The way we did Christmas in my family back in the early 60s was as follows. First, we enjoyed Thanksgiving thoroughly, feasting on a big Turkey my parents always got from the yarn mill where they were employed. We ate one and put the other in the freezer for Christmas. The leftovers sustained us for the next several days following. Thanksgiving and Christmas were the main times when food was in abundance at our house.
The days following Thanksgiving were a brief respite before Christmastime proper began, a lull of sorts. But come the first of December our aluminum Christmas tree with revolving color lamp went up. I think we got that tree about 1965 or 66. Before that we got a real tree and decorated it with old Christmas decorations that my mom had inherited from her mom. I especially remember those bubbling Christmas lights. (We quit using those, of course, when we went with the artificial tree.) And it seems the balls were a very different variety than the newer balls. In fact, the older balls mostly weren't balls at all, but were different shapes and sizes and were wildly decorated with bright colors and lots of sparkle. Also from my grandparent's old trunk which held our decorations came various wreaths and hangings that were scattered about our home.
Then there was the music that added to the mood and which always, ALWAYS, played softly in the background on Christmas morn. You might think my devoutly religious parents would have gone over the top with religious carols, but that wasn't the case. The religious and the secular - Jesus and Santa - were intermixed throughout the season.
The plant where my parents were employed usually shut down the week of Christmas, or at least for a large portion of it. I loved those times, when the lights at home were put on low so we could enjoy the Christmas tree lights and the blinking lights we had hung around our windows. Mom always made sure we had apples, oranges - and sometimes tangerines! - mixed nuts (which Dad always cracked for us using his pliers) and that delicious hard candy. These were special times for us when we would sit for long hours in the evenings just enjoying each other's company, those wonderful days of my early childhood, before my parents divorced, when we all were together as a family.
At least once during the month we would load up in our Ford Falcon station wagon and go downtown to see the Christmas lights. And a grand show it was in those days! The wires and every telephone poll were heavily decorated with lights and greenery. Downtown still being a major retail center, with our sole mall just starting out, the stores went all out with Christmas-themed window displays. I never wanted those rides to end. Even now the closest thing to Heaven on earth I know were those treasured family times. I sometimes think that if given the chance I would give up all my tomorrows to relive just one of those magic evenings!
Our church also kept us busy during the Christmas season. There were holiday songs to learn and practice, the annual Christmas play had to be rehearsed and then presented to the faithful. I never realized that Jesus' father and mother, as well as the Three Kings, all wore bathrobes from Sears. And surely the baby Jesus must have been frightened out of his wits to open his eyes and see all those cardboard cutout animals standing around his manger!
The Christmas season really began in earnest for us kids when the last day of school before Christmas break was completed. Then we were free to concentrate solely on the Big Day. My older brother, Earl, had discovered that by pressing the wrapping paper on our gifts tightly against the box and holding it close to the revolving tree light we could sometimes make out the letters on the box and figure out some of what our gifts were. When that was difficult we resorted to shaking and rattling the gifts.
Finally the big day would arrive. Mom always had some set rules for this. First, we had to have breakfast. She knew that once the package opening started and then we started in with our new toys, eating would be the farthest thing from our little minds. How difficult it was to force down the chow knowing our presents awaited us, eager to be ripped open. One of us children would then be chosen to pass out the gifts (after we were old enough to be able to read the labels, of course). Then we would always open our presents in order, my younger brother first, then me, then big brother. Mom went next and finally dad got to open his tie and after shave (okay, sometimes it was a pair of slippers or a robe).
The tree afterward looked empty. The lights stayed on and the music continued for several more days. Finally Dad began wondering out loud when the tree was coming down. "It's almost Christmas again" he would always say. The tree was usually down and the living room space reclaimed by Mom by January 1st.
That was it until next December. It sure does seem to me now that a year was longer back when I was a child!