Remembering Christmases Way Past

The first Christmas I actually remember happened when I was a kid too young to go to Midnight Mass. My grandfather, Manny stayed home to babysit my cousins and me while our extended family walked to the church down the street.

Vovô, as I called him, was my father’s father and not one of those playful grandfathers. I just remember him opening a bottle of red wine and consuming it while we waited for the family’s return. He had the radio on, probably the Portuguese station that he loved. Having immigrated from the Azores, he thought the Portuguese singers were the best and he would try to demonstrate that by serenading me. Anyway, we kids were safe with Vovô until Mass was over and the gift exchange began.

Most of my Christmases as a child involved visiting. My parents, especially my father, were very sociable people although they never held parties at our home. The one exception was Christmas Eve when people would make the rounds. Most my father knew through the local athletic club. It was the only time alcohol was served in our home. I remember as a kid waiting to see if anyone would show up. That tradition faded out. 

Another was going to people’s homes late at night and singing outside their doors until we were let inside. They were expected to feed the group of singers and I presume offer drink. We sleepy little kids went along. But that ended after a few years. 

Yes, we received gifts from Santa until we realized he didn’t exist. I learned that when I happened to be in the attic and found unwrapped gifts intended for my younger sister.

We became full-time visitors on Christmas. For years, we had an early dinner with our grandmother Angela, who came to this country from the Portuguese island of Madeira when she was just a teenager. Her food had a rather foreign flavor. My sister and I said she must use a secret spice. Then we visited our aunt and uncle next door — their sons were childhood friends we saw every weekend. They were on my mother’s side. Then we were onto my father’s side, visiting the homes of his sisters. I can’t remember why, but one home we called Devil’s Island.

As for presents, we didn’t get a lot, understandably for the time. I recall when I was 12 being asked by my mother what I wanted. I honestly didn’t know but I pointed at a large doll dressed in a taffeta gown. I was well past the stage of playing with dolls but it seems I wasn’t ready to let my childhood go. 

Over the many years, I have had a variety of Christmases, including a few awkward ones. Of course, that can happen because the holiday involves real life. 

There were many times when we lived in Taos, New Mexico that it was just Hank and I, which was fine. We gave up having a tree and pared down our gift-giving. But we got to enjoy what that area has to offer for the holidays, including spending Christmas Eve watching the bonfires at Taos Pueblo and then having a drink at the Taos Inn. Sometimes family came to experience it.

Now that we have returned to New England, we spend the holiday with our children, granddaughters, and the extended family. Fun times for sure. I wish the same for you.

ABOUT THE PHOTO ABOVE: That’s a chubby me only eight months old at my grandparents’ home where I lived with my parents for the first few years of my life.


Revisiting the Ghosts of Christmas Past

I wrote this post in 2013 when we were living in Taos, New Mexico. It’s still a good read and I’ve added a new ending.

Ah, Christmas: one holiday, so many emotions and circumstances. Happy Christmas. Sad Christmas. Rich Christmas. Poor Christmas. Stressful. Carefree. Lonely. Crowded. Weird Christmas.

I liked the ones we spend with our large family. Great food and laughs, gifts, and even one year, fireworks one daughter bought along the way from her home in the South.

We had a freshly cut tree with ornaments, many of them made by the kids. Why was one son’s Santa wearing gray and yellow? Because the red felt was already taken. Why did another son’s wooden Santa have a black, bandit’s mask? Just because.

I remember the Christmas after Hank was hurt on a  job site a few months before. He fell 18 feet onto his shoulder because someone didn’t nail a board in place. He couldn’t work. The people who hired him as a subcontractor wouldn’t pay him while he was hurt.

After all those years staying home with six kids, I found a one-year teaching job. We kept things going with a starting teacher’s pay.

It was close to the holiday when we came home with the kids. A large cardboard box was on our doorstep. It contained food and an envelope with $70 in cash.

We were stunned.

We asked around but no one would admit to it. The kind deed has not been forgotten.

So what will we do this year? We live thousands of miles from the people who mean the most to us. (One daughter did visit for a few days — thank you — and we’ve had family come in previous years.) And with early deadlines at work for the holidays, it is too difficult to get away.

But Christmas in Taos is interesting, what with our three cultures. Think luminarias — we call them farolitos in Taos — along the parapets of buildings and in yards.

We have gone to the Pueblo on Christmas Eve to watch the lighting of tall bonfires and the procession for the Virgin Mary, and then to the Taos Inn for holiday cheer. This year we will have Christmas dinner with friends with the usual fixings of del norte — tamales and green chile posole stew. We don’t have a tree but a scene with miniature trees, lights and pine cones I created on the window sills in the great room.

We will call the kids and my parents that day. We will tell them we miss them and wish we were there for Christmas.

That was then and this is now. Our family has changed. My father is no longer with us. We now have two grandchildren. And Hank and I live in Western Massachusetts. To be honest, except for a swag on the front door, I didn’t decorate this year but I made lots and lots of cookies to share.

We will be spending Christmas Eve and Day at our daughter Emily’s house near Boston. Four of our six kids will be there plus our granddaughters. Our son-in-law’s family will join us. We will eat, drink and make merry. Happy holidays.

ABOUT THE PHOTO ABOVE: That’s Hank and I at our son Nate’s house on our first Christmas on the year we returned to Western Massachusetts.


Our Perfectly Imperfect Tree

For the first time in 13 years, we have a Christmas tree standing inside our living room. When we lived in New Mexico, we never got one. It somehow didn’t fit the place where we were living, and besides the guy selling trees had a real shady past. Last year, we were renting an apartment while we renovated the home where we now live. But this year? It’s time to get out the ornaments that have been stored inIMG_6458 boxes all these years.

But first the tree. I really didn’t want to spend an arm and a leg for one. Our son, Zack, told us about Pieropan Christmas Tree Farm that grows its trees from stumps instead of replanting them — it is billed as one of the oldest farms that grows this way. It’s located only one town over. And any tree is $30. Sold.

So, on Saturday, after paying our money to co-owner Emmet Van Driesche, we hiked around the sloping hill looking for a tree worth cutting. First, I haIMG_6451d to get over the fact that these trees are on the funky side. But what did I expect? They grow out of the stumps of previously cut trees. Fortunately for us, the tree would back against a wall in our living room, so really we could get a tree that was indeed a bit funky. It took a while, given my spouse’s tendency toward perfection — although I did say for a guy who didn’t want a tree in the first place, he was being awfully fussy.

But we found the tree. The sharp saw the farm provides did the job and it fit easily in our car.

Sunday it took a while for me to get the tree to stand upright in its stand. The trunk’s wood was so tight, it wouldn’t sink into the metal points inside the stand. Brilliant me, I chopped at it with a hammer’s claw until it could.

Then I hung the lights, the wooden beads and dug into the ornaments, many ofwhich date back forty years when we didn’t have a pot to you know what. These are the ones I made from cloth and clay, plus ones I picked up over the years. ThereIMG_6460 are the ones the kids made in school or bought when they grew older.

In anticipation of a visit by our toddler granddaughter, I arranged the tree so the fragile stuff is up high. She can freely touch whatever is low. And Hank wired the tree to the woodwork, so, kid, it ain’t going anywhere.

I like our tree. It fits nicely against the wall. It holds a lot of memories. And I like that it came from a place that makes Christmas trees sustainable.

Want to learn more about Pieropan Christmas Tree Farm? Here’s a link to a news story in the Greenfield Recorder: Recorder story

And happy holidays to family and friends near and very far away.