Friday, December 24, 2010

Advent Calendar - Christmas Eve

How did you, your family or your ancestors spend Christmas Eve?
Since it's just my husband and myself now, we spend it pretty quiet.  We sometimes have my sister-in-law Judy with us so that's always a plus.

When our girls were little and they didn't know which day was actually Christmas, my husband and I would have our own "Christmas Day" at home just the four of us.  Then December 24th, we'd pack our bags for several days, and all the Christmas gifts into the car for the 50 mile trek to my mother's house to celebrate Christmas Eve with her, my sister, brother and his family.  We'd have a really nice dinner, open gifts, take video and lots of instant pictures with our cameras. 

After a few hours, we'd pack up the girls and all our "loot", and drive another 30 miles to my in-laws house for Christmas Eve again.  My in-laws would hold off gift opening until we got there.  It was a very long day for us.  Our girls were cranked up to the hilt and fell asleep exhausted.  Luckily, we'd stay over for several nights.

Exhausting, exhilarating, thrilling, surprising and fun.  Food, laughter, visiting, sharing and oh so many Kodak moments.  By the time Christmas Day had actually arrived, I was usually pooped! 

When I was a little girl, my parents always seem to have a friendly get together most Christmas Eves.  We saw friends of theirs pop in for awhile, have a drink, and little something to eat.

My ancestors, I'm not really sure how they spent their Christmas Eve, but I bet they had fun too.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Advent Calendar - Christmas Music

What songs did your family listen to during Christmas?
Oh, I think the usual, "Silent Night", "White Christmas", anything by Bing Crosby or Perry Como, loved their holiday specials.  When I was little, a "new Christmas" song just came out and I remember driving my mom insane by playing it over and over, "Christmas Don't Be Late" by Alvin and the Chipmunks.  I think we wore out a phonograph needle.

Today, I really can't listen to that song without thinking of mom holding her ears and walking away into another room.  I have favorite Christmas songs that I start playing the day after Thanksgiving.  "Merry Christmas Darling" by the Carpenters, "Once Upon A Christmas" CD by Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton.  A few years ago I actually had to buy a new cassette because I wore my first one out.

This year I bought The Christmas CD by the cast of Glee.  My sister got me hooked on the show each Tuesday night.  Since I love Christmas songs, I had to buy the album.  It's in my car so I can listen to it on the way home from work and I've ripped it to my iPod.  I don't usually buy Cd's during the year, but come Christmas time and I'm looking and listening when I'm in a mall.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Advent Calendar - Christmas Shopping

How did your family handle Christmas Shopping?
Mom did all the shopping and wrapping.  She must have done her shopping when we were in school.  The gifts magically appeared under the tree or there would be gifts in the car trunk when we went visiting grandma Jean.  When we were a little older, I remember our dad took all three of us out once to buy a gift for mom.  We had never done that before. My sister, brother and I were so excited on Christmas day for mom to open her gift from us.

Did anyone finish early or did anyone start on Christmas Eve?
My sister Sharon ALWAYS took the prize hands down, when it came time to be finished shopping.  She was usually done before Thanksgiving, so unfair!!  When I was finally making my own money, I remember thinking, "I haven't a clue what to get anyone," and this was usually well into December.  We are the same to this day.  She's usually done by Thanksgiving (or at least the end of November), me, I'm still working on this year's gifts.  Got any ideas?

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Advent Calendar - Christmas Stockings

Did you have one?  Yes.
Where did you hang it?  On the short "pony wall" by our dining room.
What did you get in it?  Mom usually bought each of us a store-bought net stocking each year.  The stocking always had hard candy.
Do you have any Christmas stockings used by your ancestors?  No.

Jennifer & Lara, 1980

When our daughters were born, I purchased some fuzzy stockings to hang by our fireplace.  As I got more into quilting, I made stocking for the girls and they got various ones from relatives.  But I still have the original ones I made them (somewhere).  The girls always enjoyed opening the small presents I'd wrap up for them and hid in the toe of their stockings. 

Lara & Jennifer with our dog Sandy, 1991

Of course there was always the plastic candy cane filled with M&Ms.  Each year I still look at those candy canes in the store, although I no longer buy them, they still take me back to when my girls were little.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Advent Calendar - Holiday Travel

Did you or your ancestors travel anywhere for Christmas?  How did you travel and who traveled with you?  Do you remember any special trips?
We didn't travel for Christmas.  Most years, my parents would have a get-together on Christmas Eve.  My mother's father (grandpa Hank and his wife Bonita) lived in Waterloo, Wisconsin, so we didn't see them for the holidays.  Mom would take us to see her mother (grandma Jean) before the holidays to exchange gifts.  Grandma must have gone to my aunt's house for Christmas.  My dad's mother (grandma Angie) would either come over on Christmas Eve or maybe Christmas Day.  She would make the rounds to all the cousin's houses.

For several years we had to be up at 5:00 AM on December 26th to hit-the-road for our family ski trip.  We wanted to keep playing with our new toys on Christmas night, but come bedtime, it was early to bed.  I remember one such morning, we were in a diner having breakfast.  We were the only people there, really felt strange.  My mom saw me just staring into space and asked me what I was thinking of, I said, "it's only 365 days until Christmas."  She sat there with her mouth open and her eyes rolling back into her head.  My dad and the man behind the counter roared with laughter.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Advent Calendar - Christmas Gifts

What were your favorite gifts, both to receive and to give?
I can't remember any certain gifts that were favorite.  When I was little, everything was special.  I remember getting dolls and strollers and educational toys.  I had dolls that talked, that wet when you fed them, and dolls that when you held their hand, would walk with you.  I remember the last doll I had, I named her Carol after one of my aunt's by marriage.  The last time I saw Carol was in our garage.  I had moved away and had my own studio apartment and left my childhood toys at home.  She was in the garage a long time, then she wasn't.  I think mom needed to clean out old stuff and Carol was gone.  Of course in hind-sight I was sorry I didn't take her to my little apartment.  When I was about 13, I remember getting a pair of pierced stud earrings from my parents.  I had those for a long time and thought of mom and dad each time I wore them.

The first year I was making my own money, I remember enjoying picking out gifts for my family all by myself.  Everything was special and bought with a particular person in mind.  Each person was quite surprised what I had picked out for them, that was really memorable for me.  A few years later I bought a crochet ripple Afghan kit.  I made the zig-zag pattern and gave the afghan to my boyfriend's mother for Christmas.  She was really surprised and loved it.  After that I made one for my grandma Jean.  After she passed away, I got the afghan back, I think of her whenever I use it.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Advent Calendar - Christmas Cookies

Did your family or ancestors make Christmas Cookies?
Yes and yes.  Mom taught my sister and I how to make the cookies.  We rolled out the dough and chose just the right cookie cutter to make our favorite shape.  After they came out of the oven we placed the hot cookies on top of paper grocery bags cut open to lay flat.  Once they were cooled, mom showed us how to frost and decorate the cookies.  Some were baked a little too long and were hard, but they were easy to frost, and they were good to dunk in milk.

My mom's mother (grandma Jean) had a sister named Mary (aunt Mary to us).  She made the best kolache cookies (Czechoslovakian Dessert).  Mom would take us to visit aunt Mary during the holidays.  She always brought out a plate of kolaches of different flavors.  The cookie was round with an indentation filled with your choice of fillings, poppyseed, apricot or cream cheese.  She would wrap-up a "care package" of cookies and away we'd go.  Grandma Jean and mom made them too, but it was aunt Mary's kolache's that I associate with Christmas.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Advent Calendar - Holiday Parties

Did your family throw a holiday party each year?
Yes, every Christmas Eve some of our aunts, uncles and family friends would drop by for a few hours. I remember dad stocking the bar with "refreshments" and plenty of ice. My sister, brother and I had to keep a low profile. We got to come out and meet everyone then had to stay in the back of the house so the grown-ups could "socialize." It was definitely an adult party.

When I was single I'd go to our office holiday party. The women would buy a new dress, shoes and maybe a purse to match. Get our hair and make-up just right. There would be a sit-down dinner and some kind of entertainment. It was always a party to look forward to each year.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Advent Calendar - Santa Claus

Did you ever send a letter to Santa? Yes I did and I probably had the Sears Christmas catalog right next to me as I was writing. I remember one year my mom cautioned me about asking for too much. I had to go find an eraser. We also left homemade cookies out on a plate with a glass of milk. We didn't have a fire place so couldn't understand how Santa could get in our house. I think mom said they left the front door unlocked for him. Hmmmmmm.

Did you ever visit Santa? Yes, and no. My poor mom, she would tell us about Santa visiting the local department store, Crawford's on North Avenue. She'd get my brother and I all dressed up for the Santa photo. She already had my sister's Santa photo so it was now my brother and my turn. We walked to the store holding hands, through the revolving doors, then up the stairs and through the aisles. I could see the top of Santa's red chair and could hear him talking. But for some reason, the closer we got, the more I hung back.

My mom and brother were already talking to Santa and my mom turned around for me and I was GONE! That guy scared me, I was literally shaking. I was down those stairs and almost to the front of the store when I heard my mom calling and calling for me. I looked back and she and Santa were on the platform of the stairs looking for me. I called to her at the top of my little voice, "I'm over here, by the door." By the look on mom's face, I knew I was in trouble. Try as she might she never did get a photo of Santa and me.

When I was 21 and living on my own, a couple of women I worked with took me to The Broadway Department Store on our lunch break and I finally sat on Santa's lap (though I was still nervous) and had my picture taken. I gave the picture to mom for Christmas that year and signed it, "To Mom, from the one who got away, Love, Gayle."

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Advent Calendar - Outdoor Decorations

Growing up in Chicago we lived on a fairly busy street. We had to go down the block and around the corner to play with friends and it was more residential. Some people decorated their windows and most would have a tree in front of the window. I remember we'd pile into the car and drive out to the suburbs to see full-blown outdoor decorations. I couldn't believe the lengths people would go through for the holidays. Really extravagant. But we loved it and looked forward to it every year.

My parents owned an apartment house, and we lived on the first floor. There really wasn't any place for outdoor decorations. One year my dad outlined the living room window with lights. We were so excited and ran outside to see our window. One year, mom bought two sets of large red bells. She hung one pair in the living room window and the other pair in her bedroom window, both windows faced the street. When plugged in, the first bell would blink on and the second bell would blink off, then the second bell would blink on and the first bell would blink off. We'd go across the street to see them blink and think how pretty they were. That's about the extent of "outdoor decorations" while growing up.

The past few years, my husband has been the outdoor decoration king of our street. Shortly after Thanksgiving the tree of lights go up in the front yard. The next day it might be the house lights. Then he'll string some color lights on our 94 year old neighbor's house to get her in the holiday mood (and he loves doing it). We've seen people at night drive by our house several times to see the size of the tree. You can even see the top of our tree from several blocks away. Anyway, it makes us all smile and happy and we look forward to our very own outdoor decorations each year. Thank you honey, love you much!

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Advent Calendar - Christmas Cards

1978 Wolcott Family
Christmas Card

Did our family send cards? Yes, mom had a list she used every year. Her mother, father, sister, aunts, uncles and cousins all sent cards to each other. Some would include a photo, and we'd ask, "who's that?" She'd explain they were either her cousin's children or family friends and their children. Mom might have tucked our school pictures into her cards. She would write inside and sometimes on the back of her cards our family news.

I didn't start writing my own Christmas cards until I was on my own. I didn't have a big list, probably sent them to the same relatives my mom sent her's. The year our oldest daughter was born, my husband set the camera on a tripod and the three of us posed for our very first photo Christmas card. Our 2nd daughter followed two years after her sister. Each year, I look forward to picking out just the right card to send. For about the past 30 years, I've included a newsletter that wrapped up the year for us. Sometimes I would send photo of the four of us taken during vacation.

This year, since it's just the two of us, we're putting together another photo Christmas card to send to our family and friends. Keep those cards coming.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Advent Calendar - Christmas Tree Ornaments

I don't remember having heirloom ornaments. The ones we had were made of glass and were fragile; they had to be handled with care. Some were more special than others. My parents put their favorite ones on the highest branches. We didn't string much popcorn, probably because we were eating it faster than we could string it.

The whole living room was a mess when the ornaments came out, boxes everywhere. We'd remember them from the year before, but still picked them up and studied each one, like it was the first time. Then we had to find just the right place on the tree.

I enjoyed going to our grandparent's house and looking at their ornaments. Some were really funny and different. They didn't just have round bulbs. Some were different shapes and made of different materials.

We moved from Chicago out to California, then back to Chicago and finally back to California for the last time. None of the ornaments survived. We bought newer ones and they became favorites. After I was married and had children of my own, a neighbor helped me make ornaments every year. We would have an ornament swap and we'd all have ornaments from each other.

Each year we bring out the boxes there is the same excitement and thrill of finding old favorites and adding newer ornaments on the tree. They were, and still are precious memories.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Advent Calendar - Holiday Foods

1983 at mom's house.

Traditionally, we had turkey and ham for the holidays. Seems we always had company too. Extended family or maybe neighbors, it wasn't just the five of us. Dad would put a very large piece of plywood on top of the table to extend it and that table would fit 12 people or more (not the same table in the photo). The good tablecloths, dishes and silverware would come out and the tables would get set. The kids had their own table and we were able to have soda, one of the few times with dinner.

Mom would make her special Jello mold that only made an appearance during the holidays. We'd have red crab apples, jelled cranberry (from a can), mashed potatoes, gravy, stuffing and of course biscuits. Probably some kind of green vegetable but I pushed it around my plate and don't remember eating any. I was a picky eater so as long as I had stuffing on my plate, I didn't have to eat turkey. I remember so much food, laughter and fun.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Advent Calendar - The Christmas Tree

Christmas 1957 Gayle, George & Sharon

Growing up we always had a real tree. When I was really small, I suppose my dad brought it home and he and mom would decorate it. As I got older, I remember the five of us, mom, dad, my sister, brother and I would pile into the family car and go Christmas tree shopping. We lived in Chicago. Dad had a friend who worked at a tree lot. It seemed like a big drafty barn. The trees were still wrapped up with twine and leaning against the walls. We seemed to look at each one but mom reminded us that it had to fit into our living room, so watch the size!

Dad would pay the friend, then tie the tree to the top of the car and away we went. The tree had to stay in the garage for the night so the branches could open by themselves. I remember my mom saying, "we seemed to have gotten the most crooked tree on the lot." Dad had to saw off several inches and then try and get it to stand straight in the stand.

Dad would put the lights on the tree and then sit back and watch all of us do the decorating. Big bulbs, garland, round glass oranments from when my parents were first married and then of course the shiny silver tinsel.

We always put the tree in one of two corners of the living room. One year, that darn tree wouldn't stay upright! It fell three times on Christmas day alone. Water went flying, ornaments were broken and mom would come running. Dad finally had to tie the tree to the handle of a cabinet door. Other years, either my brother or myself knocked the tree over. If we could have run from mom, we would have.

Our grandparents all had real trees. It was fun to visit and look at all their ornaments and decorations. I can still see my grandma Jean's small apartment size tree in front of her living room window.