Day 5: Memories of Christmases Past

Like snowflakes, my Christmas memories gather and dance – each beautiful, unique and too soon gone. — Deborah Whipp

Christmas memories. How they, along with so many others, have shaped the woman I’ve become. Christmas is, by far, my favorite holiday. I love everything about it. The festiveness, the “magical” feeling that seems to permeate the air, the closeness of family, writing my annual Christmas letter…all of it.

I found the following quote while browsing quotes on Google…quite true:

The merry family gatherings– The old, the very young; The strangely lovely way they Harmonize in carols sung. For Christmas is tradition time– Traditions that recall The precious memories down the years, The sameness of them all. — Helen Lowrie Marshall

Each year brings a multitude of family traditions. We would set aside one Sunday night to drive around one of the local towns and look at Christmas lights. One Saturday would be set aside for baking  Christmas cookies and putting gift baskets together containing dairy products for the neighbors; a Christmas tin full of cookies would also be shipped up to my Uncle Phil, who was in the Air Force, wherever he was stationed at that time.

The kids in my Calvinettes/Gems club group would gather one Thursday evening to sing carols at the retirement home in Edgerton. I remember going to my great-grandfather’s room to get him so he could join in on the fun. I don’t remember much of my time spent with him, but I do remember that he was more of a grandfather to me than a distant relative, a few generations back. He loved that old-fashioned Christmas candy and candy ribbon and would share a piece each time we came to visit. He also made certain that I would get my turn at the old, out-of-tune piano in the cafeteria, just so he could hear me play. Memories like those make me miss him even more.

I also remember planning Christmas pageants that my siblings and I would host each year. That stopped when I turned thirteen…probably because I didn’t think it was cool any more.

Every year, Cheelogna’s (a combination of Cheeze Whiz and bologna on buns) reappear during our Christmas parties with the VandenBergs (my Mom’s side). We had plenty of family time and each Christmas Eve, we  read the true Christmas story before reigning in our anticipation for Christmas morning when we would get up, work, go to church, have Christmas dinner and then, finally, open the gifts that had been stock-piled beneath the tree.

Some years, however, were different. When the markets weren’t the greatest, milk price was at an all-time low and the ag prices weren’t that promising, Dad and Mom opted instead to get us simple stocking stuffers (usually the mock-booklets full of LifeSavers candies) instead of piles of gifts. We would spend those years playing board games until either our sides hurt due to too much laughter or we couldn’t keep our eyes open any longer. Christmas Eve and the afternoon of Christmas Day would be filled with Scattergories, Scene It, Connect IV, Chutes and Ladders, Candy Land, Phase 10, Yahtzee and more. We had a roof over our heads and we had each other. That was what mattered. Those years mean the most to me and probably serve as an answer as to why I love board games so much.

You may be wondering if Santa Claus ever played a role in my childhood. He didn’t.

Santa was never a part of our Christmas. My parents did an excellent job in telling us who he was, but then reminded us the reason we celebrate Christmas. 

That didn’t mean that jolly old St. Nick wouldn’t make an appearance. Every year, when we went over to Grandpa and Grandmas on Christmas Day, he would appear only when our notorious uncle Wayne or Veryl disappeared. I won’t forget the year the rest of my cousins rightfully dubbed him butt-crack Santa. Apparently, last year’s Thanksgiving hadn’t worn off as of yet and the Santa suit was a bit snug.

I called my mom to see if she could shed light on anything memories or traditions I may have missed. She mentioned Christmas of 1994/1995…such a long time ago!

We had just returned from gallivanting across the country side, seeing the light displays in Luverne. It was Christmas Eve. 9 PM. Time for the Christmas story, read from the new picture book Mom had picked up for Adam, my youngest brother. It was to be shared by all of us kids.

I remember the manger-scene quite vividly. Baby Jesus lay in the center of the page and all of the animals surround him, on bended knee. After the story, Mom asked what Christmas song we wanted to sing before we all went (walked, waddled or crawled) to bed. Away in the Manger won, hands down.

I remember laying there in my room and staring at the ceiling, my sister, sound asleep on the bunk beneath mine. I was pondering the words to the second verse: The cattle are lowing… and I remember thinking back to that picture. Was that what they meant by all of the animals bowing down?

Apparently, somewhere in the midst of all of that, I got the idea that all of our own cows would be bowing down at midnight and I wanted to see this thing happen!

I lay there, staring at the clock until it read 11:45. Then, I tiptoed downstairs. Mom and Dad were putting the finishing touches on our Christmas gifts. I didn’t care as I had only one thought on my mind.

I immediately stated that we needed to rush out quickly; that there was only a matter of time in which we could catch this phenomenon. I rushed to get my boots on; Mom had my coat. Once my arms were in the sleeves, I was out the door, my parents following after me.

We made it to the barn on that cold clear December night and, with the stars shining brightly over head, saw two of our own Holsteins KNEELING….before they lay down completely.

Note to reader: All cows do that…kneel before they lay.

As an adult, I’ve long known that lowing means to bellar (or to speak, in cattle terms). I’m sure you can see the humor in this. I’m even more sure you can see how a 9-year-old would make the connection between lowing  and kneeling (even though lowering would have been the more correct term).  And although, I feel I should be dying of embarrassment, I’m not. I’m at peace with my childish ways.

Even now, I still hold that same spirit, wonder and anticipation for Christmas Day each year. I pray that never goes away! Thanks be to God that it never will!  

Christmas is the keeping-place for memories of our innocence. — Joan Mills


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