Many of us are struck with some seasonal melancholia during this season. So many
Christmases past fill our hearts and minds. I know it is a natural part of life as it
reflects the supercharged emotions of the season and also reflects the progression
of life. My own prayer and desire is to remember the joyous times and to cherish
I pray I will always remember the joy, the laughter and all the excitement of a
child’s face, as far back as when it was my own. I remember the lights and
Christmas music of Christmas Eve at our house while my Mom and Dad, three
sisters and I gathered around the family table; later in the living room around our
tree and felt the magic of that sacred day. Long silver foil icicles hung all over the
tree, draping to the floor as the lights were reflected off of them giving the tree a
mystical. glowing quality.
Mom’s favorite cookies lined in a row on a tray with the Snowball cookies all
dusted with powdered sugar and stuffed with chopped pecans, sitting next to the
Kindergarten bars sweet with dates, brown sugar and oats with nuts. I recall we
named them that because the recipe was given to my Mom by my Kindergarten
teacher. There was always chocolate fudge made from the See’s candy company
recipe. I remember my Dad always had the crack the nut detail as he pounded on
them with a hammer each year; equal parts fresh walnut and red pecans. There
were several layers of newspapers protecting the kitchen table. I recall my Mom
always admonishing him, but not too hard lest he stop doing the job. “Bill, be
careful, you’re getting shells all over the floor.” He continued to pound away.
Mom always had a new cookie of the year and one year it was thumbprint cookies,
rich with butter, rolled into balls, dipped in beaten egg white, rolled in chopped
nuts then placed on a buttered cookie sheet where you then put a finger in the top
of them to make a hole. After baking she would fill the hole with jelly, bright and
One year she happened onto a delicious recipe for Cherry Bourbon cake. It was not
only delicious but hilarious as she went to the liquor store each year and frightened
someone from the Baptist church would see her, always explained to the man
behind the counter she was buying it to make cake. Now that I think of it, that was
a lot of bourbon for a few cakes, but she went every year. I wonder now who was
dipping into the bourbon in our tea-totaling family? There was always that event
when my Dad would take over the kitchen to make his famous Tomato Soup
French salad dressing. During the war my Dad had worked at a factory during the
day and moonlighted at a restaurant where he was a chef. That salad dressing was
so delicious and the whole kitchen seemed to have a bit of it displayed. We had
jars of it for weeks. He never made a small batch.
I remember the year my older, teen-aged sisters volunteered me to sing Away in a
Manger at our church and I had to have my usual braided hair curled with hard
metal rollers which one slept on all night. For the performance I had to wear a
choir robe that was much too large for me and have a fake halo on my head; of
course, guess I couldn’t find my real one…looked all over for it. Nope not now or
then. I was so frightened the words caught in my very dry throat. Our large church
auditorium was filled and beautifully resonated Christmas carols all over the main
floor and the balcony with music and Christmas wonder. My piano teacher played
an enormous organ which caused the floor and the balcony to rumble with the bass
I remember the privilege of going shopping alone with my Dad as he shopped for
my Mom and my sisters. I recall Mom’s joy the year he gave her a diamond
engagement ring to go with her very thin wedding band she had worn smooth over
many years. It felt so very grand.
I recall the early morning frost and my older sisters who wore many ruffled
petticoats under their skirts complaining about all the soot that sullied those
petticoats from the smudge pots they lit in the groves of orange trees for years
around our house. In southern California, before they had wind machines to
hamper the frost, oil burning smudge pots were lit to keep the oranges, lemons and
grapefruit from freezing in the wintertime.
I sadly remember the year I was-eleven-years old and had to spend most of the
year in bed due to rheumatic fever. Bedrest was the only answer for that particular
disease at that time. Every Friday afternoon my Dad would carry me to our Chevy
where I would lie in the back seat while my Dad, Mom with us, drove to the
doctor’s office parking lot where a kind nurse drew blood from my arm. Christmas
that year I got to spend on the couch and felt so privileged to escape my bedroom.
My sisters must have resented me terribly because the only TV in the house was
placed in my bedroom. One of my sisters who was in nursing school at that time in
Los Angeles confessed to me years later it was hard for her to be around sick
people all week and come home to more sickness on her breaks. I had a kind home
teacher and looked forward to her visits, not wanting to get behind my fellow
classmates when I returned to school. I recall so many kind people in our town
who would drop by to say hi and to cheer me up but I still felt different, maimed in
some way and set apart. I do think that is when the idea of my becoming a nurse
I lovingly remember the years when my children were tiny and the joy and
laughter of sharing the holidays with them, a house full of relatives eating and
talking, a plethora of food on the dining room table. Sliced ham with glaze, mashed
potatoes, sweet potato casserole, dripping with marshmallows and brown sugar,
pickled peached, fresh Parker House rolls, etc. So much homemade food.
The first Christmas after my divorce, my children and I were alone because my
parents had to take a turn with one of my sister’s families in another part of the
state. My small children and I invited another single mom friend over and we
shared our dinner and had great fun with a piñata I had bought for the holiday. The
kids practically beheaded each other as they whacked away at it and hard candy
spilled all over the floor in the hallway, because it was the safest place to hang it.
We had to keep it away from windows.
Money was scarce and we always made the ornaments and garland for our fresh
Christmas trees. I found some beautiful patterns for sugar cookie cut-outs and used
those for many years. The cut-out soft cardboard forms of elephants, giraffes and
other animals, as well as a fat Santa were so beautiful. It wasn’t easy to cut out the
shapes on the rolled-out cookie dough, carefully using a table knife to make the
shapes come forth. We painted the baked cookies with frosting and strung them
with twine for the tree. I think I still have those patterns around here somewhere
and am certain they are covered with buttery fingerprints and flour. We also glued
small Styrofoam balls into ice cream cones and strung them for the tree. If we
wanted them to look like a particular flavor of ice cream, we painted them that
color. Of course, we made paper chains out of construction paper, made a mess of
trying to string drippy cranberries and excelled at stringing popcorn. I used to buy
a very special popcorn that was only available at Knott’s Berry Farm which was a
few miles from us in S. California. That particular popcorn was huge when it was
popped and easier to string. It was also delicious as a treat while we were stringing
Like most of you, the cycle of life moved us forward as I went to nursing school as
a single mom, later married my dear Jim and worked as an RN while my kids grew
into adults we could be proud of. They insisted for years on the traditions we later
established like homemade cheese ball, lemon bars, strudel, Mom’s Snowball
cookies, and my homemade fruitcake. Hey, don’t knock fruitcake until you’ve had
mine. I’ve tried to base it on one my Dad bought every year from the Helms bakery
in S. California. They had a truck and would drive through the neighborhoods.
They could always count on Dad to buy cream puffs and a holiday fruitcake rich
with candied cherries, pineapple, nuts and raisins. This year Jim and I are going to
venture into a fruitcake from last year. Well, it’s soused in brandy, in the
refrigerator still moist so if we live to tell you about it…I will.
Now my children are grown and establishing traditions with their own families and
it is a wonderful thing to observe. Each generation brings in their own tastes, ideas
and favorites while embracing what they enjoy and remember from the past. We
have many beautiful ornaments inherited from Jim’s Mom.
Illnesses, tragedies and loss also fill many of the memories yet they are a part of
who we are. They are us. May we embrace the struggles, the triumphs, the ongoing
challenges and remember the blessed, the humorous and all those happy memories.
May we file away the sad and dark memories and forgive those who were
responsible for them.
Loved ones now gone are remembered, often with a tear in the eye and an aching
in the heart as a tribute to the lives they lived, those of us they loved and the
memories they left in our hearts. Please enjoy your Christmas and Holy days with
your own memories and traditions and know that we are all part of a family as our
bodies, our lives and our families grow and change. My special Christmas wish for
you is to embrace life as you find it, improve what can be improved, grieve for that
which is lost and move on. Change can be a blessed gift if we embrace it and look
to the future while remembering and cherishing the past.
It is also my prayer that each of you who practice Christianity remember that long
ago, fully pregnant young Mary who rode a donkey, in her condition, full of child
through the cold. Accompanied by her husband, Joseph as her only nurse midwife,
she gave birth to the Christ child in a cold stable, in a dank, itchy straw filled
manger. Such a tiny one to bring so much hope to the world. The glory for us
began there, with that tiny newborn who is the heart of this holiday.
Merriest, most hopeful and most blessed of all Christmases to each of you in all
sorts of circumstances. Remember, look for the joy and you will find it, look for
the lessons in life and they are there and hope is always alive.