How privileged I was to be a child in the 1950s! Today Christmas has lost so much of its meaning and magic. We are desperately trying to get it back. Notice the catalogs full of such nostalgic products as Radio Flyer wagons and bubbling Christmas tree lights, if you don't believe it. I've hung on to many a faded glass ornament from those days, so I'm doing my bit for nostalgia, too. But my memories haven't all faded. Many of them are as clear and bright as they ever were.
We were fortunate to live just down the road from my grandmother's farmhouse, so I got to see her Christmas preparations before the big day. My grandmother loved holidays, and Christmas was her top favorite. She decorated the big farmhouse to the hilt!
|Me in front of the farmhouse in 1963|
But back to the farmhouse living room: there were birch logs in the fireplace and a crackling electric "fire".
Colorful electric candoliers glowed in every window. A green ceramic tree with glowing colored lights, similar to the one below, lit up an upstairs hallway.
|photo from The Vermont Country Store|
|Photo from The Vermont Country Store|
|Photo from The Vermont Country Store|
The photos I have of Gram's tree (above) show it set up in her living room, which was a much smaller room than the front room. It must be that in my toddler years, when the family was still relatively small, the tree went in the living room. But later, during the Christmases that I remember best, the family had grown to include 20 grandchildren, and the tree was placed in the much larger front room just beyond.
There, the Christmas tree would be set up at one end of the room. I liked nothing better than to go in and just look at all the gifts under that tree. It didn't even matter if they weren't all for me! The
wrappings were so beautiful, and each package seemed to be different. One gift might be wrapped in midnight-blue paper with a scene depicting Bethlehem and the manger, even the shepherds out in the fields. Another gift might be papered with glittering Christmas ornaments and pine needles. A little boy's package might be wrapped in paper showing small cowboys and their horses. And the tags always matched the paper! Gram's artistic eye wouldn't have settled for anything less! It wasn't just that a snowman package carried a tag with a snowman on it. No, the snowman tag would exactly match the snowman paper!
I was very, very fortunate that in the early lean years of our marriage, Gram realized I could probably use some Christmas paper, ribbons, and tags -- and she passed her "leftovers" on to me. I still have some of the tags and ribbon!
Gram's Christmas tree was beautiful, too. All of my cousins recollect her tree as being really special. Shirley said it best: "I recall how in awe I always was of her tree in the living room -- so bright and warming." The ornaments were very special. Some of them were sparkly and white and looked as if they had been formed out of sugar. The shapes I remember for these "sugar" ornaments were bells and angels. The white plastic reindeer tied with red satin ribbons were also favorites of mine.
But my best-loved ornaments were the faces of angels -- which, years before, my mother and some of her sisters had cut from paper, colored beautifully with crayons, and sprinkled with glitter.
One special memory of Christmas for me is the red corduroy vest
that my Dad would always wear when we went to Gram's for Christmas dinner and the tree. He and my uncles would all be particularly jovial on that special day, joking with all of the kids and with one another.
I had forgotten this, but it seems there was always a lot of joking about how much food my dad was able to eat. One year someone took a picture of him with the turkey directly in front of him, as if the whole thing was for him to eat!
My cousin Wayne remembers: "There were always a lot of grownups and oodles of kids around with a constant level of voices and laughter." Sometimes it seemed that there was more excitement in that
one day than in a week or a month of ordinary days. We would have the tree and presents at home in the morning and then go to Gram's for dinner and her tree in the afternoon. Often we cousins would bring along one or more of our new Christmas gifts to show the others -- dolls, trucks, games, or whatever.
Gram would be dressed to suit the holiday in a bright red dress or jumper, with plenty of sparkly holiday jewelry in the shape of holly or poinsettias. Her earrings and pins always matched her dress on any day, but she pulled out all the stops when dressing up on Christmas day.
Christmas dinner was always a festive affair, with the tables carefully set for the younger children in the kitchen and the adults and older kids in the dining room. The smaller cousins always had special little Santa mugs to drink from. The dining room table would be set with Gram's set of ivy-trimmed white dishes. It seemed to me that food just looked and tasted better on those plates.
Equally impressive to me was the fact that all of the serving dishes matched! She would have a snowy white cloth on the table, and all the glassware and silver sparkled.
Often we would all start off with a juice glass full of tomato juice or V-8. I'm sure the meat we had for that meal varied; I seem to remember roast beef, turkey, or roast pork at different times. Somehow I remember the vegetables best: the fluffy mashed potatoes, the squash with lots of pepper; the green peas which I seldom wanted to take any of so there would be more room for other things. There was also a tossed green salad with Wish-Bone Italian dressing, always. This was a huge treat to me because we never had bottled dressing at home. Sometimes my mother would make Parker House rolls to contribute to the meal, or Aunt Dot would make her famous oatmeal rolls. It's funny, but I really don't remember at all what our Christmas desserts were. I do remember that we didn't eat dessert until after the present-opening in the front room.
After everyone was gathered and seated in the front room, Gram would have the cousins pass out the gifts. We would end up with everyone having a gift from Gram, and sometimes I think there were family gifts which the aunts and uncles had brought for their siblings' families. And then there would be a huge pile of gifts next to Gram's chair. It would take forever for her to open them! But we didn't have dessert until she was finished with the task, unless she decided the rest of us needed dessert and took a break from opening her gifts.
As I mentioned earlier, the Christmas music was all out on the piano or in the bench and sometimes one of the aunts would play Christmas songs. When some of the cousins grew old enough to take piano lessons, there would often be "recitals" taking place in the front room as well. I think that
sometimes Christmas music would be playing on the record player in the corner. The songs I associate with Christmas at Gram's are "Silver Bells" and "Winter Wonderland."
I seem to remember ice cream for dessert, and usually there was some of Grammie Wallace's date cake around. This dark-colored loaf cake, frosted on top with a thick white frosting and trimmed with walnut halves, was a tradition in Gram's family, but I never liked it very much.
I think Gram may have baked a sheet cake of some sort as well -- she was a big fan of cake mixes and liked the unusual flavors such as butter pecan or cherry chip. If we had cake, I imagine we also had ice cream. Aunt Dot usually brought some of her famous date balls, which early on earned the nickname "Dot's Oddballs". (I am not sure if it was my dad or Dot's husband Howard who gave them this name. They shared the same quirky sense of humor, so it could have been either one of them.)
But my major "sweet" memories of Christmas were the candy dishes on the sideboard -- especially the chocolates and the thin, fragile, bright-colored ribbon candy.
|Screenshot photo from The Vermont Country Store|
|Screenshot from The Vermont Country Store|
|The farm of my childhood Christmases|