As a child, Christmas was a magical time of the year for me. It never seemed to matter that we did not have much money. Raised by a single mom, we really literally lived paycheck to paycheck. But, somehow, there were always plenty of presents under the Christmas tree each year – and we always celebrated the holiday with good food and good cheer.
My mom was a firm believer in the “lay-away plan” – a purchasing method whereby you made a deposit on items in a store and the store would “lay it away” while further payments were made. When paid in full, the items could be picked up. I’m not sure if this type of arrangement still exists today but I know it was how we were able to enjoy the excitement of a “gift-filled” Christmas morning!
Traditions are part of every holiday and we had our share of customs that we engaged in each Christmas season.
When my siblings and I were in elementary school (and before we were old enough to earn money), we were given a small amount of cash to purchase gifts for our relatives. It was such fun to shop and choose small, inexpensive but purposeful presents for our close family – perhaps a tie for my Uncle Roland, or socks – always socks – for someone!
Christmas was not Christmas without a trip to Longwood Gardens to drive through “Christmas Tree Lane” and view the trees all decorated with lights. That is a tradition that continued with my own kids for many, many years while I lived in Pennsylvania. I still visit Longwood to see their extensive light display if I’m in the area over the holidays. It has grown to be a very elaborate affair complete with colorful water fountain displays. I highly recommend it to anyone who has not enjoyed this holiday extravaganza.
When I was in high school, I joined the Presbyterian church down the street from our apartment. Two of my high school friends were members of the congregation and I participated in the church choir with them. For a couple of years, I sang with the choir in the candlelight midnight service on Christmas Eve. It is a memory that still brings tears to my eyes when I think about that candlelit atmosphere and the feeling of peace it evoked.
We would almost always wait until Christmas Eve to purchase our tree. My mother always bought our tree at the Christmas tree stand operated by the local boy scout troop. I also know that by Christmas Eve they were marking down the price of the trees, hence why we waited! I loved decorating the tree. Mom would always be the one to place the strings of lights on the tree, and then, we could decorate. Back then, we always started with “tinsel.” Mom was very particular about how we placed the tinsel on the tree – and surveyed our work closely! 🙂 We had to carefully place each strand as opposed to taking a clump and “tossing” it onto the tree – which is what we were tempted to do so that we could move on to the fun of placing the ornaments!
We had a cardboard Christmas Village set that we placed under the tree. There were little holes in the back of each house so that you could insert a light. The doors and windows were made of thick colored cellophane and the light created a nice, warm glowing effect. It is the set that I have today and is placed on my fireplace mantel.
These vintage cardboard Christmas Village sets have their origin in Germany. They are referred to as Putz houses. After World War II in the 1950’s, Japan started manufacturing these little houses and they were often sold in “five and dime” stores such as Woolworth’s. I’m fortunate to have these treasures in my Christmas collection!
I also have a few vintage ornaments from my grandmother’s household. This year, we chose to “fabricate” a small tree and I used only these old ornaments as decoration. They are so beautiful and colorful!
During these difficult times, it’s been hard for me to muster up much Christmas cheer this year. So, instead, I’m focusing on treasuring the memories of past holidays with family and friends and contemplating how we might reimagine Christmas next year.