My sister Janet again has sent me some lovely Molasses Clove cookies* from the Dancing Deer Baking Company. They remind me distinctly of special cookies our Mare would share with us at Christmas. Just plunging through the styro
-popcorn I could smell that unmistakable
aroma that brought be back to an earlier time..... and to Christmas recollections.
Christmas when we were younger was a very combination holiday. Part religious, part family tradition. One involved midnight mass and the other a combination of F.W.
Woolworth and our traditional decoration observances.
For the readers here who are younger, let this old girl tell of memories; for the readers here of a certain age and above, a winsome smile of recollection may cross your face --(give in to it!)
First, there were not "the 25 days of Christmas" as blasts from one of my cable TV stations. There were the 12 days of Christmas..... which come AFTER Christmas, NOT
The Christmas retail season began after the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade.... and not before. A Christmas card, candy, bows or wrapping paper could not be had before that day.
In Woolworth's Ma, Janet and I would map out our separate paths in order that they may not cross and spoil the magic. Sometimes Janet and I would pool our resources for our parents, but in most cases, we had our own ideas and were set on our singular missions. We would rummage past exotic items like talc which came in a tall rectangular green tin with a shaker top you would twist to open. The excursion occasionally included All Spice - in an elaborate box: two tapered off-white glass bottles - one with cologne, the other talc. My father eschewed ties for the most part, so that did not enter the picture, although "work handkerchiefs" in red or navy - what some might call bandanas
- were always appreciated.
One year Janet procured a broche
for Mommy. Chips of glass "crystal" imbedded
in lead. The bloody thing must have weighed in at 1/2 lb. easily. I got my Daddy a belt and white handkerchiefs for a change.
She and I bought each other pure plastic corsages... adorned with plug-on red plastic berries, a flox
red bow, some semi-permanent glitter and mini packages. A new one each year. We could never figure out where the previous years gem had disappeared, but we got new ones every year, to be worn on the lapel of a heavy wool coat.
In public school we would learn or practice Christmas carols.... and there would be some kind of Christmas concert that may or may not include battery-powered hand held candles that flickered in front of each fresh face complete with white collar and red bow. A hush would come over the parents gathered in a darkened auditorium or gymnasium while their very own angels (if even only temporary ones) processed while singing "Adeste Fideles
" - the first verse of which was in Latin.
The tree.... ah, yes, the tree. The trek to the tree place. My father, sister and I would go to buy the tree.. sometimes trees - one for my paternal grandmother (Mare) and one for us. This took place no sooner and no later than one week before Christmas. My father would haggle with the proprietor who during the year would sell potted flowers and veggies - we went to one of two places, each owned by a rotund sturdy Italian man who spoke broken English. We - more often than not - would get a tree that had fairly good (75-80%) limb coverage- inevitably one side would be stunted or flat or sparse
. The tree was always stored out of doors until the day before, at which point it would be propped
up in a corner while furniture was moved and an incredibly heavy makeshift tree stand my Daddy had crafted by welding together a steel plate and large pipe (painted gold for effect) would be gingerly retrieved from the attic and placed on newspaper. In went some water, a 1/4 inch wedge was sawed off the trunk and the tree was wielded into the stand. After every one's
opinion about how much to tighten each of the 4 screws to make the tree stand straight, the tree was then freed from its jute
binding and allowed to "fall". Next my Dad would try to improve the look of the tree in his own unique way. What could not disguised by the wall would be - dare I say it - enhanced. Daddy would cut off redundant limbs in one section, drill holes in the trunk and plug in branches as necessary; the man was on a mission to make a true 'Charlie Brown' tree look magnificent and full.
Trimming occurred later. Lights tested and applied, glass ornaments hooked and hung and finally tinsel added ... one strand at a time. You read correctly. Willy-nilly
tossing was not allowed. The trimming was done with the TV on, tuned into local station WPIX
, to a 3 hour segment without commercial interruption know simply as The Yule Log
that had only the image of a fireplace with the logs burning to a medley of many carols and secular wintry
-themed music. Gene Autry
sang both 'Here Comes Santa Claus" and "Rudolf the Red Nosed Reindeer". Brenda Lee, Mitch Miller (and the Gang), Arthur Fiedler
w/the Boston Pops, Johnny Mathis, the Vienna Choir Boys, Montovanni
(AND the 1,000 Strings!), the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, and on and on.
We ate something, 'though I don't recall what, for dinner. Janet and I then were dropped of to attend midnight mass at St. Patrick's Roman Catholic Church. Outside of the main entrance fresh garland framed the wooden doors. An outdoor creche was in front of the convent in the back of the parking lot. Inside there was the smell of pine and candle wax
. There were hymns (in English). The service in later years even segued from Latin to English.
One year we both remember fondly. After Mass we left the church and it had snowed - not very heavily - during the service. We ran along in our boots and coats (with corsages in place) and hats and gloves. We crossed the street and took the 'short cut' through the back of the junior high school property, sliding gleefully down the significant incline to the bottom of the hill.
The night was not so frigid - just cold, crisp. As the snow fell, we could hear it... this was not hail or sleet.... simply snow. The night was so quiet that you would hear it fall. We didn't mind the walk. We passed through the "center of town" a hamlet, really, watching the snow come down or swirl and glitter in the light cast from the street lights above. Maybe a car came by.... or two. Even they (with their tire chains---remember them??) travelled past in a hush.
Normally we would stay on Main Street and make our way home by the direct route. This night we went through the Municipal Park. Past the emptied, fenced municipal pool. Past the ball-less tether and pole. On the path, down the hill, through a vacant field. Without even saying a word we were both headed to the single house on Hillside Avenue that had a fairly large lit manger scene replete with straw and a dusting of snow on the donkey and cow and sheep figurines. We crept up on it with an inherent reverence. Mary and Joseph looked down at baby Jesus, his hands outstretched. The Holy Family were sheltered by the rustic stable; not a single flake made it in there.
...... all was calm, all was bright.
Many Christmases have taken place between then and now - and still I feel it warm in my heart as a sacred time.
No matter what your tradition for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, I hope and pray that you have a sacred time - a sacred moment - that you will never, ever forget. If it hasn't happened yet, I believe it will; if it has, cherish it and encourage an atmosphere where more take place.
If you have your own special Christmas memories, think of posting them either as comments to this entry or sending them to me at email@example.com
so that I can post them.
* My own version of these cookies can be found on p. 15 of The Geranium Farm Cookbook