We made Christmas cookies early in the month. Mom made only one kind, a recipe called Kris Kringles. They were rolled out and cut with the cookie cutters, frosted and decorated with sugars.
The dining room table was littered with paper and bows, where Mom could be found after school, putting the finishing touches on what she had wrapped while we were at school. Every package was a work of art; each paper corner folded perfectly, each ribbon positioned exactly, each bow carefully chosen. Not all 'bows' were made of ribbon - some were tiny pine cones or mistletoe or other decorations.
In early December we did the tree. Dad had planted (with our unwilling assistance) the back lot full of evergreens; now we would all get dressed up, put the trailer on the jalopy, and ride down to the trees. Dad would pick a tree while pretending that we all had a say in it, and my elder brother would cut it down. With great triumph, it was hauled home, to stand on the porch a few days. There was a reason for it standing there, but I've forgotten what it was.
Tree decoration was a required-attendance event. After Dad (in later years, one of my brothers) put the lights on the tree (the full-size ones - mini lights hadn't been invented yet) and Sweet Angie was established at the top, Mom attached hangers to the ornaments, one by one, and handed them out, giving thought to exactly which child should hang which ornament. My sister took great pride in hanging the tinsel icesicles one at a time on each branch end. Shortly after this event, wrapped presents would begin appearing under the tree.
But we didn't celebrate Christmas at home. The main event would not be complete without Grandma's house.
We lived 80 miles from Grandma. It was considered an ideal distance, where there wouldn't be daily interference from the older generation, but not too far to go. So on Christmas eve, my parents would be packing the station wagon - not full to the brim, since the packing extended to the rack on top of the car. There would be six kids to pack in, too. (By the time the littlest arrived, the eldest had moved on.)
The ride itself sticks in my memory as clearly as the arrival. Martha would be tired and end up slumped against Ransom, who would complain loudly, so she would lean the other way against Susan, who would be wakened by the inconvenience and do her own complaining. The twins, 18 months younger than me, were more convivial companions. Like as not, we'd be turned around watching out the back of the car.
There was little heat in the car, other than 8 bodies. Also little heat for the windshield. It required a lot of stopping to brush off snow, or to scrape off ice, or at least just to wipe the steam off. One year, Dad wired the wipers so that they were heated. That worked very well for that trip, but didn't last long after that.
Pulling into Grandma's driveway, we would first see the lattice entrance, covered with big, 4-inch colored globes of light, and right after that, look through the big front window to see the tree. Somehow, it always looked nicer than ours.
We went to bed early Christmas eve, so that Christmas would arrive faster. Christmas morning, my Grandpa was the first one up, though I barely remember him. He died when I was about six. Dad would deliberately irritate us all by taking forever at shaving, and we couldn't go downstairs until all the adults did. When we did go down, we had to stand in the dining room, in a line from youngest to eldest, waiting for the movie lights and camera to be set up on the other side of the curtain.
It was like entering a magical land. Movie lights were *bright*. We were all in our pyjamas and bathrobes, which made it an occasion all by itself, to not be dressed. And there was all the glitter from the tree at the far end (which we weren't supposed to look at, and couldn't really, because it was behind the lights) and a small fire in the fireplace beside us. We would each take down our stockings and go through them.
In later years, when Martha was 14, she made stockings as well as nightgowns/nightshirt for the adults and everyone got a stocking. By then the quality of what went into the stocking was somewhat codified and we follow through with that today. At that time though, half of the stocking was candies and nuts, there would be a couple cheap toys, meant to provide an hour or two of hilarious fun and then break; one special, wrapped gift, and an orange in the toe.
After breakfast we would have the tree. I remember years when the presents covered the entire end of the room - stacked six feet high, twelve feet side-to-side, and spilling out so far that you couldn't touch the tree. That was later, when the older kids started having income and buying presents.
For most of the rest of the day, we would be occupied with the presents we received. There would be a tube radio being built, a train being set up, a paint by number on the card table, a game going on the dining room table - Flinch, or Parchesi, or Cootie. (Pit was reserved for Thanksgiving.)
After supper, we went 'to the farm', where my grandmother had grown up. Cold cut sandwiches and more games. Mostly I remember Chinese Checkers.
I miss it. This year Christmas is greatly reduced. We won't be going anywhere, or having anyone over except Travanti. But it will be nice. Mostly because Raederle has contributed so much, trying to keep the traditions she loves.