I loved Christmas as a child. Not just the day but everything leading up to it.
A week before Thanksgiving mom would trade the Venetian blinds for the sheer, white panels in the dining room and living room. So many curtains! Sooo exciting for a little girl who Knew what it meant! Next came the polishing of the brass, the laundering of the holiday linens. The excitement mounted.
The baking and busteling! Oh my it was magical. She would get down the old scale for weighing homemade cookies while I played with the weights.
Next came the electric candles for every window. From outside our house looked like a fairy tale castle to me. Fun! The masking tape that held them to the windowsills was yellowed and I never wondered why it wasn't replaced.. I still don't. That's just the way it was.
The house would be so warm from the radiators under the windows and the oven running practically nonstop. The scents of butter, sugar, anise and nutmeg permeated everything.
And the Snow! Oh it was glorious. I would climb up on to the kitchen counter in the evenings, with the lights off and watch it falling for hours. Or at least until I decided to go into the dining room. Now THAT was magic! To watch the snowflakes drifting and swirling in the light of the street lamps, see it accumulate on the boughs of the pine trees across the street.
Thinking about sliding in the snowy street the next day with my big brother Jake holding my hand, or my grandfather when he wasn't so sick that the icy air stole his breath.
Everyone in town waited for the police to take the boat onto the pond and measure the thickness of the ice until .. YES! It was thick enough to ice skate and play on. The flag would go up proclaiming it safe for the stream of children waiting breathlessly with skates over shoulders and big round eyes.
Now the Big Kids would come out. I would watch them from the window. How many would cross the street and climb the stairs to sit in our kitchen and warm up with cups of hot cocoa? And this was not the kind that comes in packets, that children know today Oh No. This was real, honest to goodness Cocoa, made by the gallons by mom, for any kid who wanted some. Everyone was welcome in our home, I would think with pride.
Then came Christmas tree buying! Walking between the trees on the lot, breathing in the smell of pine on the frosty, biting cold air until we found just the right one. Exciting!!
Then came the wait. The tree went into the garage for a few days to acclimate to the warmer temperature. (I didn't understand as a child but now I know if we had brought it straight inside, all of the needles would have dropped)
And then...mom getting the ladder from the wall and opening the attic! Every Christmas decoration ever used in our family was up there. It was Scary exciting!! I wasn't supposed to climb up inside but what child could resist? Not me, that's for sure. There were boards to step on and once-pink insulation in between. Watch your step! Don't dare fall through, you might end up on the floor. And there, in the shadowy light the stuff of nightmares. It was an antique bassinet under the window but it scared me every time.
Finally the tree came inside. The boxes of decorations came down. Mom put the lights on because she was the only one who could do it right. Then the fragile glass ornaments, some so old the paint was fading. A bird with one feather left in its tail. Every ornament had a story and the retelling was part of the magic. And the tinsel! One strand at a time, precisely placed, no tossing on the tree or mom would take it off and put it back herself.
It was finished! The most magnificent Christmas tree ever seen and it was in Our Living Room! It was simply amazing that every year we managed to find the perfect tree.
And all through the weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas the hymns were sung. The house abounded with joy.
And the friends and family would stop by for cookies and conversation. Aunt Jayne always bought cookies and the wine cookies were always on her list. They would stick and burn if Mom didn't watch them carefully, so I knew better than to pester her when those were in the oven.
Christmas Eve and it's time to set the Dutch cake. Mom would cover the loaf pans with tea towels and pull them right up to the radiator to rise.
The antique cradle that, by morning would hold the Baby Jesus was put by the tree.
Then the magic of Christmas morning. Running in to the living room and seeing the brightly wrapped gifts under the tree, eating Dutch cake for breakfast with sips of my grandfather's coffee.
Christmas was about Jesus and beautiful lights and endless cookies and Love. The gifts were lagniappe, giving them just as much fun as receiving. And always the knowledge that we were celebrating the birth of the Christ Child.
The peace and sense of anticipation during the Advent season was, and still is one of my favorite parts of Christmas.
I will never forget these memories and I hope that by carrying on generations old, family traditions that I have given my own children something just as magical to keep in Their hearts.