What were your childhood Christmases like?
I remember my childhood Christmases quite fondly. They usually involved us kids getting up to open our presents, sitting around in our pajamas. Once we opened our presents we would play with them for a while. Sometime later we would get dressed and after that, we would have a big fancy meal, turkey usually. It was mostly a traditional American Christmas menu.
One year when we were older I talked Mom into having a more traditional English menu. Mom was from England but that side of Christmas dinner never showed itself very much. And she interpreted it to mean that we would have the English menu items AS WELL AS all the American fare we always had. I talked her into Yorkshire pudding, a roast goose, and plum pudding. Our oven was a side-by-side type, oven on the right and a rotisserie on the left. Mom was skeptical about the goose because she thought it would be too greasy. That’s why we cooked it in the rotisserie. With a pan underneath, it caught all the dripping grease. The breast was more like the dark meat of the turkey than the more delicately flavored white meat. Cooking it on the spit made the meat fairly dry however.
The plum pudding was great fun. It takes several days to make. And James Beard says it should be made a year before and aged. We took the necessary steps and when it was time to serve we poured brandy over the top. You light it at the last minute and bring it to the table. I had the honor of doing this but Mom was all over it too. We lit the thing at the kitchen counter to bring it to the dining room. None of us had any idea of how much brandy to use so I put what I thought was a reasonable amount on. You don’t want too little because it doesn’t put on much of a show. It can be a little dangerous if you put too much on. Unfortunately we tended toward putting too much on. So when I put the match to it there was a great big whoosh and being right next to it, Mom came away with curly little frizzled up eyebrows. We also put some prizes in the pudding. You guessed it, someone bit into one. No teeth were chipped or broken, thank goodness.
As I have said elsewhere in these memoirs my usual present was a set of toy soldiers, knights, dinosaurs, or cowboys. There were also many weapons, oftentimes a rifle or six-shooters. One of the pistols was a Mattel Fanner 50 with “shootin’ shells” and greenie stikMcaps, a public liability nightmare these days, but proudly proclaimed to be safe back in the 50’s. I would love to know how may law suits were brought against Mattel at the time.
As I got older I became interested in HO-scale slot car racers so I had several sets of those. I always wanted to incorporate one of those sets into a railroad layout but that was never to happen. My dad had been a model railroad enthusiast when I was young but he thought that HO was too small to work with easily. He was an O-gauge man. My brother Ray got the model trains when Dad died.
I don’t remember too many people having Christmas dinner with us. I’m sure they must have. I do know that my Uncle Jack had dinner with us twice. The first time was in the about 1954, when I was about 6. He was still married to his wife Sally at the time. Like my mom, Sally was a war bride and she married my uncle in England in 1947. Her real name was Sophia Emily Lewis. I don’t know if my uncle stayed on in England after the war or if he returned to marry her. When I went to college in 1966 I started corresponding with Uncle Jack. He must have been divorced by then. He was in the Veteran’s Hospital in Knoxville, Iowa. During the war he saw some pretty heavy action at Anzio. I’m pretty sure he had Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. He was an alcoholic and had had about half his stomach removed. When I suggested he should have dinner with us at Christmas you could tell that my parents were hesitant. But the thought that it was the right thing to do won the day. I drove down to Knoxville and picked him up. I’m sure that he saw coming to our house as a chance to escape the hospital’s rigid control over his drinking. My folks must have got rid of everything to drink in the house. My dad said he would not get Jack anything to drink, so in defiance, Jack stomped off to find a bar. It was cold that Christmas and he only made it about two blocks before he couldn’t stand the cold anymore. Home he came.
When we grew into our teens Judy and I had long since stopped believing in Santa and helped Mom and Dad get the presents ready for the Christmas morning opening. That was almost as much fun as opening the presents ourselves.
Our Christmas celebrations were happy times in my childhood. In the days and weeks leading up to Christmas Day, there were a few events that occurred every year and were very exciting for us kids.
My dad worked for Universal Engineering laying out blue prints on metal that would be fabricated into heavy rock crushing equipment. He was also a member of the local Machinists’ Union. Each year we looked forward to a Christmas party provided by each. I’m not sure I remember which part went with which organization but I guess it doesn’t really matter. I think it was the union party that was put on at the Veteran’s Memorial Coliseum in downtown Cedar Rapids on the island. The union showed several movies that were family oriented. I remember watching silent movies with Charlie Chaplain. One of my favorites was an amazing film with a big hook and ladder fire truck racing around a big city with lots of slapstick comedy.
After the movies, they would hand out huge bags of treats to each kid. We got 2 big white bags, one was filled with nuts in their shells like walnuts, almonds, hazelnuts, and Brazil nuts. At the top of each bag was an enormous orange and a giant apple. The apple was always a Delicious which I did not care for. The second bag was filled with all kinds of hard Christmas candies in beautiful colors and shapes. My favorites were the ones filled with a kind of chewy jelly and the ones that looked like looped up ribbons.
The other party put on by Dad’s company was really cool. I think they served some kind of food like hot dogs or something and they gave each kid a very nice toy as a gift. They organized the toys by ages and kids were to line up to get their gift when their age range was called. The trick was you had to go up with your next older age group or you were likely to get a baby toy. The gifts were very high quality, not just a trinket so we looked forward to what we would get.
Another big event before Christmas was the school program. We would all dress up in our best clothes and each grade level would perform a song or two. It was held at night and our whole family would be in the audience so it was a big deal. On the day before Christmas vacation started each classroom would have a Christmas party, often with a gift exchange. Each girl was supposed to bring a girl’s gift and each boy brought a boy’s gift. Then just before school was out, we all sat in the hall outside our classroom. Each room sang one Christmas song for all the other classes. Taylor school was an old building with two stories and wooden floors. The songs would echo through the halls as each class had their turn. We all sat very quietly so we could hear the songs all around the building. It was lovely!
Our family celebration was just with our immediate family most years. We had a fresh pine tree decorated with all sorts of old fashioned ornaments topped by a beautiful angel with wavy blonde hair. One year Diane insisted on a foil tree with only blue ornaments and a revolving color wheel which shown on the tree. On Christmas Eve we ate special snacky foods and played board games or watched TV. We opened our gifts on Christmas morning. The littlest ones got one gift from Santa and another from Mom and Dad. Usually we got a toy and some clothes we might need.
Dinner was always a roasted turkey with all the trimmings that we all helped to prepare in some way.
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.