As the 7th of 10 children in small town Illinois during the 60’s and 70’s, it was hand-me-down clothes, brown paper bag lunches, and a come-in-when-the-street-lights-are-on way of life for me. Growing up I knew we were lower middle class, but I don’t remember feeling the sting of our circumstances (mostly because my parents would never allow us to use monetary lack as an excuse – for anything).
Christmas was no different. Both parents made Christmas special with traditions that were rich in depth, love, and centered around the true meaning of Christmas. Some of my favorite Christmas memories are the simplest of events, like all 12 of us piling into the station wagon and driving around town to look at Christmas lights. And eggnog under the silver Christmas tree that rotated and sang silent night. And caroling at the old folks home.
My absolute favorite memory was the unveiling of the white porcelain manger scene that went on the fireplace mantle. Nothing was as sacred as watching my mom delicately take out each piece and arrange the parts perfectly, only to have us kiddos rearrange them and play with them in bullish awe. Our enthusiasm left every single porcelain manger piece chipped and broken but that didn’t matter, mom still set out the manger scene every year.
As for presents under the tree, they were often second hand or the one or two items that we desperately needed; yet we were thankful just the same. Thankful and content because our eyes were on the birth of Christ and the blessing of family.
Today God has blessed my husband Gary and me with two boys and means enough to spoil them should we choose. Instead, we wanted the meaning of Christmas to remain simple and centered on Jesus’s birth. We have repeated many of the old traditions and added a few of our own. The silver Christmas tree that rotated and sang silent night was replaced with the tradition of cutting down a fresh tree on the morning of Black Friday. We still drive around looking at Christmas lights, and well the eggnog never makes it very long in the fridge with two 6 ft boys in the house. However, our favorite tradition happens Christmas morning- we do not open gifts until we read the Christmas Story from Luke Chapter 2 and sing Happy Birthday to Jesus over a raspberry and cream cheese Entenmann’s coffee cake birthday candles and all.
As for the presents under the tree, we keep the number to just a few with a very low monetary limit compared to the standards of today. In full transparency, there was a season where our boys bristled slightly at their misfortune to be born into a family where receiving a “haul” on Christmas morning was not part of the plan. They are now 17 and 20 year old young men and they are either resigned to their fate, or they have embraced our heart and intentions. I guess we won’t know for sure until they are raising their own families and either pitch the traditions or keep them going. My husband and I are hopeful because on Christmas Eve it is our boys who remind me year after year not to forget to pick-up the coffee cake and candles.
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