Greg’s Christmas Then + Now
Do you have any holiday traditions you remember from your childhood? Growing up I had a few traditions which at the time seemed more like chores or a price to pay for getting the gifts on Christmas.
One constant, a week or two before Christmas my Mom would make these cookies. I’m not sure what kind of cookies they were. Sort of beige sugar cookie but not as sweet. My sister Dorothy and I would decorate them with frosting which we dyed different colors with food coloring. My sister is a good artist and took the time to make a masterpiece out of her cookies, while I just slopped the frosting on and waited for the things to dry. I could have eaten those things without the festive look. Mom if you’re reading this, email me the recipe and what kind of cookies they were.
In the early years, Mom would hold a Christmas party for close friends. Mostly it was an adult party with food and drinks but we as kids always had good time as well. One year I remember the tree fell right as the party was to begin. I can’t remember if it was because of the cat or just physics alone but every year after, we wired the tree to the wall to keep it from falling. What a mess on party night.
Getting the tree was always an adventure. Most years we went to a roadside seller, but one year we went out to the woods and cut one down. I don’t think we sawed it, if I recall, the guy who owned the tree farm did. Mom didn’t want to put it up until the middle weekend of December, for example the 15th. Growing up we had the tree up until at least New Years. I don’t think the tree ever made it to January 6th but that was the goal.
It wouldn’t be Christmas without being dragged to Midnight Mass at St. Mary’s Basilica. We’d listen to carols on the radio on Christmas Eve and then at about 10:30pm we’d get dressed up and go downtown to church. At the time, I remember Midnight Mass kind of being a chore but thinking back on it, what a great experience. As a kid though, I remember yawning and constantly checking
my watch or the clock in the church. Generally a longer service than a normal Sunday. We walked to and mostly from. If there was a cab waiting or the weather was bad we’d taxi home.
On Christmas Day my sister and I would wake up like at 5 am to the surprise of all of the gifts and stockings full. We were allowed to go through the stockings but couldn’t open the gifts under the tree until Mom was awake. Subliminally I think we were louder on Christmas than on a usual morning to wake her up. We didn’t ever pile into Mom’s bedroom to wake her, that I remember, but we’d generally be a nuisance until she woke up.
There was always this idea that Mom had of wanting “oohing and aahhing” over each gift as we opened them. I assume that was to slow down the gift opening. The present opening frenzy took all of about 20 minutes. We took the rest of the morning to play with the presents and argue over sharing, if there was a combo gift, like a video game or something. We always had a turkey for dinner and that’s something I looked forward to all day. Just like at Thanksgiving with turkey stuffing, mashed potatoes and veggies.
In the later years, I’d get money and it would so burn a hole in my pocket. Nothing worse than a teenager with a wad a cash and no way to spend it, as all is closed on Christmas. In Canada they have “Boxing Day.” Boxing Day is the day after Christmas. Back in my youth, stores were closed on Boxing Day as well, but I guess now it’s just an office, bank and government holiday, but retail stores are open. I think I blew most of my cash in one day at Halifax Shopping Centre. On December 27th I would say, “Mom I’m going to the mall, be back later.” I remember buying Buffalo jeans and Michael Jackson’s ‘Dangerous’ one year. I probably bought an up-sized meal at A&W in the food court as well.
So those are a few of my childhood memories and traditions. Today I have a family of my own and we’re developing ours. For years we went out and bought Christmas trees at tree lots. The boys would like it because we often went to the lot outside of Shaws on Center St. in Auburn. At the time, Shaws had a Dunkin Donuts and we’d fuel up there first on hot chocolate and then sort through the trees. I’m not sure whatever happened to that group of tree sellers; for the past couple of years they haven’t been there. We have a fake tree now, so it’s a non-issue, but sad because we liked them and where the money went from the sales.
Unlike my childhood, regardless if it was a real or now our fake tree, our tree goes up Thanksgiving weekend or the weekend after. As we decorate the tree, we put on Christmas music. Decorating the tree takes about an hour, maybe longer depending whether the kids are into it.
One thing we love to do is go look at Christmas lights. We take a Saturday or Sunday evening and drive around aimlessly and look for light displays. There is a great display on Lisbon St. in Lisbon and of course Dr. Zee’s on State St. in Augusta, which are definite destinations. You’ll find other displays worth seeing throughout as well. It’s sort of like yard-sailing without a newspaper.
On Christmas Eve we always go to Lynn’s Mom’s. We eat, play games and the kids get showered with gifts from their grandmother and aunts. We hang out and enjoy each others company. In the first few years, Lynn’s mother made a French-Canadian dish which involved putting pork and beef together in sort of like a stew. Lynn and her family call it “put on put.” (You must add the French accent when you say “put on put”.) In more recent years, because of the involvement in time with that dish, it has gone by the wayside. Now we do finger rolls and a veggie platter. That’s okay, it’s not all about the food, it’s about the company. The party lasts until about 8pm, then it’s time to go home. When we get home, we have to dial up the Santa Tracker to see where Santa is on his journey. The Santa Tracker helps the kids get to bed, but they love it and we give in.
Christmas Day, like when we were young, the family is up when the kids are. Gift opening is about a 15-20 minute storm of wrapping paper, cardboard and twist ties. The kids will play with the gifts Santa brought through the morning. Lynn makes cinnamon rolls which are yummy. Trust me, we need the sugar boost in the morning after going to bed at 12am or so and waking up at 5. We debate about going to church, sometimes we do, sometimes we don’t. If we go, it’s always the same homily on Christmas. The Priest will say something like, it’s really nice to see all of the new faces at Mass today as he seems to look right at me. Anyway, either after church or not, we head to Lynn’s Uncle Jean’s in New Gloucester for Christmas Dinner. It’s pretty traditional. Turkey, stuffing and the sides. We chat and hang out until about 4pm and then head home.
I’m not sure if I should write this paragraph or not. We have dinner in New Gloucester but we have Chinese for supper. We invite our old neighbors who are great friends over and order from Jade Garden in Lewiston. This is a tradition I brought to the table. As an adult, over the years, between living at home and having a family. I often worked on Christmas whether it was at radio station or a convenience store. What do you do when you’re hungry on Christmas? You get Chinese food. So that started, I think in the early 90’s-mid 90’s.
If you made it this far, thank you for reading. I didn’t realize I was writing a novel. Enjoy your holiday.