Glass Christmas Garland

A garland of glass beads for the Christmas tree given to us by my Grand- mother.

It being the season, I want to write about Christmases past. I suspect the story is going to sound a little like Ozzie and Harriet – all light and happiness. Well, yes, that’s the way I remember it…I was a child lucky in my family. I suspect my sisters will remember it much the same way.

Christmas really began when my grandparents arrived from Kansas. Inside their suitcases were wrapped packages for us (yippee) and boxes of cookies. She baked date rolls (tedious to make – I make them now), sugar cookies with sprinkles and flavored with anise, round powder-sugar balls, something called “rocks”. Some years there was fudge or meringue candy. My grandfather usually took us downtown to look at the windows in the department stores. There would be moving figures and trains – a fantasy to look at. Then he’d take us to the dime store, shopping. We saved his present till last; because it has to be surprise, he’d go to the counter for coffee and we’d pick out something for him. (At that time, no one worried about kids being stolen. How times change.)

For many years we had a real tree. One year the best tree, the only full one on the lot, was crooked. We bought it anyway and after many failed attempts to make it look straight in its holder, Daddy had to hang it from the ceiling. It was also was his job to put on the lights, which took forever because the red, green, yellow, blue colors had to be well separated. Finally it was our turn to hang on the other decorations. Traditionally we played excerpts from Handel’s Messiah when we decorated and I still can sing many of the lyrics. There were the usual glass balls and garlands, but also some unusual decorations from during the war. I particularly loved the one made of maraborou feathers and tinsel.

We had a plaster creche that was many times arranged around a little cardboard stable with an angel hung on the rafter. I particularly loved the donkey and the sheep. Just last week my sister dug it up – it’s missing some noses, having been well loved – but she’s going to take it to the doll hospital to be fixed. Then she’ll pass it onto the next generation.

Christmas Eve had its own evolving ritual. We started with a meal of homemade chili, but later that became pizza (easier on the cooks.) Then, church. One year I had both chicken pox and measles at the same time and couldn’t go. I made my mother promise to bring home one of the little candy sacks that were handed out to the children. When I was older, I once ran out of gas driving home from church by myself and had to walk home through the snow. Oh yes, we often had snow. (Not as often as we had it on Halloween, but that’s another story…)

On Christmas Eve, we opened our presents. I always thought it was because we were of German extraction; however, we were told that one of my cousins was too sleepy in the morning to enjoy her gifts. Hmmm, I always found that hard to believe. After gifts, we went to church again, the midnight candle service, carrying our new dolls or, when we were older, wearing new finery. I loved the cold church, the sleepy feeling, the carols. There was a wonderful soprano in one of our churches and when she sang O Holy Night, the real meaning of the celebration came through to me.

Sometime on Christmas eve, we’d find time to visit our next-door-neighbors, my parents’ best friends. Their house was always as packed with people as ours. Mrs. B. made the tree skirt for my mother and I inherited it.

Christmas morning was spent at home, opening the little gifts in our stockings from Santa. Then everyone gathered again for a traditional meal. My mother and her sister took turns; one hosted Christmas eve, the other Christmas day. The next year it alternated. The crowd was always big; grandparents, cousins, whoever was in town. And noisy. One year my husband took videos of our celebrations — the pictures are wonderful, but there is so much talking chaos, you can’t hear a word.

About the glass garland. So light and fragile. My grandmother produced many strands of it from her suitcase one year. She’s dead now, as is my mother. Many of the beads have been broken, but I cherish the strand that I have. Symbol of happy times. I still have those happy times, but, of course, they are different.

I think I’ll close with a quote from Dickens’ A Christmas Carol:
“I am as light as a feather, I am as happy as an angel, I am as merry as a school-boy. I am as giddy as a drunken man. A merry Christmas to every-body! A happy New Year to all the world! Hallo here! Whoop! Hallo!”

West African Bronze Skewers

Bronze skewers, some of animals, some of people. Hubby got these at a garage sale while I was out of town. When I asked him about them, he couldn’t remember much except that they came from Africa. There are 24, 12 animal heads, 12 people. I decided to display them in a windowsill planter, sticking them into styrofoam covered with little pebbles. I have been so involved with writing, I’d quite forgotten how much I love to do little projects like this.

I began doing creative tidbits as a little girl. Mother insisted that we make our Christmas presents. One year it was placemats, which my sister and I fringed by pulling out threads — horribly boring and the threads tangled so easily. We decorated the mats with paint by stamping designs onto the fabric with various utensils; I remember using a potato masher. Another year we spent hours pushing cloves into oranges which were hung on velvet ribbon for pomades in closets. Then there were the cork earrings; tiny pins threaded onto a bead, then a sequin and pushed into cork balls. Oh, so glamorous. I know one of the Aunts actually wore hers!

Projects changed as I grew. Since I’ve been an adult I have stripped a fireplace mantel and faux painted the surround, stenciled many a border, sewed a prom dress and curtains for various houses and apartments, assembled 45 gingerbread houses, designed and made ballet tutus, tiled a bathroom, crocheted a lampshade, planned and stitched a landscape quilt, and embroidered a throw. I used to knit but I don’t wallpaper. Mother was the ace at that; she once wallpapered our bathroom and managed to eke out enough paper to also do the linen closet. She was also a master cake decorator for children’s birthday parties; no roses or frou-frou, instead clowns, circus tents, merry-go-rounds.

Over the years there have been some disasters. Mother washed and shrank my newly sewn skirt to doll-size. There was a purple bedroom. And just today, right after I took the picture below, I knocked over my new masterpiece. Jingle, jingle — the stones poured out onto the floor, wet glue and all. After a good laugh, Hubby helped me wash the stones, the floor and table. So I have my next project all lined up…