Riverwest Currents Writers Share Holiday Memories
The Christmas of my childhood. How lucky I feel to have been a kid in the times of Christmas as romance and awe, the count-down beginning the day after Thanksgiving, every day feeling like a lifetime until Santa would deposit those longed-for presents under the tree.
My biggest Christmas moment was a rare, still-astonishing memory of seeing Santa Claus in his sleigh pulled by reindeer land in the neighbors’ backyard! It was Christmas Eve, around dusk. I was three or four and looking out the back kitchen window on to the snow-covered yards that sloped down from our house. My heart leapt into my throat as, 100 yards away, Santa and his team came sliding in! After a few seconds of sheer wonder I started yelling for my family to come and see. When they didn’t, I ran to get them. Santa was gone by the time they arrived.
– Ellen C. Warren
December 22, 2009. A small, red envelope in my mailbox. I assumed it was a Christmas card, given the date. There was a return address, but no name. “I don’t know anyone in New Haven, Connecticut.” Or so I thought.
The card was from my daughter, Michelle. Long story made artificially short: I had given up Michelle for adoption and not seen her since she was four days old. In October of 2009, I had written to Michelle’s mother (another long story about how I knew that information). She had responded that Michelle was interested, but not yet ready to contact me.
In the December Christmas card, Michelle explained she had asked her friends what I might want to hear. Their suggestions were exactly as she felt: She was happy, healthy, had a good life and bore me no ill will. The best Christmas greeting I’ve ever received!
– Peggy Schulz
The Day the Jolly Man Died
Spoiler alert: Unless you have reached the age of reason, best not read the following. Of course you Catholics know about the age of reason. Seven years. Then you are reason-able. Since that was the case and I was in second grade at St. Joseph’s and preparing for my first communion with the rest of the class, well, time to face the music. And it was not Jingle Bells. Sister Leonarda, in her role as guide to young reason-ables took it to be her role to release us from the awful influence of secular myths.
Sister knew second graders well. Shame would still those who were shocked. So no one knew who knew and didn’t. Let me set the scene.
Sister had a special message and gathered us, at least 30 strong, in the gym. We sat on the floor at the end of the basketball court. Sun filtered in through the windows behind her. She sat in a chair in her black and white habit. We were quiet in this unusual setting. Expecting something. She would use subterfuge. “You are not silly little children. You are growing up. I am sure you all know that story was something for the younger ones, not you, who are soon going to receive Communion”. The closer: “Of course you know that Santa Claus is just make-believe”.
Quiet. No comment from anyone on the floor. Stunned, I guess. Some parents complained in the aftermath. But you can’t put the rabbit back in the hat, or Santa back in the chimney.
Or eventually, Vince back in the faith. Sister showed me the path of doubt of all things.
Which is a good place to be. Yes Virginia, There is a (fill in the blank). Reason requires me to fill out that form myself.
– Vince Bushell
Midnight Mass at St. John’s Cathedral; mink coats, Gucci bags, tailored suits, shiny marble floors, poinsettia wreaths, polyphonic traditional hymns. We wanted to hear the Archbishop preach, which he did after he had processed in solemnity up the center aisle and perfumed the high altar with incense. This sacred night, he said, we celebrated that the Divine had come to live on earth. Jesus of Nazareth had walked among us. We knelt and bowed and crossed ourselves, standing shoulder to shoulder in crowded pews.
Looking down at my scuffed boots, I saw a pool of yellow spreading on the polished floor. It spread silently outward from the hang-dog man on my left. It smelt and seeped until there was no escaping it except by standing up on the cushioned kneelers. There we were, Christians assembled to remember that our God had taken human form. There we were in elegant winter finery, standing in a puddle of pee.
– Jackie Reid Dettloff
My friends and I used to have this holiday tradition called “Punxgiving.” It wasn’t for family or pilgrims, just us punks eating stuff like a vegan turkey and drinking lots of cheap whiskey and beer. We’d tell stories and have whatever punk bands that were available play in the basement. My friends from this era have mostly moved on. They live in Alaska and Oregon and Kentucky. A couple of them are dead and some are who-knows-where. I miss these days sometimes, and think of them when the snow falls, but I still got the memories.
– Tea Krulos
The Steubenville Dishes
My parents got married just before WWII. My mom’s circle of friends, who had all gone through nurses’ training together, bought her a wedding present. They took up a collection and got her a full set of salmon pink Steubenville Woodfield Leaf pottery dishes: plates, cups, saucers, serving dishes – perfect for a ladies’ luncheon.
It wasn’t too many years later that our family moved to Waupaca, Wisconsin, where my dad bought the farm he had admired and wished for all though his childhood. He managed the farm and worked for the local farmers’ cooperative; Mom worked as a private duty nurse, took care of the house and kept the books. There wasn’t much time for ladies’ luncheons.
But the dishes didn’t go unused.
One year we needed a new tractor. There wasn’t enough money, but there was no choice. Day to day budgets were tight – and Christmas was just another day.
On Christmas Eve Mom put together a modest supper. Sloppy Joes made from the beef that Uncle Ed raised and all the uncles shared to fill their freezers for the winter, home canned tomatoes and onions from the garden. Home-made biscuits made with flour from the Co-op. Pickles from the jars in the cellar. Home-made cocoa and Christmas cookies. A special treat – a box of Red Dot potato chips, made at a local factory and purchased from the grocery store.
And Mom brought the Steubenville dishes out of the china cabinet.
We were careful setting the table. I was only allowed to handle the silverware – my older sister handled the dishes. We lit the candles on the Christmas centerpiece and laid out our modest feast.
It felt like a celebration, thanks to the Steubenville dishes.
By the next Christmas finances had improved, but we decided to keep our Christmas Eve supper tradition. In fact, we did it every year. Even in the 1960s, when times got really good and we built the new house and moved out of the old farmhouse, we kept the tradition.
Today, though my parents are both gone, we still follow our tradition. The dishes are still there – not one of them has been broken in all these years. Whenever our family gathers for Christmas Eve at our family cabin in Waupaca, we have the same supper, we use the Steubenville dishes, and we retell the story of how it all began.
– Janice Christensen