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By Carol Parker Thompson, Ph.D.

Childhood Christmas Memories

This time of year, my thoughts go to Christmases past. Memories of special people, mouth-watering menus, gifts, and family time flood my mind, but mostly from adulthood. Because most memories of Christmas from my childhood elude me, I have had to create my own traditions, or consult with my siblings or children who bring me pleasure in their recollection.

I do remember that Mom and Dad and my siblings went to Grandma Parker’s house for Christmas, especially in our early years. My sister remembers our Aunt standing on the porch with a big smile when we arrived, and in a happily raised voice exclaim, “There they are, my little ‘kiddies’!”

Aunt Marilla always had a little tree brightly lit in the corner against the stairwell, and there would be an orange and a candy cane for each of us which was such a rare, delightful treat! She would have the old Victrola cranked up and Handel’s Messiah would be playing in the background.

I have to admit that my sister remembers more of these details than I, but what I do remember is Aunt Marilla opening the oven, checking on the turkey and exclaiming “Tom Turkey, You are a fine bird!” Therein ends my childhood recollections of Christmas.

My adult children remember more of their childhood Christmas memories than do I. My oldest daughter remembers earning money for Christmas gifts by pasting S&H green stamps into booklets.

She remembers baking Christmas cookies—date nut pinwheels, sugar cookies, snowballs, and coconut cherry bars— with her sister and me, the same cookies that I continue to make to this day.

One of the traditions that my husband and children observed when the children were small was going to see the Sterling Lindner Christmas tree in the Sterling building on Euclid Avenue in downtown Cleveland. The tree ranged in size from 50-73 feet in height, the largest decorated tree in Ohio and sat in the atrium at Halle’s Department Store. The tree was majestic in its size and decorations consisting of 1000-1200 yards of tinsel and approximately 2400 ornaments.

While in Halle’s, the children had the privilege of sitting on the lap of Santa’s top elf – Mr. Jingaling – and relaying what they would like for Christmas, knowing that he had a direct connection to Santa.

Mr. Jingaling—a holiday tradition around Cleveland—became the “Keeper of the Keys” as a reward for saving Christmas when Santa lost the key to his Treasure House of toys. Mr. Jingaling saved the day by making a new key.

He wore a green and gold costume with a wide black belt and carried a large keyring with all the keys to Santa’s workshop. At the end of the visit, each child was given a large cardboard key and instructed to place the key under their pillow on Christmas Eve to help them have good dreams while waiting for Santa.

After visiting with Mr. Jingaling, the children could enter the magical door to the Twigbee shop where they could shop in secret for mom and dad.

Another special memory is of the time when my children were still young and we spent the week of Christmas in Florida. Palm trees do not lend themselves to the smell of balsam. Warm breezes make one look at the calendar as a reminder that it really is December.

And, there was no snow. No one was freezing while scouring the tree farm for the perfect tree. No one was sliding on ice-covered roads. There were no dogs with coats on, no humans with sniffles and red noses. It did not seem quite right.

I challenge anyone to find a Christmas tree in any warm climate that looks as good as what we in the Midwest usually discard on the curb when the holiday is over.

However, after much searching we did finally find what some call a Charlie Brown tree, a straggly little thing, with branches missing or misshapen.

Because we had brought no decorations with us, the children made construction paper chains and strung cranberries that made the tree quite festive. Of course, gifts were given and received. We spent much of the day watching Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer and Charlie Brown Christmas movies, and it resulted in a memorable Christmas.

What can you remember of your Christmases past? If your memory is like mine with few recollections from childhood, you may want to share with your children and grandchildren what you do remember and invite them to tell you of their memories, even encouraging them to photograph special moments or in some way make a permanent commemorative of special Christmas memories.

There are so many ways to create meaningful Christmas memories—going caroling, trying new recipes, attending area holiday-related events, attending Christmas Eve church services or Mass, making popcorn and watching A Christmas Carol or I’ll be Home for Christmas with Bing Crosby for the 25th time.

My wish for you is that you build a loving and cohesive family with traditions and memories that you and your loved ones can recount for years to come. Creating pleasant and meaningful memories will allow you to enjoy these experiences now and replay them at a later date.

Whatever you do, try to remember the reason for the season. We have been given the greatest gift of all—the One who would change the world.

Happy Holidays from our home to yours.

Contact Dr. Thompson at caroltmcc@comcast.net

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