Memories of Christmas

By Patrick Fisher

It's often on this page we highlight a person's favorite memory of a holiday. With Christmas nearly here, my memories have been turning toward that holiday, although from my jumble of memories I can't pick out a favorite one.

As a child, my family had many traditions, with things usually beginning on Christmas Eve. There would be a holiday meal with my dad's parents and some of his family. Later in the evening, we would visit my mom's parents. My grandparents' house would be crowded with aunts, uncles and cousins.

The younger children would have their attention occupied by toys, games or activity books to try and keep them from asking every five minutes if it was time to open the presents. The older children would gather on the steps leading upstairs to tell jokes or talk. The adults would be sitting on every available chair or couch, talking, a lot of times laughing about some event or joke. Sometimes the TV was on, but it was mostly ignored like a lump of coal in a stocking.

My grandmother would sometimes be among those chatting, other times she would be this whirlwind, checking on the late evening meal. She would make sure that the ham was ready and the potatoes mashed, and would make sure everything was put on the table. Sometimes my mom and aunts would help. If things were mostly done, she would politely decline their help.

Some family appeared later as they were at Midnight Mass. In my teens, I was among those showing up late after helping with readings or singing in the choir.

There would be a huge, collective cheer from the children when it was time to open the presents. Spread among the mounds of wrapping paper and dots of ribbon were the gifts that included toys, puzzles, sometimes hand made mittens or hats, or coupons for Dairy Queen or McDonald's.

After the presents, we would gather for the meal. Plates would be heaped to overflowing with juicy ham or turkey, a small mountain of potatoes that had been boiled, mashed and then be flooded with either gravy or butter. Rolls would be off to the side of the plate to munch on through the meal and corn or green beans would add a dash of color. There would be milk for the children and coffee for the adults. Years later I would find that the coffee was strong, making some offered in restaurants seem tepid.

Of course, Christmas also meant treats, the majority made from scratch. There was banana bread, doughnuts, jello bars, different types of chocolate snacks and cookies of various designs. There were sugar cookies shaped like snowmen, reindeer and Santa, chocolate chip, gingerbread and peanut butter with the chocolate star inserted in the middle. Two very Scandinavian treats were krumkake, a cookie that was rolled into a cone, and rosettes - a pastry made so thin that it's best to eat it over a plate, because one bite could cause it to break into pieces.

Those memories may dim during the rest of the year, but when Christmas approaches they burn bright, providing a glow and warmth throughout the holiday.

Here's wishing all of you a Merry Christmas. May this holiday be filled with your own warm memories.

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