(First of three parts)
As we age memories increase. If they didn't, we'd never have a past to which we could reflect. After all, as we age, activities which we have enjoyed in our younger years no longer occupy much of our daily agenda. Thus we depend on those memories to entertain us.
Having said that, in my mind there's no part of the annual calendar spent with family, friends and loved ones as memorable as those days between Thanksgiving and New Years. Different generations recall Christmas holidays spent as a youth differently than what it is today. That's because they were different. Back in the days when my mom and dad were born they may have had electricity, but they rarely had outside electrical house decorations like they do today.
Dad once told me that after his dad put up the tree, they decorated it with strings of popcorn and other homemade ornaments. A wooden star painted silver, held onto the treetop with a rear wooden brace, small bolts and nuts, adorned the tree. A wreath made of evergreens and decorated with a red ribbon hung on the outside of the front door and evergreen roping they made was wrapped around the porch columns. Sometimes they'd make wreaths and roping out of an evergreen vine called crows feet that they'd collect in the nearby woods. It all depended on what was available.
As for tree lights, they used candles carefully placed on the outer edges of long branches so as not to ignite the rest of the tree. Surprised, I asked my dad if the tree ever caught fire. He said the candles were thin and small and his dad only allowed them to be lit on Christmas Day when everyone was there to watch. Once they burned out there were no replacements. He said he has no idea how his father celebrated the holidays as a child. Dad's father (my grandfather) was born in 1878 and apparently, he never told his kids how the holidays were celebrated back then.
On my mom's side, she had six brothers who were never that cooperative when it came to tree decorating. She said they'd eat the popcorn as fast as it could be popped and before it could be strung together. So to dress up the tree instead of stringing it with popcorn, she'd join her sisters in making decorations. They'd cut colored sheets of paper into strips and make different colored paper chains to decorate the tree. Then they'd add various size pine cones with colored tips and then hand color a basket full of hard shell nuts.
My mom also recalls making wreaths out of crows feet. This evergreen vine that grows on the ground is quite plentiful throughout the woods in that part of Pennsylvania and so it's only reasonable that they'd use it for holiday decorations.
Dad said as he got older his grandfather (my great-grandfather), who was born in 1850, set up a tree in the early 1930s with electric lights and an electric Lionel train circling the tree. Years later he found a black and white photograph of that scene with my great-grandparents on it. One was sitting on the left side and the other on the right.
I have no first hand information as to how my paternal or maternal great-great grandparents celebrated the holidays. I can only assume they did whatever was in style during that time. That would have been from the 1820s to the 1890s. However, I picture them putting up a tree decorated with holly loaded with red berries, mistletoe and small red apples. And then after going to Midnight Mass, on Christmas Day they'd all set down to a dinner of roast turkey, baked ham, sweet potatoes, green beans, corn, mashed potatoes, filling and gravy.
Next week: My generation
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