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Childhood memories of Christmases Past brought back the thoughts of simplicity….which played a huge part in our family’s Christmas joy!

Thinking back to when I was young Advent always started with the appearance of the Advent wreath and the making of our stable. There was a joyous preparation, not hurried, rushed or bought.

We would lay straws in the manger for each sacrifice we made throughout the days leading up to Christmas.

Growing up there was not extra money, especially at Christmas, since Dad’s construction work could be quite seasonal, so my parents often did not buy Christmas gifts. We didn’t see Dad and Mom stressed over having to buy gifts they couldn’t afford.

We were normal kids and presents were just as exciting to us as to other kids. Grandma and Auntie Janice (on my mom’s side) would bring over beautiful parcels, enough for all!

This in itself became a tradition…. Oooing and Ahhhing over each beautifully wrapped present….and we were very grateful for everything we received!

We looked forward with anticipation to St. Nicholas Day, where Dad and Mom would do a puppet show of St. Nicholas and Black Pete. We would receive stocking plump with snacks and treats!

As the years passed, we were able to buy gifts, but the emphasis was never on the getting, but the giving.

Some years we would cringe when Dad would make an announcement that we should pick a favorite gift that we had received to give it to another child who had less. We were not made to do this, but we were encouraged. And we did.

Every Advent we would put together a basket or cut wood for a family in need. This instilled in us children how truly blessed we were. There were others suffering and cold, while we were warm, safe and happy.

We would start the St. Andrew Novena on November 30th and down to the littlest fellow that could talk, we would wait for our turn to repeat the beautiful “Hail and Blessed” Prayer.

Some of my favorite memories are when we would all pile into our old Volvo and head to Rossville to view the lights. What a thrill…the color, the magic, the beauty!

Our first snowfall we would take bowls outside and pack them hard with snow. Mom would pour honey and cinnamon on our snow and we would have homemade candy!

One Christmas especially stands out in my mind….we knew Dad was doing something special and secretive in the evenings leading up to Christmas. After Midnight Mass that year we came home to beautiful, homemade stockings, filled with gifts and treats that had been made with love and care by Dad!

Another year, when we were teenagers, Dad made us each our own ornament. He cut out three pictures of each child and created an ornament with glitter and glue. On the bottom of each ornament Dad had written something. Mine said, “Our Blooming Rose!” We were so proud of each of our ornaments!

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As the weeks of Advent passed, Mom would spend one of the afternoons with us making cookies. Our “Cherry Flip” recipe was a favorite and came from an aunt that Mom loved. It was a shortbread cookie make into a ball, stuffed with a cherry, baked, iced with cherry icing and dipped in coconut! Yum! We made other kinds, too, and we then froze little parcels of the cookies for family and friends, which we handed out after Midnight Mass.

Dad was kind of a Scrooge about the Christmas tree. Many years he would go out back and cut us a rather ugly, Charlie Brown cedar tree. This is the part of Christmas that Grandma was often the hero, and mysteriously a lovely tree would show up! Since then Dad has mellowed and if Mom asks, he will pick up a tree on his way home from work.

Just a few days before Christmas, often Christmas Eve, we would decorate the house and the tree.

Time was spent stringing popcorn and cranberries. We made ornaments with last year’s Christmas cards and sometimes dried orange rings to add to the tree…

Midnight Mass was where Christmas began for us. Dressed in our finest, we headed out into the darkness to finally celebrate His Birth!

Arriving home, the baby Jesus, so beautiful, would be laying in the little manger, where He had miraculously appeared while we were gone!

Out came the cookies! On came the Christmas music! Joyous and fun, our Christmas had just begun!

In the morning, after Dad finished reading from the Bible about the birth of Christ, we opened gifts, turned on music, ate good food (and more cookies) and started the turkey for Christmas dinner!

In a one-bedroom home, seven kids, not a lot of money, all of these traditions happened….

Where lack could have been felt, joy was added. We did things together preparing, getting ready and finally celebrating!

In the end, Our Savior was born and we always had a very Merry Christmas!

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“We must be a maker of Christmas for others or we cannot make a real Christmas for ourselves. We need the sharing of our joy in order to partake of its real possession. If we try to keep our Christmas all to ourselves, we will miss half its sweetness.” J.R. MIller

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