I will hold Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. - Charles Dickens
Much has changed in America since the days of Dickens' Christmas Carol. There are so many different cultures now in this country that there are many different Christmas traditions faithfully followed each year. Yet traditions never go away as long as families continue the same ones year after year and hand them down to their children and grandchildren.
In my family we are seeing the ninth generation of the same traditions that my ancestors began from the early days of America. We have at this time five generations that gather each year to carry on - and how wonderful it is to watch my great-great niece and nephews learn about their ancestral traditions.
I can picture in my mind what it was like with my ancestors in Maine back in the mid to late 1800's. Grandfather would have hitched up the horses to the buckboard wagon, helped the children and his wife in and driven them out to the woods to find the perfect tree to decorate. This would have been early on December 24th. After the tree was home, Grandpa would have trimmed off the lowest branches for Grandma to arrange prettily with a big red ribbon and he would tack it up on the front door. Once the tree was up, then everyone helped to put the ornaments on, mostly home-made ones. They would have strung some popcorn and maybe cranberries, if they had them, to trim the tree with. Then Grandpa would have put the star on top, the one that his father had always put up. The children would hang their stockings on the fireplace in hopes that Saint Nicholas would find them. After supper and a cozy evening by the fire as Grandpa read a story to everyone, the children were tucked warm and sleepy into their beds. The look on their faces that of delighted little angels.
On Christmas morning Grandma had already been up for hours to get the turkey prepared, stuffed and into the wood burning oven, pies and other goodies awaited the evening dessert with coffee and hot chocolate, and pots of potatoes, yams and other vegetables peeled and ready to start cooking. The bacon was already fried for breakfast, eggs were scrambling and the cinnamon rolls were just coming out of the oven. Grandpa had the fire in the hearth going strong and was sitting there with his coffee, waiting for the children to get up.
Before long, the scuffling of little feet and excited voices could be heard coming down from the children's loft. And wonder of wonders! Their sparkling eyes held the joy that St. Nicholas did indeed find their little cabin. Each stocking was stuffed to overflowing! Marbles and candies for the boys, ribbons and candies for the girls, an apple and orange for each and in the toe of each stocking a handful of walnuts and hazelnuts. And under the tree, a new sled for each boy, a new rag doll for each girl and a rocking horse for the baby. Oh, the joys of childhood and the bedazzlement of Christmas morning!
After breakfast the family would pile in the wagon and meet all their friends at the frozen pond and skate for a few hours as the boys tried out their new sleds. Later the family enjoyed a wonderful early supper that Grandma had been preparing for days. The plumb pudding was "the best I've ever tasted" as Grandpa always said. And the stuffing "was also the best ever", in fact the whole meal was! After supper the family joined others at the church for caroling, hot chocolate and the sharing of the joys of their day and prayers of blessings for all.
Back at home once again, everyone enjoyed the pumpkin and mince meat pies with fresh hand-whipped cream. Grandpa slyly pulled Grandma over under the mistletoe hanging in the arch by the kitchen and gave her a little kiss on the cheek as she blushed and the children giggled. Then Grandma and Grandpa relaxed by the fire with that special egg nog that Grandpa fixed while the children enjoyed their new toys.
We celebrate Christmas now in much the same way as Great-great Grandma and Grampa did, except instead of the buckboard wagon and the fresh-cut Christmas tree, we take our artificial tree out of storage and decorate it the day after Thanksgiving. The house has a bit of Christmas in every corner, the mistletoe is hung, the pine boughs with the red ribbon are placed on the front door, a wreath of green and red hangs above the fireplace, stockings are hung and baskets of pine cones sit on the floor. Each individual family spends Christmas morning with our own tree and watch the delightful glee of our own children. We all gather at my Mother's house early to help with the cooking of the same types of foods our ancestors cooked as the children show off and share their new toys and the teens gather to listen to the latest DVD's they received. We watch "A Christmas Carol" and "It's A Wonderful Life", we marvel at the "best Christmas supper ever" and the "most wonderful pies ever tasted" and pray for blessings for all as we remember the special babe born in that manger far away and long ago in Bethlehem .
Only a few of us now like and enjoy that mug of egg nog, but, it is as much a part of Christmas as all the other traditions.
Christmas comes but once a year.
Time to get out the memories, the warmth and cheer.
And let us keep these wonderful traditions
always near and dear.
- Phyllis D. Burns
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