Wednesday, December 8, 2010
There was so much joy and pride in sharing the very best your heart and home had to offer. It wasn't about 'store bought glitter'.
December arrived and boy oh boy did I know I was in trouble. December 1st meant I only had 24 days left to make up for a whole year of bad behaviour. Each day through the month until the 24th I kept wondering if I had been good enough to make up for all the obnoxious and bad things I had done. Would I really get ‘nothing’ this year? I don’t mind telling you it was for me a very tense time of year; I was never certain I would make it.
Remember…Christmas was the only time of year we received a gift. If we blew it at Christmas that was it for another year. We did not receive birthday gifts or tokens on shopping trips, new game cards for electronic gizmos…..no allowances, notta! No, it was Christmas or no gift at all!
Loved the ‘Christmas’ streets of our town. They were snow packed and the main shopping concourse was lined along four blocks at the centre of town. No large structures….smaller village type, personalized stores. All the shops piped out seasonal music, street corners had Salvation Army workers with kettles and bells ringing and the snow fell in floating dream like swirls as people rushed along with ‘brown paper’ bags containing heavens knew what.
People were jolly and happy, hailing each other and chatting along the street, children were pulled in sleds wrapped up like Egyptian mummies against the cold. Store windows were ablaze with strings of lights and lighted stars. Toys on prominent display in S.S. Kresge, Woolworth and Metropolitan store and hardware store windows. We looked in these windows and dreamed. Every time I watch the story of Scrooge with Tiny Tim looking in a store window I still see our faces peering the same way with the same expression of joy and anticipation.
Many times during the month of December we children were not included in all of the grocery shopping trips and had to remain home. Mother and dad would come home trying to conceal certain shopping bags which were surreptitiously skirted off to another section of the house. The basement became off limits as did other areas of our house. Now mind you when we were younger this had no impact, but once we began to know where the bounty under the tree came from we would do our all to seek out the hidden parcels.
We usually hit pay dirt in mom’s and dad’s closet. Much good that did though. To loosen the outer layer of bound bag only to find a layer of Christmas wrap underneath which we dare not penetrate. But one could pick up boxes and speculate. And speculate we did. By the way, all our speculations were waaaaaaaay off.
And the Christmas tree. Oh the Christmas tree!
One of my uncles would venture out to the forest and cut an evergreen for each family and one for his friends. My father would venture down to select his tree. I think perhaps my father’s vision may have failed him when selecting our tree. It was always so tall he would have to cut some off the bottom as well as the top. And for some reason the tree dad selected had fewer branches……sort of a Charlie Brown type of tree. Our star was always sort of embedded in the top of the tree with other branches rising higher than the star. However, I will say it was the most beautiful tree in the world.
The tree was mounted on a wooden butter box; the trunk nailed to the box. Twine wound round the tree and fastened on either side into wall hooks. For some reason my parents had great fear of the tree falling and the lights shorting out, thus causing a fire. Fires from Christmas trees were not uncommon in our area and our parents would take no chances with a brood of running children around. Tree lights gleamed very hot, no ‘cool’ lights as we have today. One could get burns touching the lights so they were always protected with ‘reflectors’ behind the light.
Lights were strung and decorations hung. Last year’s box of tinsel was carefully extracted and a new box added for the current year. You know the hanging silvery tinsel stuff. Seems to me we always had sparsely little on our tree.
Visiting one of my aunt’s homes I was astounded to find her tree and arch way swag glittering in blankets of tinsel. I thought indeed she had to be the richest person alive … so much tinsel in one home! We could only afford one new box. I’ll bet she had a hundred boxes hung on the tree alone. It glittered quite impressively … but it wasn’t our tree plus it did not have any hand made ornaments that I could find…. So it was lacking although glittering!
Hand made ornaments were proudly added to our Christmas decorations; our paper chains were displayed prominently as well as anything else we had made. And, these items were proudly pointed out to visitors by parents and children.
I can still see my sisters and brothers sitting side by side on the huge horsehair sofa with the lights shining off their faces as they gazed at the tree; eyes all a-wonder and gentle smiles. Particularly the shining face of my youngest sister remains in my memory to this day; the anticipation and joy of that face will never be forgotten by me.
Christmas decorations were few and far between; not at all like the blazing displays of today. Simple green wreaths were hung inside window frames; or perhaps a lighted candle might glow through the window. Swags always adorned archways. We didn't burn as much hydro with overlighted displays as we see today ... but they were every bit as beautiful in a simpler landscape.