I was feeling rather sentimental about Christmas. As you can probably guess, my great big gathering of my siblings and their "children" (although none are children anymore) has been put off (for another year). Provincial limits on indoor gatherings, rising numbers, along with an immune compromised condition of one person, an upcoming surgery of another person, and other very valid reasons led to this decision. I am, of course, having our own gathering of our daughter, her boyfriend, our son, and my mother-in-law, and that will be lovely, just not as big.
When I was little, we always celebrated Christmas at home, but sometimes we would also go to an aunt and uncle's house, who were the sister and brother-in-law of my father. I thought it was a great long trip, but really, it was probably only an hour or less. I remember the awe of being driven around the park, at night, in that 'far away' town, seeing the display of coloured lights. It was a simpler time. The coloured lights seemed magical. I'd like to say I think the giant inflatable characters on people's lawns at this time of magical, but instead I think they are garish. I imagine children love them, though, and for that reason at Christmas, that's good.
At our own home, we always had a real tree. Often that tree was purchased at a gas station / store about halfway between our own home in the country and the closest town, called "Kitching's Marketeria". This was the place where gas was purchased, cold pop in bottles came out of a big red cooler, the floors were plywood and had a distinct aroma of "old store with damp plywood floors", and the two huge black Newfoundland dogs were just maneuvered around as they lay sprawled in the parking area. Kitchings would get a big shipment of Christmas trees and I recall standing out in the cold while one of my parents would prop up a tree by the trunk, away from the others, while the other parents would voice why it wasn't a good enough tree. The trunk's not straight, it has a bald spot on one side, it's not tall enough...
My father, who was compelled to re-engineer everything, would sometimes cut some of the lower boughs, drill holes in the main trunk, and with the help of some wood glue, insert the cut boughs into the holes to make for a fuller, more evenly dispersed tree.
Our trees went through many phases of decoration. Of course, we had the old traditional glass balls which were so beautifully coloured and formed. When I was very little, we still had the string of lights with the thick, fabric-like cord, and big coloured bulbs. Those were the days of figuring out which bulb needed to be replaced so the whole string would light up. Those were also the days of long strands of icicle tinsel, which of course was removed at the end of the Christmas season and repackaged as best you could in the original box to be re-used the next year. People were frugal then. My parents had to be.
source This is not a picture from my youth, obviously, but just some tinsel so you know what kind I am referring to.
We later got strings of newer kinds of bulbs, sometimes using multi-coloured, sometimes just clear lights. My mother "let" me do much of the decorating. Looking back on it now, she was probably relieved to have someone else do most of the work. I was the youngest of four of us and the last one still living at home. She was game for a couple of years when I thought a blue and silver colour scheme would be nice. Mostly, the tree remained quite traditional.
Then came the apples. I have no idea where the small red apple ornaments came from. Likely a local department store. But once my mother discovered them, there was no turning back. She loved those shiny red apples on, I want to say, gold strings, if memory holds correct. They weren't glass ornaments. I'm not even sure what they were, some kind of covered plastic perhaps. I hated those apples. How do red apples even equate with Christmas? It's a coniferous tree - not even an apple tree. But she had tons of them.
I don't have much recollection of Christmases when I was very young, but as I grew up a little, Christmas was exciting because my brothers would come home, and then my sister. We are all spread out in age, so my oldest brother would have moved out of the house by the time I was about five or six years old. My next oldest brother would have been gone when I was about nine. Of course, Christmas can be a time of angst and strife in families and my own had its share of these times as well. I recall my mother's anxiety and resentment about feeling constrained when spending money to buy gifts. Later, when I was probably around twelve years old and wanting to pick out my own gifts while shopping with my mother, it became routine for me to do the gift wrapping, including wrapping my own presents. I thought it was fun and offered to do it, but again, I imagine it was a relief that my mother didn't have to do it herself. My mother at this stage would have been in her early fifties and she wasn't one of those vibrant, active individuals at that age. She already seemed too tired, too old, and hosting a variety of ailments and issues to gleefully engage in such things.
Down the road and around the corner from our house, possibly all of two minutes driving time away, was the farm where my mother was raised. Still living at the farm was her own mother (her father having died some time before that), and her bachelor brother. There was also a "hired man" who worked on the farm. Every year, we would gather up presents and get into cars and drive over to the farm to get together in the evening, after chores were done, with my grandmother and my uncle, and the hired man if he wasn't at his own family gathering. There would be candies and other treats, but a tree was no longer bothered with. We all sat together in the big living room and watched them open their presents from us. We would also open our presents from my grandmother and uncle, which of course my mother would have gone out and selected for them. My grandmother no longer left her home to go anywhere and she never learned to drive. She had her own issues as well.
For whatever reason, my grandmother would ask someone (almost always me) to open her presents for her. I have no clue why she wouldn't open them herself, but that's just how it went. Within seconds of revealing the contents (usually footwear or maybe a cardigan) my mother would announce that if she didn't like it, or it didn't fit, she did have the receipt and could return or exchange it. This happened every single year.
Later when I became a snarky, opinionated teenager, I resented that we all had to haul over to the farm. Why couldn't the two people who lived there come over to our house, two minutes away, instead of all of us having to go over there? I resented having to open my grandmother's presents for her (which I probably wrapped as well), and it bothered me that they didn't have a tree. When I went away to university, I actually bought a pattern for a stuffed Christmas tree and I bought the festive fabric and sewed on the trim and created the tree for them, so they'd have something to put in the living room. The one decoration they did have, which I used to put up for them, was an old cardboard nativity scene.
source This is not the actual one from my grandmother's home, but similar. It was getting a bit raggedy by the time I was removing it from it's storage box and assembling it on top of the big old tv console.
In retrospect, I realize there were traditions, and issues, and things people just did because it was easier to just do it. Family dynamics.
I looked through some old photos that I've inherited and found a couple that were taken when my brothers were young. I was not born yet, nor even my sister, likely. These were taken "over at the farm", sometimes referred to as "over home" because it was my mother's childhood home.
In this photo are my mother and father, and my two brothers. It is odd to see my mother with long hair, worn down. They are sitting in the living room of the farm and obviously at that time, my grandmother did still have a Christmas tree. My grandfather would still have been alive then, too. I'm guessing that tree was cut on the property. It is also only now, looking at this photo in detail, that I notice the striped jacket my father is wearing. This picture would have been taken in my 1958 or 1959 (?)
In this photo, my brothers are a little older in their matching striped shirts, and thrilled with their big bubblegum filled candy canes. Santa is my father. I wonder if they ever questioned the validity of that Santa. This is also at the farm. I'll bet some of you had similar couches when you were young, either burgundy or green with the carved wooden feet and arm details. I have memories of tracing over those carved details with my finger while sitting on the floor.
After I became old enough to not believe in Santa Claus, my family started to adopt the tradition of opening presents on Christmas Eve night. It was actually quite lovely because the lights of the Christmas tree were so pretty in the evening, and it just felt cozy. Stockings were never part of our tradition, but were very much a part of my husband's childhood, so we have always had Christmas stockings with our own children and it continues now, even when they are in their early twenties.
So there are some of my Christmas childhood memories. I hope we have created warm memories for our own children and perhaps they will continue some of our traditions with their own families some day.