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LIFEWAVES: Senior Highlights

Christmas Memories

Thinking back on my childhood, I realize one of my favorite holiday memories is of working in the kitchen with my mother and sister, preparing holiday baskets for our neighbors. Rolling out sugar cookies, decorating cupcakes, the aroma of banana bread baking in the oven. My sister and I would spend hours deciding what would go in each basket and then choosing just the right ribbon candy (do they even make ribbon candy anymore?) to sprinkle in the package.

I decided to ask some of the elders in our community to share their early Christmas memories, by asking, “What do you remember most of Christmas holidays when you were a child?”  The stories shared are remarkable, telling of a time that many of us can’t imagine or funny little incidents that can make you laugh 80 years after the fact.

Sibyl, age 81, remembers growing up during the depression in Missouri.

“We didn’t have much at Christmas time – there simply wasn’t any money during those years.”  She remembers all the family coming together for Christmas and an unmarried uncle who made sure all the kids got a paper maché Santa with candy pieces in his bag.  That was often the only gift received.  For Christmas dinner, the family had chicken.  Although they raised turkeys, those were to sell to pay for the taxes on the house.  In 1940, when she was a schoolteacher at the county school, she remembers buying a banana and an orange for each of her students (out of her own pocket). As she says, “that might be the only banana or orange those kids got all year! It was quite a treat.”

Dennis, age 72, grew up on a farm in Nebraska during the 1930s.

“The winters were very cold, often well below zero,” he said. “I remember 8 foot drifts of snow.”

To go to the homes of other family members for Christmas, the whole family would put on snowshoes (woven bamboo overshoes) and trek across the fields.

“You had to be real careful you didn’t drop the gifts in the snow,” he said. He remembers when the whole family would come to their homestead for Christmas dinner:  “There would be 50 to 60 people with all my aunts and uncles and their kids. Because our dining room table only sat 12 people, we would eat in shifts and my mother would have to wash the dishes between each setting. We didn’t mind; we had a good time visiting with one another.”

Norma, age 70, was the youngest of 13 children, growing up on a farm in Oklahoma during the 1930s. Her Christmas memories are centered around the family doing things together: stringing popcorn for the tree, pulling taffy, making tree ornaments out of construction paper and the special treat of her mom making hot cocoa for everyone.

“We always made our star for the top of the tree; all of us kids would save gum wrappers all year long and then we would cover a cardboard star with the foil. It was beautiful!”

Al, age 94, when asked to recall his most favorite Christmas memory, laughingly states “I wouldn’t say that it was my favorite Christmas memory, but it is my most vivid!” When he was a very young child, growing up in Pennsylvania, the Christmas tree was always placed in the sitting room on the second floor of their two-story house. Small candles were placed all over the tree (remember this was before stringed lights).  Well, one evening the tree caught on fire. Although he was only 4 or 5 at the time, he remembers very clearly standing there in the room watching his father open the bay windows and throwing the flaming tree out the window while his mother shouted “don’t set the curtains on fire.” That would be a memory to last 90 years!

Vivian, 80, states that her earliest memory of Christmas was crawling under her father’s roll-top desk and looking at all the decorations hanging on the tree which caught the light from the room and shined so brightly.

“I was only 4, but I remember it like yesterday,” she said.

Lois, 63, recalls a very special holiday memory.

“I was very small, barely walking, and we stayed Christmas Eve with my grandparents. We went to bed early, but before we went to sleep, we heard a noise on the roof – it was Santa and his reindeer. To this day, when I go to bed on Christmas Eve, I still wait to hear Santa on the roof.”

While all the stories shared were very different, there was a common thread. The things most remembered from holidays as a child were never purchased gifts. Family get-togethers, activities with neighbors, or simple pleasures were the memories that lasted decades.

So this holiday season, as we are all pressured to buy-buy-buy from television ads and magazines and Martha Stewart wants us to set the “perfect table” and we feel we must send the “best” card – the hustle and bustle is not what the season is all about.

Your son or daughter of 7 years old will not, when they are a senior, remember the electronic toy they “just had to have” this Christmas, but will instead hold close the memories of family, community and traditions.

So let’s learn from the experience of our elders we should be making memories – not shopping lists!

The staff of the Enumclaw Senior Activity Center wishes for each of you the happiest of holidays and a New Year filled with peace, health and happiness.

(This article is reprinted from a previous year to reduce the writer’s stress level this year!)

By Jobyna Nickum, Enumclaw Senior Activity Center

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