Saturday, December 5, 2009


From the book "An Old Fashioned Christmas"
Written by Rochelle Pennington, Illustrated by Cathy Stern

(Very like my one-room country school,
except that we had an oil-burning stove)

"The world is too much with us; late and soon," is a famous phrase from poet William Wordsworth. I'd like to paraphrase it to say that "Christmas is too much with us late and soon".

You may think this is just another rant about the commercialization of Christmas, and it is, in part. Yes, I hate that stores start selling Christmas decorations even before Halloween. I hate that Thanksgiving, that unique and wonderful American holiday, is consumed and obscured by the premature Christmas hullaballoo. I hate the concept of Black Friday. I hate that TV commercials urging us to spend money we do not have are so prevalent as to be almost unavoidable. I hate all the extra advertising in the Sunday paper.

My favorite image of Santa, the Coca-Cola Santa

I admit that I was once a part of the whole Christmas madness. After moving into our new home in 1982 after the fire that destroyed our previous place, I started observing Christmas in a big way. I bought umpteen Christmas decorations and made umpteen Christmas crafts. I started collections of Christmas collectibles.

Our house was decorated for Christmas to the extent that my mother-in-law commented that it looked like a Better Homes and Gardens magazine spread. Crazily, I stayed up late on Christmas Eve 1982, feverishly finishing Kristen's crewel-work Christmas stocking. (She was less than six months old, but that didn't matter to me!)

I always displayed live poinsettias and other Christmas plants. I have sought out, in years past, traditional English plum pudding and hard sauce. I have ordered English Christmas crackers from a catalog. My sister makes a big meal Christmas Eve; I reciprocate Christmas Day. I used a Quaker lace tablecloth, cloth napkins, good china, candles and a floral arrangement (which Dan always wanted to "take out of the way").

by Michael Dickinson

(If you click on the picture to enlarge it,
you will see department store names very
familiar to us Americans of a certain age!)

But this year, I think I am tired of Christmas. It is just so ubiquitous, so soulless. I told Dan that if if weren't for the fact of Kristen coming home this year, I would just skip Christmas. Dan agreed with me, and he loves Christmas!

I'm ALMOST at the point where I want to say "Bah, Humbug". But that's actually not how I feel. My brother, John, was killed in a car accident on Dec. 21, 1978, at age 25. It was very, very difficult for all of us to celebrate Christmas that year. I think that if not for the fact that my parents had already purchased a live tree, the Christmas presents were already bought, and that Glori's son Nick (John's beloved little nephew) was at the magical age of two, we would not have had any kind of Christmas celebration. But we did NOT say "Bah, Humbug".

Despite a funeral on Christmas Eve Day (the church wouldn't let us wait until Dec. 26), we managed to celebrate Christmas that awful year, and I think there is an unwritten code in our family that after that tragedy, no matter what the circumstances we will always observe Christmas.

From the "Christmas In Walnut (IA)" Collection
by Susan Prince

But it does get harder. Over the years, in addition to the loss of John, we have had to face the loss of my Grandmother, all my aunts and uncles, my mom and stepfather, my brother Ron, and Dan's mom and dad. As I get older, it gets physically harder and harder to drag out the multitudinous Christmas decorations and set them up. Dan no longer has the desire or the inclination to put Christmas lights up on the roof.

Underlying it all, there is the unspoken desire to HAVE OLD CHRISTMAS BACK. I want Christmas to go back to the time when our family Christmas tree was a not-very-big fir decorated with flung tinsel, homemade red and green construction paper chains, and strung popcorn and cranberries. I want Christmas to be the sight, while driving home from Crosby to Larson, of lone houses on the dark prairie magically illuminated with a string of lights along the roof line.

"CHRISTMAS MEMORIES" by Angela Trotta Thomas

I want Christmas to be a big barrel full of Christmas nuts in a small town grocery store (and a barrel-ful of lutefisk to be avoided at any cost). I want Christmas to be the naievete of the Lutheran church pageant and the elementary school program. I want it to be about the identical paper sacks of ribbon candy, peanuts, chocolate drops and popcorn balls given out by Santa Claus at both places, secular and sacred. I want it to be about having a little bit of money and the freedom to roam the dime store to consider gifts of Evening in Paris perfume, handkerchiefs, and other fancy treasures for loved ones.

I want Christmas to be about the beloved carols of "Silent Night", "Oh Holy Night" and "We Three Kings", instead of "Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer". I want it to be about the Christmas lights that were strung over Main Street in Crosby and countless other small North Dakota towns, always at some point during the season to be blown about by fierce Alberta Clipper winds. I want it to be about the Nativity scenes set up beside brick chuches, giving comfort and sustenance to observers.


I want Christmas to be about free December Saturday movie matinees in Crosby. I want it to be my Grandma's house, with the red cellophane wreath in the big front room window and the Miles Kimball lighted plastic musical church atop the TV. I want it to be about the glass-blown ornaments sold by Kresges. (Does anyone know what retail giant Kresges became?)

As much as I like mini-white lights (called "fairy lights" in England) I want Christmas to be about those old-fashioned fat multi-colored bulbs and bubble lights. I want it to be wearing out the toy pages in the Sears and "Monkey" Wards Christmas catalogs. I want it to be about "Frosty the Snowman" instead of "The Nightmare Before Christmas". 

Artist Unknown 

I want Christmas to be walking with my mom along deserted Larson streets, with the snow coldly crunch-crunching under our feet, as we view a Christmas moon wreathed with misty vapor. I want Christmas to be turkey dinner at Grandma's house, with all those people long gone: Grandma, Mary, Donny, Scotty, Dave, Ina, Leo, Billy, Mom, Dad, John and Ron. Only Glori and I and our immediate families are left.

I want Christmas to be waiting for HOURS!! on Christmas Eve for Dad to come in off the road, because Santa had left the presents locked in Dad's shop (I later figured out it was to guard the presents from John's prying eyes and hands.) I want Christmas to be the one when Brother Ron swore he saw Santa and his sleigh flying across the moon.

Artist Unknown

I want Christmas to be the gift exchange at the one-room school, even if I usually just got the Lifesavers "Book Pack". At least that was better than the year I got a set of panties from Jim Iverson (even if it was his mom who bought the gift, it was still mortifying). I want it to be the Christmas that I got the kitchen set, or the big floppy dog, or the Betsy-Wetsy or Poor Pitiful Pearl dolls. I want it to be about Ron's train set, and his lifelong love of trains.

I want Christmas to be trying out new ice skates on the bumpy, choppy, possibly unsafe ice at Tweet's Lake. (No indoor rinks for us!) I want it to be about going to my friends' house to see their new toys. I want it to be two solid weeks of no school!

From the book "An Old Fashioned Christmas"
Written by Rochelle Pennington, Illustrated by Cathy Stern

I want Christmas to about the huge tree in the middle of Main Street in Columbus. About looking for the Christmas star in the North Dakota night sky. About the King James version of the Christmas story. About unquestioning faith.

I want Christmas to be about no worries or cares. I want it to be about breathless anticipation and pure joy. I want Old Christmas back.

NOTE: Christmas cards by Cathy Stern, artist of two of the paintings above, can be found on her website,


Autumn Leaves said...

Your thoughts so very much echo my own. As to the commercials and ads? I don't really care. For me it is about finding the perfect gifts for those that I love. It is family times and memories of old Christmas stories, watching those old standbys on television, the memories of the joy and anticipation and light of waking earlier than dawn on Christmas morning. Julie, Christmas is what YOU make of it. I daresay you can decorate up a tree in the old fashioned way, start a new tradition with your daughter that will last through her own childrens' years. You will one day get to be the grandma (I so love that over the river and through the woods song!) and can bring back much of the old timey ways, just new people to make new memories with...You can live those values that we both cherish and ignore what you wish to ignore when it gets to be too much. You can sit and make those paper chains, roast chestnuts, share a new and special tradition with your Dan that is just between the two of you. I daresay that if you hold all of these emotional memories of Christmas, you can indeed have these holidays be every bit as special as they are in your memories. Yes, Virginia, there really is a Santa Claus.

sarah said...

What a beautiful post! Thank you, I love the fact that the word "Christmas" appears 200 times! To remember the day that all six of us kids were grateful for 1 or 2 special gifts and my father, with his bible actually sat down with us in front of our wood stove and read us the story of Christmas, brought tears to my eyes! Thanks.....

Janet said...

Beautifully written....and I couldn't agree more. I have heard so many Christmas carols before Halloween even got here that I'm already tired of hearing them. It shouldn't be that way.

Sheila said...

I am quite choked up reading this Julie. I have always felt this way at Christmas, and have never been able to recapture the joy, the excitement, but overall the simplicity of the season we enjoyed as children. I remember visiting Woolworth's to buy 1d (one penny in the old English money) Christmas cards, and inexpensive gifts for my parents who are now gone and my two sisters. The big family Christmas party at my grandmothers house, with the small tree atop the old boxy TV, and the paper garlands, and the roaring fire in the hearth.
Seeing Father Christmas at the local department store, and choosing a gift from the barrels labelled 'Girls'. Having Carol singers at the front door, and going into the farmers market to but holly and mistletoe. Those throwbacks from the Druids, to decorate the house. We rarely had snow, and when we did it was a big deal,yet all the greetings cards depicted Victorian scenes of mail coaches, tiny robins on snowy branches, or village churches set in snow highlighted with silver sparkles.
Instead of more, more, more at this time of year, I would prefer less materially, and more spiritually, and time with the people I miss so much. Whatever your Christmas holds Julie, I hope it is happy, and may it be everything you wish for.
big hugs

Colleen - the AmAzINg Mrs. B said...

You, my friend, can make it's your your memory..and you can have it again..why not make colored-paper chains? Why not string popcorn, and buy "dime store" {now maybe Dollar store} gifts that are silly and sweet..Christmas is in your heart, in your soul and it can be in your home - that's the magic of the season! Make it happen, my sweet friend - I know you can..and don't let the retail madness control your feeling or consume have the power..the season has the magic..;-)

Beth in Redmond, WA said...

Julie - I want that Christmas, too, with a few alterations, as I grew up in rural Connecticut. I think those of us "of a certain age" recall that Christmas with a full heart. Though mine was not a Christian family,I still loved the Christian celebrations as well as my own family's quieter times. Today, in my earth-based religion, I celebrate the Solstice. My daughter and I bake, and look at holiday lights. She sings in 3 choirs, so there is so much music! And on the days of Solstice and Christmas,I take time for solitude, gratitude, contemplation of what I have done and will do, and celebration of the turning earth and lengthening days. Oh! And we take all the old pumpkins and squash left from the autumn holidays and toss them into the ravine to feed the raccoons. Thanks for a wonderful post! It brought back such memories!

Acornmoon said...

I think we always want to return to the carefree days of our childhood Christmases.No doubt the adults who made it possible had their own cares and woes but tried to create Christmas for others, just the way you describe. I hope that you have a good one this year.

To answer your question, you are free to use my artwork on your blog, all I ask is that you give me the copyright credit and a link back. Thanks.

I hope that you find inspiration and motivation in the New Year. ( We all loose it from time to time, me included!)

Christmas Hampers said...

Nice blog. Going through your blog on Christmas made my day. Thanks for the laughs.

Anonymous said...

I loved your post. I think we would all love to go back to a much simplier time and place. Christmas is a sad time but also can be happy because we do have our wonderful memories of Christmas past. I still make those red and green decorations. They are hanging on my landing as I write this comment. We buried my mother Christmas Eve in 1984 and my father died two days after Thanksgiving the same year. It was very difficult but we did celebrate Christmas that year. I think we just have to find our joy. To me it's those little things. We have to hang on to what we are blessed to have at the moment and create new memories while we can. I learned that during my nursing career.

Leanne said...

Julie, this resonated with me so much too. I have no christmas anticipation or excitement here, I could easily not 'do' christmas either. I am so tired, I am working fulltime, i will be working til 5pm xmas eve, I have hardly any time spare, have only bought one pressie so far, and have a list as long as my arm of things that need doing/ buying etc.... and what for? a few days, and then all that rushing, planning, affording is over. It hardly seems worth the effort, especially without a partner now to share it with. I too long for a simpler christmas of times past.

i still search for santas dressed in green instead of red, and I still feel the solstice on the 21st/ 22nd has more meaning to me.

However, I do wish you a peaceful, restful xmas Julie, and that next year brings you better times

Leanne x

Shopgirl said...

I understand what you have written and agree that Christmas has changed. The world has changed, it is all about the money, how much did the stores make this year????
But inside, you have the Christmas that you love, it shows in all your wonderful words....and that is Christmas.
As I set here on this very modern computer, I look out at a winter wonderland. And I know that my kids and Grandkids are decorating and finding the perfect tree. And Christmas eve there will be 20 souls riding to be here with Dad and I where time has stood still for awhile because I do have that old fashioned Christmas with homemade things and good food. Not the food that I had as a child, but still made with my heart. The decorations will be mostly the same as they always are, this seems to be important to the little ones, they like knowing where everything is. And they know that some of these things where on the tree's of Christmas past. Because they are old and not so shinny as the new ones.
So yes, I hate what has happened to the holidays when it comes to the stores and TV, but in our home, in our hearts, it is just Christmas.
Thank you for always making me think, you are so special Julie, and you have Christmas of old in your heart. And we are so lucky to know the difference. We have had the best, so we can pass it on. Love ya, Mary

gma said...

Grandchildren bring old Christmas back. Tommy asked me "Gemma where is charity located?" He said he wanted to donate his toys this year. Tristan sang in a program last week. Tillie knows all about making cookies for Santa. At my house I'm faking it this season for the children.

Hampers said...

Nice blog on christmas. Christmas is the season for kindling the fire of hospitality in the hall, the genial flame of charity in the heart.

mxtodis123 said...

Great post. i think many of us feel the same. I have so many wonderful memories of Christmas past...and with that, I've tagged you to play a game of blog tag. Info is at Moontides.

Barbara Anne said...

Bless your heart as we in the South say. I wonder if your wish is partly was wish for the dearly departed to be with you once more? Simplicity and less commercialism, of course, would improve Christmas and the world.

I was just thinking a few days ago as I set up the ceramic Christmas tree my dear aunt made about thirty five years ago for my parents that I would dearly love to tell her what joy that ceramic tree has brought to me. I have ornaments on our tree that belonged to my grandparents, my aunt and uncle, and my parents and I welcome them to another Christmas. Perhaps construction paper chains of red and green can be your welcome to Christmas past as you remember it so well?

Did Kresge's become K-mart? Yikes! I hope not.

I recommend Mannheim Steamroller's joyous music to renew your love of Christmas present as you choose to celebrate it: Christmas, A Fresh Aire Christmas, Christmas is in the Air, and Christmas Extraordinaire.

Grace and peace!

Annie Jeffries said...

Oh Julie, this was almost a sad post, it was so filled with Christmas past. Your first paragraph says it all - We have so lost the magic.

Your part about Kresge's was such a solid memory dug up from my early youth in Illinois and Wisconsin. I figured it had just gone out of business like so many five and dimes. What a shock to discover (thank you Google) that it had simply mutated into K-Mart.

Julie said...

You are correct, Annie and Barbara Anne. Kresges did morph into K-Mart.

Brushes1 said...

Here we are awaiting springs' sentinels of flowers and blue birds! I was so humbled that my old fashioned artwork brought you to write such a moving sentiment for Christmas 2009 the way it was and how much it really meant. I'm the artist who created those artworks in the book 'an old fashioned Christmas'.
If anyone is interested this upcoming Christmas, I have prints of the artwork for sale along with Christmas cards made from the prints.
Continue to enjoy the memories!
Cathy Stern,
artist 262-305-6686

Anonymous said...

I was searching for art by Susan Prince, my sister in law and happened on to this blog. Christmas will be different for her this year. My brother and Susan's house burned to the ground almost a year to this post, on 12/6/10, Feast of St. Nicholas. No one was hurt, but she lost everything, including her artwork. Please pray for them. Thank you for appreciating her art.

Cary Schmidgall

Anonymous said...

Cary, I am so, so sorry to hear this! A fire is bad at any time, but at Christmas, it must be even harder. I know from experience that one can recover from such a tragedy. Our home burned in June 1982 when I was 9 months pregnant. Now we've lived in our little stucco bungalow for 28 years and have made countless memories here.

It is so terrible that Susan lost all her artwork. Thank goodness there are copies on the Internet. I know she will go on to create many new, beautiful paintings.

All my best to her,