Christmas is coming!

by Carrie Pokrefke

I grew up in a house where Christmas was a pretty big ordeal.  The majority of my memories of traditions growing up revolved around Christmas.  As a family, we would go to the tree lot and pick out the “perfect tree,” which is the one mom liked the most. The tree would sit in a bucket of water on the back patio until the designated time when we would decorate it as a family (this is after Dad had hung the lights on the tree).  Some of us weren’t allowed to touch the fragile ornaments (not me, I wasn’t clumsy!) as we decorated since the floor in the living room was hardwood.  A few of us have some not-so-cute Christmas ornaments from pre-school or kindergarten and there was usually a fight over whether or not someone else could hang your embarrassing ornament.  Some years we were allowed to add tinsel to the tree.  Every year the tree sat on Dad’s train board that had a copper controller – I can still smell the oil from the trains. 

Now, if that was the inside of the house, imagine what the outside of the house looked like.  Think the Griswolds.  No joke.  We used to be able to see the lights on the house from the interstate.  Dad was light-years ahead of all this fun, fancy house decorating that you see now!  (I am secretly hoping that he gets one of the machines that you hook up to the computer where people can tune in on the radio and the lights will flicker in tune with the song.  I am sure the neighbors next to them and across the lake would LOVE that!)  The one thing I always marveled at was how precisely the lights were hung around the house.  They were beautifully straight.  (And I am by no means an OCD/AR person, but they always looked so good!)

Christmas cookies were also a big deal at our house.  Again, we would designate a certain day and all four of us would sit around the kitchen table and make cookies together, while Mom and Dad supervised.  Mom always made chocolate chip cookies, but she wouldn’t add all the chocolate chips that the recipe called for and she liked them EXTRA crispy  (Read:  hard)!  We also made what we call, “cookie gun” cookies.  Mom and Dad got an electric cookie gun when they got married – back in the 60’s.  They would dye the dough red and green, let it chill, then put it in the cookie gun.  Dad had to help us when we were younger and would yell, “Go!” when it was time to move on to the next cookie.  We now each have our own cookie gun – leave it to Mom to find them on eBay! 

During all this, Christmas music was playing in the background.  Oh, who am I kidding?  Christmas music was always playing!  From Thanksgiving until January.  The Muppets Christmas with John Denver (one of my favorites!), Alabama Christmas (I think this was one of the only country albums in our house), and one called “Home for Christmas.”  We had records, then moved into tapes, CDs and eventually iTunes. 

In a house with four kids, you know gifts were a big deal!  We would count and see how many each of us got and compare to the other’s piles.  We used to hunt for the gift list Mom kept in her purse.  We would try our best to find gifts.  We may have even used exacto knives one year to slit the tape, open the gift to see what it was, and then rewrap it.  So glad that Elf on the Shelf wasn’t around back then!  Santa Claus would put our stockings out, full of candy (or an orange if Mom was feeling healthy) and a few gifts.  Every year I got one gift in this Strawberry Shortcake gift box that had a door on the front of it.  Ok, and I still get one gift in that box – there is so much tape on the door, it cracks me up.  We also used to get a “family gift” that was one big gift for the whole family.  I think one year we got a Nintendo (that Mom and Dad eventually hijacked to play Dr. Mario).  My favorite “family gift” was our last year we celebrated Christmas in Mississippi.  Mom had gotten so worried that I had seen something in the back bedroom around the computer (which, I really didn’t see and never went back to figure it out).  In conversations with my siblings, we had gotten the idea in our head that Mom and Dad were taking us on a trip (no clue where we got that idea from!).  Christmas Day came and as was the tradition, the family gift was the last one to open.  We started to open the gift, only to discover that there was no trip, but a jean quilt that my mom had started when I was in Kindergarten and had finally finished!  (She’s going to kill me when she reads this!)  It was funny for so many reasons! 

We also had a bunch of traditions on Christmas Eve.  We would put on our new outfits that we got just for Christmas, take a family photo and then head to Church.  After mass, we usually went to eat at the same restaurant and usually saw the same people year after year.  We would come home, put on our PJs, go into the living room, read the Bible story and would act out, “Twas the Night Before Christmas” before going to bed.  One of my sisters was the first one to wake-up (and, I’m talking at the crack of dawn) and wake us up, but we had to wait to go see what Santa brought us until Mom and Dad would come get us. We ate the same coffee cake that Mom only made at Christmas. It was so good!

For me, Christmas time is about spending time with family and making more memories.  Our traditions have stayed close to the same, but I somehow managed to talk Mom into getting a Dairy Queen ice cream cake the past two years.  Since they don’t live in Mississippi anymore, that was one way to add a new tradition.  (Plus, just an excuse to have a DQ ice cream cake!)  I hope you and your family have a wonderful Christmas and a Happy New Year!!