Saturday, December 20, 2008

I know it's trite to say it, but some of the most important things you can give your kids aren't THINGS.

My happiest memories of this time of year from childhood don't include so much the gifts I got (though I got an awful lot of nice things when I was a kid), as the things we did.

One thing I remember, when I was quite small, was that we used to get together with another family and go out to a Christmas tree farm and pick out and cut our own Christmas tree. I remember it as ALWAYS being snowy (well, it was the 1970s, a historically cooler decade, and it was the snowbelt of Northeast Ohio). The tree farm - I don't remember rightly exactly where it was but it can't have been too far away - had horse-drawn sledges to carry the trees (and the people) back to the place where you parked and paid. You'd show up, they'd issue people saws, and then we'd set off in search of the "perfect" tree. Some were, of course, too short, others too tall, still others had a flat side or the branches were too tight to show ornaments off well. But eventually we found a good tree. (I don't remember how the horse-sledge was summoned or whether there were regular "roadways" they followed to pick people up). But I do remember getting to ride back on the big "sled" with the tree, and the jingling of the harness bells and the huffing sound of the horse's breath. I was a suburban child so this was one of my few experiences of horses.

Then, at the little shack where they were set up to take payment, the fathers handed in the saws, paid for the trees, and then employees of the farm would go out and lash the trees to the top of the car (or, in our case, help load it in the back of the van. My dad had, for years and years, a bronze colored Dodge Tradesman 15-passenger van that he had had the rear seats removed from. I think he got it originally to haul field equipment but it was also perfect for transporting the tree). Then we'd all go to our home (That's why I think the tree place had to be close to us; the other family lived near Barberton and I always remember them coming to our house, and then on to the tree place) and have hot cocoa.

I also remember baking cookies with my mom - usually cut-out cookies, which were one of my favorites to make, and Christmas was about the only time she'd do them with me. (I know now it's because of the mess and effort involved). Later on, mostly when I was in grad school, I made a lot of candy. I still like doing that. I enjoy the complexity of it, the fact that it's part chemistry (and part physics) getting it to work out. And it does seem kind of magical to be able to boil up sugar and water and cornsyrup and flavorings and maybe milk or butter, and by boiling it a certain amount you can get candy that is soft and sugary, or chewy and caramelly, or brittle. I especially liked making a lot, packaging it up, and taking it around to the various offices or people who had helped me during the year. (Perhaps some of the people weren't so happy, if they were counting calories, but I did try to have some things like popcorn on there too).

And sitting around reading stories, or playing board games (something we still do, except the games are different now: it's Apples to Apples or Settlers of Catan instead of Candyland or Sorry!).

And my dad telling us the story of the Nativity as we set up the Nativity set.

And playing the records of Christmas music and sitting around the decorated tree in the evenings.

All quiet things; mostly inexpensive things. But they provide me sort of a cushion of happiness, of good memories, to draw on every year as Christmas comes around.

Oh, I have my own new traditions I follow now - I set up my own little tree (but it's an artificial one, which is a lot easier for me to deal with, and most of the "real" trees to-be-cut-yourself around here are cedars, which set off my allergies really badly). And I go to the AAUW party and the CWF party and those really are a big part of my Christmas celebrations now. And I help decorate the church right before Advent begins.

And there's the Five-day Feast of Fabulous Finger Foods at work - cooking for that and enjoying some of the things other people bring in.

And I enjoy doing other little things - I try to go and find a toy, some toy I would have enjoyed or my brother would have enjoyed when we were kids, and buy it and give it to Toys for Tots or the Lions' Toy Box, or one of those other groups. Because I like to think that maybe I can make some kid's Christmas a little happier as a result. (This year it was a little stuffed Pooh bear - because stuffed animals really were my favorite toys as a child - and a small Indiana Jones action figure, because I think I would even have enjoyed playing with that - pretending that under the couch was a spooky cave to be explored, or that the bookshelves were ancient temple steps to climb).

And listening to my own Christmas music - there is some overlap, I do have CDs with Bing Crosby and Nat King Cole and Gene Autry singing on them. But I also have some CDs of old, old sacred music for Christmas. And the Charlie Brown Christmas special soundtrack.

And I also try to set aside time to watch the old Christmas specials - the ones I remember from my childhood - when they come on.

And I also like to make toys at this time of year. Oh, I mostly keep them for myself, I'm always concerned about how handmade toys might be received by some of the charity groups (and of course, there are always safety issues). But there is something kind of fun about having a new little teddy bear or some kind of unusual-animal amigurumi to look at at Christmastime. (And sometimes, I even make an extra one and tuck it into the stocking of someone at Christmas, if I think they will enjoy it and not think it too childish).

And there is the end of the semester, the slowing-down of work, the having time to knit or sew. That's actually kind of a nice new tradition as well. I get so busy during the semester sometimes that it's really welcome to have a few days right now to just sit down and do as I please, maybe complete a few long-term projects, maybe start a few new ones.

1 comment:

dragon knitter said...

most of the toy-driven charities won't take hand-made toys. they have to be commercially made, which I think is kind of sad, because one of my favorite "toys" i had as a child was aknitting loom my dad made for me when i was10. i still have it, and cherish it to th is day (my dad's been gone for 7 1/2 years). i even still use it occasionally.

however, some of the other charities will accept hand-made toys, like the reservation charities (cangaleska, for the Pine Ridge Reservation comes to mind). i tend to make amigurumi for those.