(A note from Mama: I’m reblogging this post I wrote in December 2013, so for my long-time readers, if it sounds familiar, it is. I find that I’m still longing for that old fashioned Christmas. Maybe you are too.)
Maybe it’s just my middle age. Maybe it’s the empty nest thing. Or maybe it’s just that I have more time on my hands to spend reflecting on the past. Whatever it is, I find myself singing the words to an old Frank Sinatra Christmas song.
“Give me an old fashioned Christmas, an old fashioned Christmas,
Family faces, wide open spaces, covered with snow.”
This Christmas here at Mama’s Empty Nest there will be family faces. And wide open spaces at our country home for certain. Right now those spaces are covered with snow and hopefully we won’t just be dreaming of a white Christmas.
In my heart, I’m longing for an old fashioned Christmas – one with less hurry and scurry. One with deeper meaning. One with a simpler celebration. And I’m determined to accomplish it. Oh, my Christmas to-do list bounces around my brain but I’m simplifying it. I’m not scouring Pinterest for decorating ideas or cookie recipes or fancy Christmas dinner menus.
I’m sticking to the basics but even abbreviating those. Christmas cards are signed, sealed, and delivered but this year I opted for fewer cards and a shorter Christmas note. Decorating our home is completed but not all of the décor, just some favorites, made it out of the storage boxes. The oven will fire up for some cookie baking but not the usual marathon, just two or three kinds instead of a huge assortment. Simple meal preparation will follow suit.
Downsizing for a simple Christmas almost doesn’t make sense though. This year is different than Christmases past when I squeezed in all of the preparations and scarcely had enough time to do it all. I have more free time on my hands than usual and you would think that would entice me to really do Christmas up big. Fancy. Over the top. One to remember.
But then I recall Christmas as a child. Do I remember anything fancy? Do exquisitely wrapped packages with expensive gifts inside come to my mind? Fine cuisine? A beautiful and elaborately decorated home? Do I recollect an over the top celebration?
What I remember from childhood Christmases are simple aspects. My father would usually bring the Christmas tree home with him one day after work. Sometimes that wouldn’t be until shortly before Christmas and one year I remember actually decorating the tree on Christmas Eve.
After my older sisters married, they spent Christmas Eve with their in-law families so that meant my parents and I usually attended candle-light service at church to welcome the Christ child. Before the service, my father would drive us around our area to see neighbors’ homes Christmas light displays and we would ooh and aah over those that glowed the brightest.
No fireplace existed at my childhood home, but I still hung up my stocking over the knob of the front door. I would be so excited for Christmas morning that I could barely sleep. When Christmas Day arrived, my stocking bulged full of goodies although not with toys, gadgets, and gizmos.
Dumping it out, I would discover a huge juicy orange, a shiny red apple, mixed nuts in their shells, candy canes, and other Christmas candy. And I would be delighted with the yummy treats even though they were practically the same every year. Nestled beneath the Christmas tree, I’d find one or two specially requested simple toys – a doll, a game, or one exciting year, a beautiful blue bicycle – just for me.
That afternoon brought our entire family gathered together and crowded into the living room around a simple Scotch pine real tree covered in old-fashioned strings of lights with colored bulbs, metallic icicles, and the same ornaments year after year. It wasn’t a fancy themed tree; instead a hodge-podge collection adorned that prickly-needled fir which filled the air with the pungent scent of pine.
We exchanged gifts – real honest to goodness gifts that were purchased with thoughtfulness and consideration instead of gift cards or envelopes of money. And we laughed, and we exclaimed over our wonderful presents, and we thanked one another with smiles and hearty hugs.
My mother prepared a simple but abundant and appetizing meal displayed on the dining room table – no fancy recipes, no exquisite table centerpieces/decorations to make it look like a photo spread from a magazine. And we bowed our heads thanking God for the most precious gift of all – His Son Jesus Christ – and for our provision of food and family.
After dinner, one of us occupied the bench at our upright piano to plunk out Christmas carols while the rest of us sang the well-known tunes over and over again. We’d eat dessert and commence a few rousing rounds of cards or games or sometimes just putting a new jigsaw puzzle together.
A simple Christmas. Not photo worthy because of the food, the glitz, the gifts, or the amount of money spent. A Christmas worth remembering because of love, gratitude, and joy felt and appreciated when a family assembles to celebrate.
That’s my idea of an old-fashioned Christmas and that’s what I’m hoping for this Christmas.
“When we recall Christmas past, we usually find that the simplest things – not the great occasions – give off the greatest glow of happiness.” ~ Bob Hope
My oldest daughter wrote her own blog on a now defunct site back all those years ago and she and another blogger became friends (sound familiar?). My daughter lives here in the United States; the other young lady lives across the world.
Over the years they transitioned from their blogs to becoming Facebook friends and kept up with each other’s lives through photos and comments. And a very special friendship flourished.
Fast forward to 2014. One of those lovely young women planned an adventure with her handsome boyfriend to visit the United States on a long holiday from their home in Australia. And that’s when something took flight besides their lengthy trip via airplane. The two toured several interesting cities here in the Northeast from New York City to Boston to Philadelphia to Washington, DC with a little side trip to Amish country in Lancaster, PA.
But they planned another special trip to a city many wouldn’t consider a tourist spot – Pittsburgh. The reason? To finally meet my daughter in person. Months before, messages flew back and forth through the internet to make plans for the meeting. Daughter and son-in-law would travel north from their home to spend an entire day with her friend and beau in our nearby city.
They hit it off famously. The two gentlemen had much in common, including a wacky sense of humor, and became instant friends. The two young women cemented their friendship by conversing in person instead of via computer.
They relished an American breakfast at Pamela’s and a Pittsburgh style lunch at Primanti Brothers. After a day-long sightseeing excursion, the four of them left the city lights behind and traveled to our country home. Daughter wanted her new (yet old) friends to experience an evening in a typical American home and enjoy a home-cooked meal with us.
Papa and I are always happy to welcome new friends and we wanted to give the two travelers a taste of life outside of our country’s big cities and tourist spots. Just an evening in an average American home with average everyday people like us.
Since this gathering took place the first weekend of December, we scurried to get the house Christmas ready with decorations and the tree dressed in its finery. I planned a hearty American-style dinner with chicken and stuffing casserole, fresh green beans, baked yams with cinnamon butter, dinner rolls with a choice of our homemade strawberry or blueberry jam, and of course, apple pie with a scoop of vanilla ice cream to top it off.
From the minute the two Aussies stepped inside our house, we loved them! Their warmth and sweet personalities won us over immediately and we thoroughly enjoyed sharing our hospitality with these delightful young adults. We swapped stories and relished hearing about their homeland, their lives, their work, and their customs.
They taught us some Australian words we hadn’t heard before and we even taught our new young friends some ‘Pittsburghese’ (words like yinz and redd up and slippy that many folks in our neck of the woods use).
They graciously brought us a basket of goodies from their homeland (including Tasmania where the young lady hails from) and later when we sampled all of the lollies (candy) they were oh, so tasty. While they were here we put on our brave faces and tried the vegemite (a staple in Australia which is a dark brown food paste made from leftover brewers’ yeast extract with various vegetable and spices).
As we spread it on crackers, they couldn’t wait to see our reactions when we tasted it. Some of us thought it was horrible. I actually didn’t think it was that bad. Papa thought it was too salty and tasted like soy sauce. We had lots of fun later when we introduced the vegemite to the rest of our family during our early Christmas. The faces were priceless.
We introduced Hershey’s peppermint kisses – they were a big hit – and Ghirardelli chocolates to our new friends and gave them a jar of my homemade strawberry jam.
Our time seemed short even though we stayed up to 2 a.m. enjoying our company. When our guests departed to drive back to the city for the night, I snapped the photo above as the two girls hugged goodbye. I suspect there will be a trip to Australia planned in the future for oldest daughter and son-in-law.
It was an evening we’ll never forget filled with the things that make sweet memories and that heartwarming feeling of sharing time and our home with new friends.
There’s a new ornament hanging on our Christmas tree gifted to us from our Australian friends. It’s a carved wooden, three-dimensional tree made of Tasmanian Huon Pine, a creamy yellow wood with a very distinct aroma – to me it smells like wood smoke.
And each time I look at the Christmas tree or catch a whiff of that scent, I will remember Susannah and Mat and our time together and my heart will be full.
“Christmas is the season for kindling the fire of hospitality in the hall, the genial flame of charity in the heart.” ~Washington Irving
“Oh the weather outside is frightful but the fire is so delightful and since we’ve no place to go…let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!”
I’ve been under the weather in more ways than one. Relegated to our family room’s comfy couch, I’ve been down with a nasty cold/flu bug for several days now. Just lying around and vegetating (usually with the cat sleeping on top of my stomach or curled at my side), my brain’s been saturated with fog preventing me from taking advantage of the down time to write some new blog posts.
Nope, no creative juices to be found. All I could manage was listening to my Pandora Christmas music station or the one on cable TV, watching a plethora of holiday movies, and thinking about all the things I should be trying to accomplish for Christmas like gift shopping, wrapping presents, and making a grocery shopping list.
As I muddled through the fog that enveloped my brain, I peered out the window to watch snowflakes flutter and fly through the air. Snow moved into my neck of the woods and it set up housekeeping. Often I left my perch, flung open the door, and just stood there wrapped up in my warm, tattered robe taking in the magnificent show nature performed for me.
Sometimes tiny specks of icy snow that are almost unperceivable dropped from the overcast sky. Other times sizeable cottony fluffs floated and danced through the air on their spiral downward. Sometimes snow fell in an almost lazy we’ve got all the time in the world way. Other times it sped up and descended so fast and furiously it produced a white-out effect.
Snow frosts our shrubs like icing drizzled over a cake. It buried our driveway until the only way I could ascertain where it’s located is by the reflector poles hubby placed at one edge of the drive for that purpose. At night, our outside Christmas lights reflect through their blanket of snow and it truly does look like a winter wonderland.
Lots of folks here complain about the snow, they complain about the cold, they complain about the messy roads. I don’t. I like snow. I like the cold temperatures. And as far as the roads go, hey, it’s winter in western Pennsylvania, what do you expect?
Of course, like the old song says, I’ve got no place to go so why not let it snow. And it does. It snows and it snows and it snows and I wonder will it last until Christmas? And as it does so often, my mind reverts back to the past just as quickly as if the Ghost of Christmas Past was whisking me back there. After all, with my achy body and profound lack of energy induced by illness, I have time on my hands to take a few mental excursions since those are the only trips I can muster.
I remember so many of those magical white Christmases of yore. But I also remember those out of the norm times when temperatures were spring-like and December 25 proved to be a green holiday. But mostly, I remember snow decorating the landscape at Christmas time.
Back when our three were little tykes, I vividly remember one Christmas when we lived in the Midwest. That year, we were not able to travel back to our home state to visit our families for the holidays. Instead, we would celebrate our Savior’s birth alone with just our family of five. On Christmas Eve, the kids were so wound up with excitement they could hardly contain themselves. And that excitement turned into sheer joy when we looked outside and noticed it was snowing!
We woke up Christmas morning to a world filled with white – a virtual snow globe. Since we had no extended family coming nor were we going anywhere, we spent a leisurely, relaxing Christmas Day in our pajamas opening gifts, exclaiming over the joy of both giving and receiving special things, and playing with our children and their new toys. Then we all bundled up in our winter wear, piling on hats and scarves and mittens and boots and all five of us ventured outside into our winter playground to frolic in the snow. It proved to be a special Christmas that will always remain etched in my snowy memory bank.
Snow and Christmas. Christmas and snow. They seem to go hand in hand in my mind. Maybe that’s why I love snow so much. It always reminds me of Christmas – a season of love and joy and giving…and light. The Light of the world given to us on that special night. What reflects light better than a covering of snow? Last night when sleep eluded me, I noticed how bright it looked outside with the moon reflecting off the glistening snow.
And this all comes to my mind as I wander into the living room, sit quietly in the chair by the window, watching the snow swirl and twirl. Glancing at our glittering Christmas tree, I catch sight of an old treasured ornament hanging there. A smiling snow man face with a black top hat that adorned my parents’ Christmas tree when I was a kid grins at me. Dating back to the late 50’s or early 60’s, somehow it managed to survive all of these years unbroken even though it’s made many moves from house to house, state to state, since I acquired it.
Mr. Snow Man looks a little worn from his many years but from his spot on our tree, he faces the window where he can see the wintry landscape outside and he smiles. It’s as if he says, “Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!”
And with that, let the heart-warming memories of happy Christmas times descend right along with the snow. Let it snow memory after memory. Suddenly, I don’t feel so under the weather after all.