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Holiday Memories of YesterYear: Christmas

Welcome to the third post in a series of rambling stream-of-conscious articles related to holiday memories of the past.  With Christmas just days away, I sat down to reflect upon the Christmases of yesteryear.  I hope you enjoy reading this as much as I did writing it.... It's cathartic in some way to go back and put this down in writing and hopefully it jogs a memory of some fun or heartfelt moments of your own.

I know I'm not breaking any ground when I say Christmas has to be my favorite holiday.  It's changed over the years, from the gifts and toys to the time spent with my wife and family.  Honestly, as I sit here and think there's only a handful of toys and presents that I remember... of the hundreds I've unwrapped over the years.  What do I remember?  The gathering of family for food and fellowship.

We really did Christmas up as a kid.  Not in the "deck the halls" with tons of "Christmas crap" as my Mom always says... but my parents made it fun for a kid.

Weeks before we'd always put the tree up.  As I got older we would alternate between a real tree and a fake tree but mostly it was a fake tree.  We'd play Christmas music as we put our favorite Hallmark ornaments on.  My Dad had some cool Hallmark ornaments that plugged into the light strand and would light up and glow.  I remember things like a Santa blimp, an elf using a buzz saw, or something to do with a telephone booth.  I'd always look forward to helping decorate my Grandparent's house next door.  My Grandpa had a Christmas village that he'd set up on the top of the piano.  I'd love to set that up and place the people around the village and dream up little stories for each one.  Every year my brother and I would fight over whether the bakery belonged next to the skating pond or if it should be at the end of the street next to the school house.  My Grandpa was a painter and he had painted this beautiful backdrop for the whole scene and I felt so proud and important helping him set it up.

My Grandmother would bake cookies for Christmas.  Like, a lot of cookies.  So much so that she'd bake for 2 or 3 days straight and had probably 10-15 different types and flavors.  If you've seen my waistline lately, you'd know just how much I loved that time of year she'd start mass producing them.  Everything from my favorite's the "Toll House" cookies (Chocolate Chip) to chocolate peanut clusters or my Grandpa's favorite "Orange Cookies."  .  I'd help her bake them (always sneaking a taste) but what I really loved was during the month of December when you would go over to their house and you could hit up the back room where all of the Tupperware bins were.  You could spend a few minutes just digging through the bins to find a flavor to your liking.  After she passed away my Grandpa and I tried to continue the tradition for a year or two but we just weren't as good as Granny.

We weren't big on going out to eat or having a big Christmas Eve dinner but we always went to the Christmas Eve service at church.  I never really enjoyed going (what kid liked getting dressed up and going to church?)  It was always so busy (Easter and Christmas are the two busiest days in Church) and I just wanted to be home making and dreaming up plans for all of the toys I'd be getting the next day.  Later as I aged and it became tradition, I'd much rather be driving around with my brother and uncle looking at Christmas lights in the neighborhood, listening to Christmas music, and having a fun time.  I'll never forget the year that my brother was too cool to go with us so it was just my Uncle and I... we went to a part of town we never visited and lo and behold at about 11pm on Christmas Eve a man was wandering around the neighborhood in a Santa outfit.  My Uncle about jumped through the car window yelling SANTA!  SANTA!  I LOVE YOU SANTA!  Sort of out of character for my uncle but something I'd never forget.

We'd wake up early and my Grandparents would walk over from their home next door and watch my Brother and I open presents from Santa and my parents.  Granny and Gramps would go home and then we'd have a small breakfast.  My favorite over the years was when my Dad walked over and got bagels from "The Bagel Store" (That's actually what it was called) and we waited for "Round 2" of presents.  Usually about 11am my other Uncle who lived in town would arrive and we'd all help him pull his present stash out of the trunk of his car.  At the time I remember feeling like he would always have multiple presents for everyone that were usually pretty good and we loved carrying them into the house and arranging them in the living room in everyone's assigned seating.  We'd take turns opening the gifts so everyone would watch as you opened yours during your turn... sometimes this would cause it to drag on for several hours.  Often my Mom would leave early and go start lunch.

Mom often cooked for Christmas and would often have a ham and/or a turkey.  I remember one year she special ordered a beef rib roast that weighed over 20 pounds from the butcher.  I'll have to dig up that photo from somewhere.  The thing was bigger than my torso!

As I mentioned in the Christmas Story post, it was tradition in our house to watch the movie at least once over the span of the marathon.  We didn't really have rules but we did just have to piece together the entire movie at least once.  It was a lot of fun and made for good memories as we'd rush home from light watching or drift out to the living room while the "old folk" talked to catch a few minutes.  I guess we did have one rule... watching all at once was cheating.

These days my wife and I enjoy going through the Hallmark Channel movie list and crossing off our favorites.  We watch and rewatch.  We have a stack of DVD's that we watch annually... everything from Mickey Mouse's Christmas Carol to Bad Santa.  Christmas Vacation must be played in our house at least 15 times during the month of December.  We really enjoy the time at the end of the year where we both slow down at work, take the time to be together, curl up in bed and watch a good movie or tv show and just spend time with one another.

All in all though, going through this post and describing the typical Christmas in my family reminds me what I love about the holiday.  As I said, I can't remember more than a handful of presents.  I'm sure I cherished them all, but, the times spent with family and the activities surrounding Christmas are what I enjoyed best.

And I think that's the most important part of all.