​When my mom was a child her family didn’t have a lot of money, but they made up for it with love and small traditions. The way they celebrated seems strange to us now, but at the time it was all they knew.

One of the best she told me about was their Christmas tree. Her father would go into the woods and cut down a huge holly. I had never heard of holly as a Christmas tree, but it must have been magnificent. Their house had big rooms with high ceilings. Try as I might to imagine the scene, I can’t quite get hold of an image of the way they would tie the top of the tree to the ceiling to keep it firmly upright. They had small candles in metal holders that attached to the tree branches. They would only light the candles briefly. That I can certainly understand. The potential for a catastrophic fire would have been horrifying, especially inside a big old wooden house, but think of the joy the sight of that tree, with its natural decorations of green leaves and red berries, gleaming in the candlelight, brought to the children’s faces.

When time came to open presents, packages were sparse, but so very appreciated. My mom’s face would still light up, almost a century later, as she spoke of the year she got a tiny doll in her sock. They didn’t even have traditional Christmas stockings. Or perhaps the socks were traditional back then for country folks. She loved that doll so much, partly because even a little girl’s doll was a rare thing for her.

(This is a very old picture of my mom, with dolls. One of the big ones was hers, the other her older sister’s. The one she’s holding may be the little one she got for Christmas.)

Somehow, an orange and an apple found their way into each child’s sock, along with a handful of nuts in their shells. A little candy would appear in a good year. If her parents couldn’t buy any, her mother might make fudge or divinity candy. They made delicious, sticky popcorn balls and in sparser times chicken and dressing would be the centerpiece of their Christmas dinner, instead of turkey or goose. My grandmother had a reputation as a wonderful cook, even though she had to do it all, roasting the meat, baking cakes and pies and the wonderful cookies she called tea cakes, in the oven of a wood burning cook stove that practically roasted the kitchen, as well as the food.

Maybe all this is why my mom never wanted much for Christmas and was so grateful for the special presents I picked out so carefully to make up a little for the spare Christmases she knew as a child. I think the reality was that she didn’t think of those holidays as spare. She remembered each  gift she received with joy, because every single humble one was wrapped so beautifully in the love that was the best gift of all. 

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