Thursday, December 8, 2011

Advent Calendar - Christmas Cookies

It's hard to describe how big a deal Christmas cookies were in our house.  Beyond a REALLY BIG DEAL, they were a production.

First:  They were always homemade from scratch in multiple batches.

Second:  They were always made, at least in part, with our neighbor, Joan.

Third:  They were always decorated not just by quickly swooshing some homemade icing over the top, but meticulously.  Make that m-e-t-i-c-u-l-o-u-s-l-y.  Decorating required frosting in glorious colors.  It required icing details applied by toothpicks.  It required the equally careful application of dragees or raisins or cinnamon candies or sprinkles.  It required patience that would have taught Job something new.

Fourth:  Once the decorations were sufficiently set, every cookie was cradled individually in its own plastic-wrap envelope and received a hanger made of ribbon.

Only then were they ready to display, oh so carefully, on the little cookie tree.  Kids from the preschool that Mom taught, neighbor kids, friends' kids, and parents - everyone took their time selecting just the right cookie every time they visited.

TRAEA's Grandma remembers growing up with sugar cookies, gingerbread families and pecan sandies on our cookie trees.  When our children were young their little cookie trees also featured a few additional recipes.  The 21st century version of the cookie tree was an equally huge hit with grandkids and their parents when Christmas was last at our house two years ago.

The grandkids may not remember that visit, but what do you want to make a bet that they, and their parents, will have as much fun choosing cookies from the tree this year as TRAEA's Grandma had those many years ago.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Advent Calendar - Christmas Cards Aren't What They Used to Be

It used to be the best spot to display Christmas cards.
Remember when the snows were deeper, the winters colder and Christmas cards flooded your home every year?  (Those were the same years we walked five miles to school every day, uphill both ways.)

No, really, there more Christmas cards back then.  In fact the mail carrier, he really was a mailman, trudged through the snow twice a day during the weeks before Christmas.  And it was so much fun to see what every delivery brought.  Not that many of those cards were addressed to us kids.  But there was always such a variety to look through.

In our house these cards were displayed variously.  At least one year they were on the fireplace - which was brick all the way to the ceiling.  Hint - taping to unpainted brick doesn't work, regardless of your tape choice.  For several years they were displayed on the opaque fiberglass divider between our dining room and front hall.  But then all we could do was admire them from a distance, or climb around the potted plants to read them again.

The best spot for card display was around the built-in dining room shelving.  Everyone passed them going to and from the kitchen.  And we could read at least some of them repeatedly, except maybe those that were way up near the ceiling.

TRAEA's Grandma and Grandpa later tried to replicate some of that same festive look in our home.  For years we faithfully taped cards around the archway between our living and dining rooms.  Then we repainted over the tape residue, this grandma became lazy, the price of postage convinced more people that Christmas cards weren't worth the effort and the annual Christmas letter became as much a point of humor as the fruitcake.

We still send a few cards - including a genealogy-based update to family, some of whom actually care.  And our the mail carrier, a lady, still delivers a smattering of cards, usually also from family.  But we don't tape cards up for display, instead collecting them in a decorative basket, where anyone who wants can read through them - although most people don't.

Christmas cards may just be going the way of that walk to school that was uphill in both directions.  Sigh.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Advent Calendar - Of Course it was Magic

TRAEA's Grandma sits in awe of the magic.
Our Christmas tree was nothing less than magic - every year.  Oddly, TRAEA's Grandma doesn't remember any of the always-live trees being brought into the house, or the decorating process - except for tying them to a nail on the window frame just in case someone carelessly bumped this temporary guest.

The tree just happened every year.  And it was gorgeous!

Although memories see tall pines, pictures of Christmases past don't quite match those recollected towering heights.

But one magical memory remains secure.  The tree had been decorated, providing the only light in the room, and TRAEA's Grandma was ready for bed.  I lay under the tree - waaay underneath, not around the fringes - and looked up through the branches.

Multi-colored lights, bubble lights, a yellow light behind the plastic star way on the top, a red bird ornament with its soft-bristle tail, an ornate glass tea pot, a miniature water mill dusted with artificial snow, large and small round glass balls, silver and red blown-glass pine cones, metal bells that really rang, colored tinsel roping, tinsel strands dutifully placed one at a time.

The moment was completely captivating.  And today that memory roars back in full Technicolor every time TRAEA's Grandma unwraps many of those same ornaments to hang on the family tree.  I can hardly wait to point them out to our grandchildren this Christmas.  Maybe one of them will lay under the tree and look up . . . . .

TRAEA's Great Uncle sits with his sister after the presents were opened.