(Shorter version originally appeared in the December, 1978 issue of the Beachy Banner)

Some people collect stamps for a hobby. Some go bowling. Others like hiking. A lot of people are keen about camping.

There probably aren’t too many families that have Christmas for a hobby.

My childhood Christmasses are a delight to remember. Snowflakes. Pine needles. Grandma’s diamond-shaped walnut and sugar studded cookies. A Christmas tree glowing with bubble lights. Real tinsel! The year my brother gifted me with five Nancy Drew books—all at once! Such bounty! Such joy!

The year my mother was so sick in the hospital—but somehow managed to come home long enough to spend Christmas with her children. The year one of my brothers gave Dad a tiny wax Santa’s boot which contained three peppermints. Everyone laughed when they saw that boot; Biff was highly insulted and went upstairs to sulk…and the entire family had to troop upstairs and convince him that they weren’t laughing AT his present.

It seems to me that every year, my two younger brothers asked for a wind-up train and a gun-and-holster set. More vivid in my memory, though, is the memory of a younger brother hugging a much wanted teddy bear.

We ironed the wrinkles out of last year’s gift wrap paper, my brothers and I, and we ironed old ribbons too. We made our own tags out of index cards and glue-on stickers—the kind that never stuck to anything else anyway.

We did all of our own shopping and gift wrapping—gifts that were no more, usually, than a card of bobby pins or Midnight in Paris cologne—but these were our gifts, bought with our own savings and wrapped with a lot of love. We made one pre-Christmas trip to downtown Cincinnati every year, where we managed to check out ALL of the department store Santas, obtain free candy canes, admire the colorful lights and decorations, shop and carefully guard or meager pennies against potential shop lifters. Occasionally, we had enough money to splurge on a grilled cheese sandwich from the counter at Woolworths. We bought presents for our parents, grandparents, sisters and brothers and dearest friends.

Midnight services. Silent Night, Holy Night. The joy of it all. The first snowfall – and the incredulous delight if it fell on Christmas eve. Is it any wonder that the love of it all has spilled over into my adult life? That we, in our household, start thinking Christmas sometime early in May, when the first blackberries ripen to a bluish-black hue and can be picked to make jam. Later, we make brandied figs from the fig tree in our front yard; still later, the pomegranate tree yields enough fruit to make a house specialty—pomegranate jelly.

September is not too early to start searching for special presents, especially when you have friends and relatives scattered all over the country and overseas. We are all catalogue buffs and carry bundles of Christmassy catalogues all over the house, dropping thinly-veiled hints in our wake. The Sears Wish book is soon dog-eared and tattered.

I start making up lists sometime in June. Film. Extra bags of sugar and flour. Coconut, chocolate chips. Little baskets and tins to put gifts of homemade cookies and candy in. Lots of scotch tape. (What Did people do before scotch tape was invented?)

We build our own memories, my children and I.
The year my husband and I were up until 4 am putting together a train track and race car set for our oldest son. We tumbled into bed exhausted—and by 5 am, he had everything dismantled.

One year my friend Connie and I, and our children, made bread dough ornaments, out of the kind of mixture made with flour and baking soda. It didn’t quite turn out and we had bits of dough all over the floor, the sink, and the table, in our hair and on our clothing. It’s something we can laugh about today.

The year we put together an artificial tree and then decided it was too bedraggled looking to gain any respect…my husband and I went out and bought another tree—a live one this time—and “re-did” the tree. The years we had our tree inside a playpen to keep the babies off of it, and years that you’d peer into the midst of a Christmas tree and see cat’s eyes peering back at you.

Making cookies—hundreds and hundreds of cookies. One year I was up half the night decorating butter cut-out cookies with butter cream frosting—which I left out to dry. My oldest son ate ALL of the icing off the cookies when he got up. Another year we put such effort into making gingerbread men to hang on the tree—but it rained, making the cookies soft and they began to fall off the tree, plop, plop. We’ve made candy houses and gingerbread villages. When we moved across country, I collected pine cones and bits of foliage from five states to make into a wreath. And my Australian penpal sent me a bit of foliage from her country to add to it. Our giant pine cones, saved over the years, came from Lone Pine one year, long ago, when a friend was working on location there.

We’ve strung popcorn and cranberries and made dozens of little clothespin soldiers. We’ve had huge Christmas Eve parties with everyone we know in attendance, parties for which I’ve cooked for three days..and which began in a tiny apartment in Toluca Lake when we had nothing more to offer our guests than a cup of coffee, a couple of cookies and a bare floor to sit on.

Over the years I’ve collected so many ornaments that now the tree just isn’t big enough to hold all of them. And under our tree, there is a nativity set, made of plaster of paris—so chipped and worn from being handled over and over by my little sons who arranged and re-arranged the figurines…figurines I bought in Woolworth’s and Newberry’s when I was a brand-new bride. Another very special year, my parents flew to California to spend the holidays with us; it was the first time my children had their grandparents to share Christmas with.

Christmas is special. A lot of people say commercialism has taken over, that it no longer means anything. They say we’ve lost sight of the meaning of Christmas, Whose birthday it is. We don’t think so. Whether we are making a jar of jelly or honey-cutout cookies to give to a friend – whether we are wrapping a present or searching the stores for something special…no matter what we are doing throughout this special time of year, it is all being done with love. And love, after all, is what the birth of Christ is all about.


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