories about the two of them sitting on the stairs and watching the clock so they could wake us up at exactly the earliest time. I have a suspicion that they may have peeked at their Santa gifts before they actually got us up. Santa filled their stockings and brought one nice toy each year that was left unwrapped under the tree. All other gifts were from Mom and Dad because how would it look or feel if they didn’t get any fun presents from their parents? We passed out all gifts when everyone was up and all adults had a cup of coffee in hand. When we were ready, everyone opened their gifts at the same time. It was lovely chaos with lots of happy raptures and thank-you’s around the room. The floor was covered with wrapping paper, toys, and boxes.

I often tried to make some kind of breakfast casserole to pop in the oven and we spent the rest of the day putting toys together, playing, and generally enjoying each other. In the early years, most times we had the big Christmas dinner at Grandma Paddy’s house. She had the most room and the most places to sit. Everyone helped to put the meal on the table by bringing food, cooking, or organizing the kids. This was also time for grandma presents. As our moms got older, we took over the hosting for both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

Our kids were older than their cousins and as they grew into their teens there was a lot of hero worship, joking around, and teasing for the little ones. I think Lance and Wendy had as much fun as the young cousins.

There were times when I was very busy with my job and ready for a break when Christmas vacation rolled around. Times when I wished for a quieter Christmas with less cooking to do, fewer messes to clean up, fewer towels to wash, and fewer people sleeping in my house on couches, air mattresses, and every bed. Then everyone would arrive, most people helped, and the fun would begin. I am very grateful we have a close family and I hope my kids understand what a treasure they were given when everyone got together

 Karen and Lance
 Grandma Paddy and Wendy

This post is part of the StoryWorth project that I am participating in.
At the ButchieBoy main page click the Storyworth catagory to see all the entries in the series.

This entry was posted in Autobiography, Daily life, StoryWorth. Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to What was Christmas like when your kids were young?

  1. Raymond Baragary says:

    Thanks for sharing. We have had Christmas in California, Oregon and Washington. We just missed having one in Boston. In California, we had Nancy’s extented Italian family, so we were busy running around seeing everyone. In Oregon and Washington, they have been quiet. Usually they involve just the thereof us. Nancy loves to decorate the house and we have many plastic tubs full of all types of decorations. She also makes wreaths every year from the boughs of the cedar, Doug for and Sitka spruce trees that Danny and I planted on our property. We have snow this year.

  2. Raymond Baragary says:

    It also should say, ” Doug Fir.”

    • Karen says:

      Thanks for your reply. I love hearing about what other people do. An extended Italian family sounds fun. My mom came from a family of 12 and most stayed here in Cedar Rapids. I grew up with fun loving aunts and uncles who weren’t shy about having a few beers!

  3. craig behrndt says:

    great stuff! We always did the milk and cookies for santa and the wait for morning was always so tough! We hope you had a good one this year.

    Craig and Nancy

    • Karen says:

      Thanks for commenting. I love to see the posts about your Christmas on Facebook. Cookie baking this year looked like a lot of fun. Great to have your grown-up kids home.❤️

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