Wednesday, December 31

Christmas: Then and Now

Originally published December 21, 2006

Then: Christmas started the day after Thanksgiving, dragging the big box with the artificial Christmas tree and box after box of ornaments, lights, and silvery tinsel garland out from storage. It was our all-day project to match up the color-coded branches, test every string of lights, unwrap each fragile ornament from its nest of paper toweling (often in a print that had been discontinued years before and was yellowed with age).

Now: We celebrate the 12 days of Christmas (beginning Christmas Day and ending with Epiphany, January 6th). The tree and all the decorations go up on Christmas Eve. And the tree is real--even if it's just a small potted one from Target.

Then: Presents collected under the tree from the day it went up until they were opened Christmas Eve. We did have to wait until Christmas Day to open our stockings, though.

Then: Beautifully crocheted stockings (made by my grandmother, I think) were hung for each of us kids. They were filled with trinkets and treasures, and always at least one Avon-brand lip balm, all wrapped individually with Christmas paper.

Now: Stockings are strictly decorative. Our daughter is young enough she doesn't really understand either "the stockings were hung by the chimney with care" or the concept of opening lots of little presents. We may fill them someday, but we haven't yet.

Then: Dad would put on easy listening radio while we opened our gifts, one at a time. Either Dad or one of us kids got to be Santa each year, passing out presents from both sets of grandparents and the aunts and uncles in addition to our parents and each other.

Now: Christmas doesn't come in packages anymore. That's not just a philosophical line either. We're just as likely these days to get a check in the mail or a gift card (or just a greeting card) from our parents and siblings, rather than packages to be unwrapped.

Then: Christmas dinner included turkey, stuffing that had actually been stuffed inside the bird, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce from a can (I was a teenager before I realized there was any other kind), and two homemade pies, pumpkin and usually blueberry for my sister who claimed that one piece of pumpkin pie was enough for her in a year.

Now: If we do it up, Christmas dinner is chicken, green bean casserole, potatoes, dressing, and homemade cranberry sauce (which I've discovered is incredibly easy to make, and much tastier than the canned variety).

Then: Christmas stollen (a sweet yeast bread studded with candied fruits and nuts) made in big batches that Mom mixed and Dad kneaded. We'd have some when it first came out of the oven, then Mom would warm it up for breakfast over the next several days. YUM!

Now: My husband doesn't think it's very tasty. We've only made it once. I'm working on him.

Then: My parents used to give each of us a special ornament for the tree every year. Often they had the date on them and for several years we got the flat brass ones with our names etched into them.

Now: Adam and I have continued this tradition, with a minor caveat that the ornament should be particularly representative of that year. Last year, for our daughter's first Christmas, we chose an ornament that is symbolic to the meaning of her name.

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