It’s December 23rd and I have been trying to think about all those December 23rds I experienced as a child. Funny thing is I can’t remember them. I know it was the last day of school until January 2nd (depending which day the holidays fell on). We probably spent the school day eating cookies with nuts in them the teacher brought in and finishing our handmade CHRISTMAS cards for the family. I’m sure we sang a few Christmas songs, some religious some not. The teacher probably explained what Christmas was all about and I assume we started the morning out by saying a prayer and reciting the Pledge of Allegiance as we did every morning.
At dinner we most likely had a normal non holiday meal, probably pot pie, meat cakes and potatoes, meatloaf or spaghetti and meatballs. Since we didn’t have school the next day I’m pretty sure we could stay up late, but I really can’t remember anything that happened on December 23rd.
And the reason is I was 1000% focused on December 24th and 25th. So focused was I and every other kid in the neighborhood that we had amnesia starting at least a week before the holiday of holidays. I am pretty sure we were wishing everyone a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year that whole week, but don’t ask me who I said it to because I simple do not remember. I know they were Catholics, Baptists, Lutherans, Episcopalians, Jewish, atheists, maybe even Buddhists and Muslims. No one ever got mad at us for wishing them well at Christmas. At least that I remember and I don’t remember much.
That all changed on the morning of December 24th. Somehow I snapped out of the holiday trance and began a day long trip to anticipation land. The excitement started with a good breakfast that included baked goods from the German Bakery. That was every morning pretty much, but on Christmas Eve morning my Grandmother would buy some special cakes. This I remember like it was yesterday.
All day my Mom, Grandmother, and my Sister, who was ten years older than me, would prep for the big day. December 24th was the day to bake the Christmas pies and cake. It smelled heavenly. Pumpkin pie, Mince Pie and Apple pie were the most common. I remember my Grandmother rolling out the lard infused pie crust with her rolling pin, making the pie filling and putting them one at a time in the small oven.
By lunch my brother and I could have eaten a whole pie each, but if we touched them we would get the legendary Floss Hallman (Mom) smack in the face. Instead we would have a potato chip sandwich or something similar and a glass of milk that came from a bottle you had to shake up to blend the cream that tended to rise to the top of the bottle. After lunch we were ushered out of the house into the cold winter weather that we loved and never really felt since we were well clothed and always active.
December 24th was the one day of the year that we didn’t mind coming home for dinner. Christmas Eve meals were generally baked macaroni and cheese and canned tuna fish. My dad was raised Catholic and he held to the meat free days even though he didn’t go to church. Later my mother and I became Catholic and did the same. After diner my Grandfather and my brother Bill would get the tree from the yard, shake out any stray cats that were in it and set it on the train platform in the living room. As I have mentioned in previous posts, the tree had a unique odor of mixed pine and cat pee. My mother would supervise as they decorated the tree.
I really like Christmas Eve night because my mother bought Ginger Ale soda in case any of her friends came to visited and needed a highball. That meant we could sneak some of the Ginger Ale. Of course, there were plenty of Christmas cookies and candies. Did you know that Gingersnap Cookies and Ginger Ale go well together?
Finally it was time for bed. If we didn’t go to sleep Santa wouldn’t come and our stockings that were “hung by the chimney with care” would be empty. It was strange and wonderful time. We really didn’t want to go to sleep but we also wanted presents in the morning, so off to bed we went, wide eyed and excited.
Some Christmas Eves stand out more than others. Like the time my Grandfather was trying to put an Angel on the top of the tree and fell taking the tree with him. Also, my first Christmas home after being discharged after four years in the Air Force stationed in the tropics when it snowed two feet and I had to help my mother take gifts around the block to my sister’s house. The snow drifts were up to my chest. Come to think of it all of our Christmas Eves were special, because our family made them special.
So no matter what religion you are or are not I wish you a Very, Very Happy Christmas Eve and a Merry Christmas day.