BY NORBERT RUG
For several weeks prior to Christmas I remember getting the “wish books” in the mail from Sears, JC Penney’s, Montgomery Ward’s and other retailers. As a child I would pour over these selecting the toys I wanted Santa to bring turning down the page corners to mark them. I would then write a long list of what I wanted to take to the department store Santa.
We would head out to sit on Santa’s lap and I would assure him I was a very good boy, doing all my chores and always listening to my parents. I would get my picture taken with him, get a candy cane and go home, secure in the knowledge that all my loot would appear on Christmas day.
My memories of Christmas as a young boy took place at 496 Berkshire Avenue, Buffalo. About a week before Christmas, we would go shopping for a tree. It had to be a long needle fir tree and it had to be symmetrical without any bare spots, nothing else would do. We would sometimes have to go to several Christmas tree lots that popped up on every vacant piece of land in the city. We would then tie it on the roof of our car and take it home like some kind of hunting trophy and I guess it was. It would spend a few days trussed up like a bird being prepared for cooking on our front porch awaiting its role in our house.
The dining room table was disassembled and put in my sister’s room to make room for the Christmas tree. Once the Christmas tree lights were untangled, which sometimes took quite a bit of time, they had to be tested. My father was the only person allowed to put these on the tree. My mother would supervise and my father would have to swap bulbs until no two adjacent bulbs were the same color. We would then decorate the tree with all kinds of ornaments, both store bought and homemade. The final decoration would be “icicles” made of thin ribbons of lead.
On Christmas Eve my brother and I would retire to our bedroom on the second floor where we would have a hard time falling asleep in anticipation of Santa Claus paying us a visit. For some reason or other Santa would wrap our presents in the Sunday comic pages. I always thought he had run out of wrapping paper and was surprised that he got the Buffalo Courier Express. I think my favorite toy that Santa ever brought me was a battery operated, walking robot with flashing lights and “sound effects” that I received one year.
Many years later, after I got married, Donna and I moved to Massachusetts while I was in the Navy. We had a small tree but we couldn’t afford many ornaments. We made do with what we had and what people gave us. One thing I did was affix a starfish to the top of our tree that a buddy Ed and I collected from a local beach and had dried in the basement of my apartment.
That was fifty years ago. We still have a starfish adorning our tree. This has developed into a family tradition. All of my children have a starfish of their own now that sit atop their trees. A few years ago I gave all of our grandchildren a starfish so when they are on their own they will remember us with this tradition.
According to an old German legend, if you find a bird’s nest in your Christmas tree you and your family will experience health, wealth and happiness in the coming year. Who can’t use some good luck like this? We always have a bird’s nest in our tree and my daughter Liz has one in her tree also. Other Christmas traditions our family has involve food. Every grandchildren gets to select, as part of their present a “Christmas” food from Nana and Papa. They have picked things like Ramen noodles, potato chips and whipped cream as some of their choices.
My son, Erik and his wife, Heidi also host a Christmas Eve dinner that starts with snacks during the afternoon, olives and pickles, chips and dip, Buffalo chicken wing dip etc. Actually you could graze your way thru the afternoon and not need anything more. But then they have a full blown meal in the evening. We can choose from a cold cut platter and rolls, beef on weck, beans, macaroni and pasta salads, regular salad and many other dishes. They also set out Christmas cookies and various other sweets. One year they offered us homemade marshmallows.
Just in case you didn’t have enough to eat, the following morning my oldest daughter, Liz, had a Christmas day brunch at her house. We have stuffed French toast, breakfast sausage links, potatoes, muffins, eggs, and many more things to eat. With all this food, I was ready for a nap.
After brunch we would all settle into the living room with me in a recliner in front of her roaring fireplace to open presents. I love watching the eyes of Ian and Kaelen, the younger grandchildren, light up as they rip open the colorful wrapping paper and see what gifts they have received. What starts as a controlled afternoon quickly turns into chaos. It is wonderful having all our children and grandchildren under one roof on this day.
It really doesn’t matter where we hold our holiday celebrations though, they could be held in my garage or a storage shed on Transit Road. It’s the people and the food, the conversation and the laughter that make this season important to me.
Norb is a writer from Lockport. You can follow him.