I keep trying to be my mom at Christmas.
I grew up in humble surroundings. In fact, I just had some one recently refer to the neighborhood I grew up in as the “ghetto.” But to me it was Leave it to Beaver-middle America. My dad was bi-vocational, a milkman in the wee hours and a church-planting-pastor by night, which in those days meant that he was, besides everything else, also financing it. And I watched my mom toil over her budget and struggle to make ends meet. Into the night she’d sit figuring out how to feed us and clothe us and support missionaries, too. But when Christmas came, she made it amazing.
Every year she’d tell me, “We can’t do much this year, but I will make sure you have at least 5 gifts under the tree” (I think her budget was $25 per child and there were 5 of us). There were always more. Plus the little touches like nuts in the shell for cracking throughout December.
She’d make “popcorn-ball garlands,” red and green rounds wrapped in cello and tied with red and green curling ribbon for relatives and neighbors. Her baked goods were prized gifts.
She made a big deal of December 15 – the day we always got the tree (my dad would not allow it earlier) and we’d carefully unpack a mish-mash of ornaments her relatives had given to her when she got married. I so regret getting her to switch to more organized “designer” trees 20 years ago or so, and teaching her to “theme.” I think she has reverted back somewhat, but I don’t know if any of my childhood ornaments, like the little collectors elves you see now, are still around. She gave me the angel-hair/spun glasss angel tree topper from 1964, but much of the rest is now gone. Because 20 years ago I was too busy trying to be unique to recognize the rich beauty of the traditions and little pieces of Christmas that had always been there.
On Christmas eve (right about now as I write), as soon as the sun began to set, we were home – warm and cozy and ate snacks and had homemade hot cocoa (not pre-mixed, please, my mom made it in a heavy pan with whole milk and fresh cocoa). There’d be popcorn and Bugles. Bugles. They were a Christmas Eve snack. And there were these things called Pizza Spins, which they no longer make. Usually some chips and dip, a rare treat in those days. And we would snack while watching A Charlie Brown Christmas or The Davy & Goliath Christmas episode.
We’d go to bed a little earlier than usual on Christmas Eve, dad having read the Christmas story to us from the Bible and the fam praying on our knees together before then, most years. I would agonize trying to go to sleep. I was always filled with such anticipation. Then there was always an unwrapped gift that we came out to in the morning. And other things my mom managed to fit into her budget.
I loved it.
I am still trying to figure out how she did it….
“All that I come from and all that I live for and all that I’m going to be – my precious famaily is more than an heirloom to me.”