Christmas is a magical season for children, a time of gifts and celebrations, school vacations, dreams of snow, family.
My earliest Christmas memory is from the Christmas just before my fourth birthday. We spent Christmas Eve and Christmas in Provo at Aunt Verena and Uncle Eph’s home. This is my earliest memory of my Uncle Gary, who I thought was a really neat guy. I worried that Santa would not find me there, because our Christmas tree sat in the front window of our home in Murray. Mom and Dad promised me that Santa knew I would be in Provo. Santa found me in Provo, and all was well. When we returned home, to my joy and delight, there were gifts under the Christmas tree there also! Santa had found me in two places! And what a brave Santa! There were two drums under the tree, one for me and one for my brother! I’m sure I was taught about the birth of the Savior, but that Christmas, it was all about Santa finding me.
The next Christmas I remember was after we moved back to Salt Lake City from Denver. There, our tree was in front of the bay window on the south side of the front room. Next to the bay window was a door that opened to the outside, but was never opened. I imagine Grandpa had planned to put stairs there, perhaps a porch, too, but that was never built. Just a door with about a four foot step straight down if one was inclined to use it as an exit. There was a great advantage to this placement, as we children learned in years to come. The door leading into the front room was a “pocket” door, a door that slide into a recess in the wall. It was possible to open this door just over an inch before it made a sound. We would use that for early peeks at what Santa brought. But that is a later story. This Christmas had been preceeded by some frustration, I remember. We were living with Grandpa Ohlin, who was a carpenter. He had a separate shop in back of our home, heated by a little pot belly stove. I was always welcome to visit there, except for the few weeks before that Christmas. It seems that there were secrets hidden in that shop. Under the tree on Christmas morning were three toy chests, one for me, one for Steve, and one for Kathy. The toy chests were open, and, on the lid of each chest, were new clothes for each of us.
Clothes and Christmas…always a pair. Every Christmas, there were new clothes, sewed by Mom, late at night while we slept. As my children were growing up, I did the same thing. Mom and I talked about it one Christmas. With money tight, making new clothes filled two needs. A gift was created to gladden a child, and needed clothing provided at the same time. That new clothing almost led to the “year without a Christmas” when I was in fifth or sixth grade. Girls were required to wear dresses to school, so I had several dresses, skirts, blouses, and sweaters. A very popular skirt at that time was a plaid wool skirt, pleated on the plaid, so at the waistband of the skirt, only one of the colors showed. I wanted a skirt like that. About 1 a.m., Christmas morning, we crept down the stairs from the attic bedroom, to the oh-so-convenient door. Carefully opening the door, we peeked through the small crack. Hanging on the hinge of the “door to nowhere” was a red/black/grey pleated skirt! Kathy, three years younger than me, immediately felt it was HER skirt. I was equally convinced this was MY skirt. Hustling back upstairs, there ensued an argument about the ownership of that most coveted gift. I pulled the “age card” and announced the skirt was mine, because, “I’m the oldest.” To that, Kathy responded with tears and proclaimed she was going to tell Mom and Dad that we were peeking. In fact, she was going to go downstairs and tell them that very minute. Horror of horrors – that would be the worst thing she could do. We had heard many times that there were no presents for children who peeked. There would only be coal in the stockings. I wasn’t so worried about that threat, but knew we would be in trouble anyway. After much discussion, it was decided that we would never mention this indiscretion. The skirt was mine, but Mom made a turquoise one for Kathy soon after that. We had all been adults for many years before Mom and Dad knew about that Christmas morning!
Although Dad didn’t paint like his mother did, one year he decided to paint a hillside in Bethlehem on the front room window. It was great fun to see the hill, the buildings, and the star appear on the window. At night, from outside, the silhouette of the land, with the shining star was magnificent. I only remember one painting like that. Perhaps the clean up was the problem. As I recall, Dad had to scrape the paint off the window with a razor blade!
Growing up in Utah brought white Christmases. We would worry, as children, that if the snow was missing, Santa won’t come. One year, Dad suggested that if it didn’t snow, Santa would use his helicopter. I remember trying to stay awake and listen for his noisy transportation, but fell asleep. When morning came, even without snow, that magical man had come to our home! I must admit that, while I love the Pacific Northwest, and hate having snow in a place where an inch of snow brings the city to a halt, seeing white flakes at Christmas time makes the season special. There was a possibility of a few flakes this Christmas morning, but the temperatures are too high, so we will have liquid snow. Our children also dreamed of white Christmases. In the days before internet weather maps, learned well from their parents to call the ATIS at Boeing field and listen to the current aviation weather. They learned the importance of relative humidity, temperature, and dew point in creating that most desired of Christmas weather.
I have a collection of nativity sets, and perhaps my love for that particular decoration in my home began with those early Christmases. I don’t remember how we got the nativity set, but we had a cardboard nativity. The base had cardboard half-circles that we pushed up and stood the figures on. I don’t know what happened to it, but for many years, I remember the excitement of setting it up. It was simple and inexpensive, but a reminder to all of the true meaning of Christmas. I thought of that nativity, so many years ago, last night. A knock at the door brought us a gift. Opened, it was a nativity set, unlike any I have. And, for years to come, when I set up that set, I will remember the wonderful friends who brought that to our home, just as I remember those who have given me other nativities, and that first nativity in my life.
There were many other Christmases celebrated in that home on 7th East, then in the home on Brookwood Circle. As the years progressed, more and more gifts were under the tree, as the family size increased. On two most memorable Christmases, all seven of Mom and Dad’s children were there, bringing their own families to the celebration. Not all could sleep at the home. The last of these celebrations, in 1982, had about 35 people for Christmas morning. My family slept at Aunt Fern’s home, and my children have wonderful memories of sleeping upstairs in the room Aunt Fern built herself, many years after Uncle Walt’s death. In fact, the older children loved many things about that home. But that is a blog for another day. Mom bought Christmas fabric and we made fabric drawstring bags for the children to put their gifts in. Mike and Kathy brought treats from Frito-Lay (his employer) and the children earned “money” to buy their treats at the store Mike ran. My children remember that year, too, for our trip to Mesa to see their paternal grandparents, where we went swimming in an outdoor pool. That was our last Christmas with their Grandpa Christensen, who suffered a stroke while we were there, and passed away the next spring. We drove home from the visit with a stop-over in St. George, where we visited with Aunt Jocile, spending an extra night because of snow. My older children might remember visiting the tabernacle there, where the Church filmed The Windows of Heaven video. Aunt Jo showed us the different patterns on the stone bricks, each characteristic of the mason who shaped the stone. We returned to Salt Lake on Christmas Eve, having spent nine hours very snowy hours on the road. A memorable year, the last in which all the descendants of my parents celebrated Christmas together.
Since then, the grandchildren are grown, and the greatgrandchildren are many. The family is scattered across the United States, while Kathy and Mike are in New Zealand. Wherever we are, I’m sure many of us will think of those Christmases this Christmas Day. Memories…what Christmases are made of. Memories of snow and Santa…family and friends…the greatest memory of all…the gift of our Savior, Jesus Christ.
A few of the nativity sets in my home.
Some of the other nativities in my collection.
A very special set, made with the assistance of a good friend and neighbor, Liz Salterelli, many years ago.
The newest of my collection.
May your joys be many on this Christmas day. With recent events in our country, I have felt sadness, too. My nephew, who writes some brilliant posts on his blog, has a beautiful perspective for the season. Feel free to read his thoughts at: http://sinceyouaskedbert.blogspot.com/2012/12/yes-mr-morris-there-is-joy-this.html
May peace be with you this day!