Sunday, December 6, 2015

52 Ancesors #49: Holiday Memories

Christmas for our family was a time to spend at home with just our immediate family. Traveling to be with extended family was something we did for other holidays. As a child I was happy about this because I wanted Santa Claus to be able to find me on Christmas Day.

One of my first memories of the holiday season was the Lange family gathering on Christmas Eve. Mom was the eighth of nine children so Grandma and Grandpa Lange's house was filled to overflowing with aunts, uncles and cousins. Grandpa told me he had made a special arrangement with Santa to visit early.

We'd hear him on the roof; then a faint "Ho, Ho, Ho," which became louder and louder; and soon Santa would be on the porch! He left presents in a large box. One of the aunts or uncles would distribute the presents by calling out names. For some reason the memory I have of those Christmas Eves was fright. Grandpa died when I was five years old so I was very young. Maybe that explains it.

Me on Christmas Eve at Grandma and Grandpa Lange's farm in southern
Maryland; personal collection

When I was an infant, Mom and Dad purchased their first home together. The house was in Arlington County, Virginia, on 1403 North Hartford Street. We lived there until 1967.[1] Grandpa Lange came to live with us after suffering several heart attacks. He died two days before Christmas in 1963 at our home. It's another kind of holiday memory. Mom called Dad at work. He laid Grandpa's body out on his and Mom's bed and the doctor was called. Then later the funeral home was called and Grandpa's body was taken away.

I later learned Mom had a hard time with Christmas after that, but with small children she didn't really have much choice but to put on her happy face and get into the spirit. And she did it so successfully, I didn't know she was sad until she told me years later. I think the sadness turned to melancholy over time, but she always had a Grandpa story to tell during the holidays. So it probably never went away entirely.

Mom always turned our house into a beautiful home. She won many awards for the best decorated house in the neighborhood over the holidays.

This is Dad after he wrapped our front door in Christmas wrapping paper;
photograph is from my personal collection.

Mom, me, Dad, and my brother, Ted in front of our Arlington house. Ted
has the practice grenade Dad sent to Mom when he was in Korea. Her Dad
thought it was real and put it in the chicken coop! Photograph is from my
personal collection

She used an artificial tree when we lived in Arlington. Later when we moved to Vienna, we begged for a live tree. We used to love the trip to pick out our tree. Mom always wanted perfection, however. So when the tree came home, Dad would have to drill holes in the trunk and add extra branches to make it symmetrical or remove a branch or two! Her front door decoration became more elaborate after that. She would wrap it in wrapping paper. Then Dad added half our old artificial tree to the door and Mom lit it and decorated it. When the wind blew, it looked spectacular!

Dad in front of our artificial tree in Arlington,
Virginia; personal collection

I used to get so excited about what Santa was going to bring me that I couldn't sleep. One year I kept the entire house up all night. About 2:00 a.m. they finally let me open a present, hoping I would then sleep. I chose the smallest present. It was a Timex watch, which was at the top of the wish list I sent to Santa. After that wonderful discovery, I was too excited to sleep!

We moved to Vienna, Virginia, five days before Christmas in 1967. Mom and Dad worked so hard getting the new home set up for their children. When they brought my brother and me to the house, our tree was up and decorated. It was such a relief to me (I was nine years old at the time) because I had been very worried Santa wouldn't find me.

The next year, we had a new brother.

My youngest brother's first Christmas; personal

My brothers and I a few years later. Mom had made
the drapes, Dad made the valance she designed, and
together they added the mill work to the walls;
photograph from my personal collection

One of my favorite memories of Christmas are of my youngest brother. He used to loved to hear A Visit from Saint Nicholas by Clement Clarke Moore every night before bedtime.  Often he wanted to hear it several times in one reading session. Once, I thought he had drifted off to sleep after three or four readings. So I skipped several pages and began to read again closer to the end. John opened his eyes and asked, "What about the part where his 'belly that shook when he laugh'd like a bowl full of jelly'?" I had been well and truly busted by a three year old!

I believed in Santa until I was 10 years old. I was teased that year in school unmercifully because I continue to think Santa was real. It was with deep regret that I stopped believing. One of the wonderful things about having a brother almost ten years younger than me, was that he kept the Christmas spirit alive in our home. That is, until he was five years old. Apparently, his buddy had told him Santa wasn't real. So John devised a plan to prove if Santa was real or a fairy tale. He took some of the tinsel Mom used to decorate the tree and tied it around each side of the mesh fireplace curtain screens. If it was broken Santa was real; if the tinsel was still tied together, he wasn't.

Mom and Dad left cookies and egg nog out for Santa before we all went to bed. When we woke up in the morning the plate and glass were empty. It was one of their little tricks. Another was opening the fireplace curtain screens so it looked as though Santa had been to visit. The year John was testing the reality of Santa, Mom and Dad forgot to open the screens. The first thing John did when he woke up, was examine the fireplace, which I thought was odd. Then he turned around and pronounced very matter of factly that Santa was not real. He proceeded to open his presents and looked as though he didn't mind losing Santa at all. How different my engineer brother was than me!

I wish everyone joy and happiness over the holiday season. May you and your families make many special memories to share in the future.

This is my entry for Amy Johnson Crow's 52 ancestors in 52 weeks challenge optional theme Holidays. Thank you, Amy, for giving me a reason to write some of my memories of Christmas down to share with my family.

[1]Mom had a child at the first three places they lived: 1) me in their apartment; 2) my middle brother, Ted, when we lived in Arlington; and 3) my youngest brother, John, when we lived in Vienna, Virginia. When Mom and Dad moved to North Carolina in 1978, I teased her about having another child since she did every time they had moved previously. She was 48 years old and horrified!


  1. Thank you for sharing your Christmas memories. I can tell you that I was not the least bit upset when I found out about Santa. My parents told me I looked relieved. Have a wonderful Holiday season.

    1. Too funny! You sound like my youngest brother. I hope you have a wonderful holiday season as well.