Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Christmas Seasons of Yore

Christmas will be here again in less than two weeks. Holiday shoppers are scrambling about, gathering gifts to be presented on that special day. My mother often left shopping until the last minute. I recall her bringing me with her to downtown Manchester (NH) on Christmas Eve to buy last minute gifts, sometimes at great mark-down prices. She had to be economical as she had so many people to remember, including some of my aunts and uncles. One time she got so distracted, she laid down her wallet on top of some dry goods and forgot it there. Luckily, someone retrieved it and gave it to store management, so she did get it back!

At that time, downtown Manchester was a hub of shopping opportunities. There was Leavitt's, Pariseau's and Hills for fine clothing, Lemay Jewelers, and Pandora Mills for great sweaters and knit goods. There was also a high end hardware store that sold kitchen goods (crystal, china, etc.) of great quality. It was the era before the malls that have taken over in recent years but which now seem to be in decline. Elm Street (the main street in downtown Manchester) attracted busloads of shoppers!

I enjoyed the shared excitement of finding gifts for everyone on her list. On one occasion, we ran into one of my maiden aunts who was in a frenzy trying to do some of her last minute shopping, too.

At home we always had a fresh tree nicely decorated with tin ornaments and shiny balls, garlands, lights and lots of tinsel! My mother has a plastic set consisting of a white sleigh, a Santa figure, and reindeer, attached to each other by ribbon. She displayed that on the fireplace mantel. There was a stocking for each "kid" - four of us in all and I loved getting stocking gifts that would continue to amuse me all the day. I especially liked plastic puzzles that featured separate tiles that moved around would make a "picture" of a giraffe or something. I also remember a clown that had bendable arms and legs that could be re-positioned.

Of course, food was a big part of the celebration. Mother always made Stollen. Her father was an Austrian-American. I loved smelling that candied bread baking. She drizzled a glaze over it and topped it with candied cherries. The two large loaves would be doled out, a few pieces at a time. She always made fruitcake, macerating her fruit in rum from about Thanksgiving. Santa always was treated to a white layer cake with peach preserves between the layers, topped with white frosting and sprinkled with coconut.

When I look back, I marvel at all that my mother accomplished and all she did to make holidays special. The family attended Midnight Mass at the cathedral which always had many poinsettias and a large creche at the front of the church. The kids would be bleary-eyed, staying up so late, and also "wired" thinking of Santa who would arrive so soon. On Christmas day the first one down the stairs from the upstairs bedrooms was my brother, Jack. He always swore that he had heard the hooves of Santa's reindeer on the roof! How my parents were able to get all those gifts wrapped and under the tree "in time" is nothing short of a miracle!

"Patti" at Christmas in 1956 with "Jill" the doll and a tea cup set

It is fun to reminisce about Christmases from years past. I remember receiving many practical gifts like socks, new pajamas, a wool shirt or other clothing. We were a big family and my parents needed to be reasonable in their gift-giving. I had a god-father who spoiled me with fashion dolls that were too nice to play with. One was a "bride" and another was a society doll with a dress, wearing nylons, high heels, and a hat! But, I received other dolls, too, all of which I still have!

I can't reclaim the total magic that was Christmas in those days when I believed in Santa - those dreamy days of childhood that can never return. I try to re-create my mother's traditions of Stollen, Coconut cake, and cookies but not the fruitcake! I now have some of the ornaments that were on those Christmas trees of the 1950s, a time of awakening for me, spiritually and otherwise. I would love to hear about your family traditions, if you care to leave a comment! Merry Christmas to all who celebrate the holiday!

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