Saturday, December 11, 2010

Remembering Christmases Past

I was fortunate to grow up in a very large extended family. My mom was one of seven children and my grandparents and all their married children lived in the same good-sized town. Even though I had only one brother, my childhood was spent surrounded with many, many cousins, aunts and uncles and my grandparents, all of whom I saw weekly if not more often.

One get together that was a tradition for the whole clan for all my growing up years was our Christmas Eve celebration at Uncle Frank and Aunt Helen's house. Uncle Frank had the distinction of being the first born of the seven kids; much to his chagrin, he was the only male child followed by six females.

Uncle Frank and Aunt Helen were the most well-to-do of the family. Not that Uncle Frank didn't work for his prosperity. When he was just thirteen, he started working in a small auto repair shop next door to where Grandma and Grandpa lived. By the time he was forty, he owned the business which by then had become a thriving enterprise.

The basement of my uncle's house was finished off into a very classy "rec room" complete with fireplace, comfortable furniture and a home bar. Not at all like the basement of our house which was . . . well, a basement.

The party on Christmas Eve was pretty much the same every year. We all dressed up (haven't we lost something these days when we all dress so casually no matter the occasion?) in special Christmas outfits, and each family brought a festive dish to pass. Uncle Frank and his family provided the liquid libations for both adults and children.

What a group we made. At first we numbered probably around 28, adults and kids. As the years went by and more little ones were born, our ranks swelled to about 36; sixteen adults and twenty children.

Other than eating a lot of good food, I can't remember anything specific we did on those Christmas Eves. The night was very low key and enjoyable. When we cousins were little we played the usual games, got into the usual squabbles and probably drove the adults crazy. As we grew older, we entered into more discussions, both with each other and our elders. Now that I think back on it, I guess it was pretty amazing that that many family members got along so well and could spend an evening together with no one having too much to drink and/or behaving in an undesirable way. (Well, perhaps there were a couple or three of the men who enjoyed the free spirits more than they would have under other non-holiday circumstances, but everyone was jovial and happy, and a couple of the wives would now and then commandeer the car keys before heading home.)

Heading home. Ah, that was the part of the evening that always caused me much angst. For some reason, I had the idea Santa wouldn't stop at our house if we weren't home and all tucked safely in bed. I was just sure we would fail to get home before Santa got to us on his route. You have no idea how anxious I was as I sat with my face pressed up against the cold car window scanning the heavens as we drove the few miles home. My eyes were peeled searching for a lit up sleigh pulled by reindeer racing across the night sky. I never did spot Santa's entourage (thank goodness as I'm sure I would have burst into hysterical tears if I had) on our way home. My brother and I probably made it out of our festive duds, on with our p.j.s and into bed faster than any other night of the year. Knowing it was okay for Santa to arrive since we were home, we quickly fell asleep thinking of the fun time we'd just had with all of our cousins, Grandma and Grandpa, and aunts and uncles on yet another Christmas Eve.

13 comments:

Jane said...

What a lovely way to spend Christmas Eve.It was so great your whole family could be together. Early on in my life with my Husband his family would do the traditional seven fishes dinner and we would all go to Midnight Mass. A very very long Mass. But now as the elders have passed on, no one really continues that tradition. Shame.

The Apple Pie Gal said...

Christmas is for making memories! How awesome of you to share with us. I felt like I was in the room and on the car ride home even!

Hope you have fond memories of recent past as well and that you are blessed with those to come.

Erin said...

I almost cried - pretty much the same thing here! My grandma was a big party thrower, and we always did our big event on Christmas Eve, not Day. Even Santa courtesy of my ex-uncle (from a divorce) that refused to leave our family hahaha, he'd show up and we'd hear him stomping the snow off his boots down in the basement! Their basement was the same deal, huge fireplace, 3-4 barrel chairs and tables, full bar, foosball and ping pong tables... oh those were the best memories I have of my grandma, always putting together the whole family and throwing in a dozen good friends for good measure!

Erin said...

I tell you I'm watching all my friends in Red Wing post photos of their snow on Facebook and I can't take it anymore, it's SO beautiful! They have even ordered the plows off the road there's so much and it's still coming down fast... are you having the same up there?

Freedom Acres Farm said...

I just love Christmas stories!! Of course my favorite one is about a small baby that was born in a stable many years ago :-) That poor mother - I can't even imagine!!

Hoping you get some pretty red batteries in your stocking LOL

Mama Pea said...

Jane - I do so wish we cousins could have continued the tradition, but as with so many people these days, we're scattered all over the country. Sometime I do wish families stayed in one location so family ties could remain stronger.

APG - Thanks, Di. We're looking forward to some better memories next year. This one's been less than happy in many ways. BUT it's all gonna get better from here on out!

Erin - After my grandma died, my mom was the one who "held things together" in the extended family. She and all of her siblings are gone now and I sure miss those times.

Don't talk to me about snow. It's all SOUTH of us AGAIN! We are getting none of it. Just cold (8 degrees now) and stiff wind. Forecast is for -25 to -40 windchill tonight. Not nice. Give me snow any day!

Freedom - I'd better start knitting a bigger stocking right now!! ;o)

Sue said...

So much of our memories is based around food. Some of my favorites are! What upsets me no end is the amount of kids growing up literally on JUNK....is that the makings of fine memories? I shudder to think. My mom could whip up the finest meals on little or nothing. When I look back on her cooking, it certainly wasn't anything expensive, but meals were together and filled with laughter and love. Your childhood sounds marvelous, and I'm sure that is much of what shaped you into the fine person you are (don't get a fat head!!)

Mama Pea said...

Sue - Boy! Have I got you snookered! :o)

Kelly said...

A wonderful story, thanks for sharing it with us! I miss the large family gatherings of my childhood, you just brought down memory lane.

Mama Pea said...

Kelly - I think for so many of us the large family gatherings of our childhood are a very fond memory of the past. We can't expect things to stay the same forever (especially with our mobile society) but big family get togethers were/are great.

Mama Pea said...

Kelly - I think for so many of us the large family gatherings of our childhood are a very fond memory of the past. We can't expect things to stay the same forever (especially with our mobile society) but big family get togethers were/are great.

Susan said...

How wonderful to have a large, close family when you're a child (and any other time of life). Ours is very small and all of our relatives were rather far-flung. At Christmas, it was just the five of us. For every other holiday, too. I had a friend in Jr. High that came from a large Italian family and I secretly wanted them to adopt me.

Mama Pea said...

Susan - Guilt, guilt, guilt! That's one thing we deprived our only child of by moving way the heck up here to no-man's land. We left all relatives behind and she never experienced (other than short visits) growing up in the extended family I (and hubby, too) did. When all is said and done, we're hoping the benefits out-weighed the negatives.