childhood christmas memories

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Thanksgiving is now behind us and this is the weekend where for many Christmas shopping and decorating begins in earnest. It also begins the memory season for a lot of people.

I am not a big Black Friday shopper, but yesterday I did spend some time in one of my favorite places, Chester County Book Company. I had a terrific gift certificate waiting for me there having won the County Lines Magazine “Capturing Chester County” photo contest.

I love book stores, and always have. As a child I also loved my school’s annual Christmas Book Fair.

I went to St. Peter’s School in the Society Hill section of Philadelphia at 4th and Pine. It was a wonderful school to be a child in, and Society Hill at the time was being reborn, so while some will allude any child who spent any time growing up there was sniffing rarified air in a snotty sort of way, well sadly for them, they just don’t get it. Yes the air was rarified in a sense, but the sense was that of a very cool and historic place.

Anyway, after Thanksgiving as a child always meant in addition to annual things and pilgrimages like the light show and lunch in the Crystal Tea Room at John Wanamaker’s, the enchanted colonial village at Lit Brothers, the other Christmas displays at Gimbel’s and Strawbridge’s, and picking out a Christmas tree on sometimes snowy visits to what I think were rail yards with my father, it meant the Christmas Book Fair at St. Peter’s.

One nice thing about being a child growing up through the 1960s and 1970s is it was not politically incorrect to call things “Christmas Book Fair” or “Christmas Pageant” or “Christmas Festival”. And the Christmas Book Fair at St. Peter’s was as festive as it sounded. The school was festooned with decorations and greenery….it literally smelled like Christmas in every corner of the school. It was wonderful and everyone no matter what religion, loved it.

It was at the Christmas Book Fair as a little girl that I met a Philadelphia author my mother loved. As a matter of fact when I asked my mother about this today, she laughed and asked me if I remembered her bursting into tears when she met this children’s book author as an adult. I didn’t. But I do remember meeting an older magical woman with white hair who for a few years autographed one of her books to me annually.

The author’s name was Marguerite de Angeli. She was born in Michigan at the end of the 19th century, but moved with her family at the turn of the 20th century to Philadelphia. Her mother, Ruby, was best friends with the mother of my headmistress, Caroline Seamans.

Because of this lucky connection, as students then, we not only were able to become exposed to the wonderful writing and illustrating of Marguerite de Angeli, but to meet and spend little bits of time with her.

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I don’t know if any of you have books from your childhood, but I have some. Among the ones I kept were the books of Marguerite de Angeli. Thee, Hannah. Henner’s Lydia. Elin’s Amerika. Skippack School. Bright April. A Door in The Wall. I have loved and cherished these books, and read and re-read them. To me these books meant Christmas.

These books written by Marguerite de Angeli are still magical and timeless. I think every child should read them, and you can still find them on eBay and Amazon. I found copies of the books hidden among my step son’s book shelves a few years ago. They had been the copies that my sweet man’s own mother had read when she was a child, passed to him as a child, and he had passed them along to his son. I have always found that very cool.

These books remain as cherished books in our library. (Probably more cherished by me the closet sentimentalist.) Today, I took my copies off the shelf to dust them and I stopped to read the inscriptions Marguerite de Angeli left for me. Almost instantly I was a little girl again at the book fair waiting for my book to be signed. What a wonderful memory to be revisited by.

Thanks for stopping by today.

o tannenbaum

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The tree is up. It was a very sentimental journey. We opened box after box with my father’s handwriting on the brittle paper lids identifying what each box contained.

We used a lot of his ornaments this year (the ornaments of my childhood), in addition to ornaments we had previously collected.

All the while we were decorating, Christmas music from Pandora filled the room.

And outside, the snow fell softly and silently . It was as close to a Currier and Ives moment as we can get in this day and age.

And it was lovely.

Memories are made with each and every Christmas and each and every Christmas tree. Today’s memories were made even more special with the many overlapping memories of childhood Christmases past.

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the bittersweet season

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Twenty years ago today my sister got married. December 4, 1993. On December 22, 2010 my brother- in-law died only about three weeks after a diagnosis of peritoneal mesothelioma, a rare form of cancer of the abdominal lining.

That added with the death of my father eight years ago November 13 makes the joyous Christmas season a little bittersweet as well.

Both my father and late brother- in -law loved the holidays. They both loved decking the proverbial halls with amazing Christmas decorations and entertaining friends and family.

I have memories of my father winning some holiday decorating award when I was little in the Society Hill section of Philadelphia. It was for exterior door spray decorations he had made from greens and fruit and ribbons.

I like to bake, and for years my cookies were my contribution to family Christmas meals. I can still hear both of their voices in my head talking about cookies.

As a matter of fact, the last time I had heard from my brother-in – law was an email sent by him from the hospital in Pittsburgh where they had sent him from NYC to treat his cancer. The message was short. It said simply “save me some Christmas cookies.” Two days later he was gone. That was the only year in my entire life I burned multiple batches of cookies.

The bittersweet season gets a little easier as years pass but still there are inevitable “moments” when my eyes just well up with tears. Like now as I am writing this.

I know some people after they experience loss don’t want to decorate or even acknowledge certain holidays, but I think you just have to. Especially if these people who are no longer with us loved the holiday season.

This year will be a little teary for me as I am hosting Christmas for my family for the first time. I used to do Christmas Eve every now and then, but never Christmas Day.

I remember my first Christmas tree after my father died as being crazy hard to put up. We all have so many funny memories of decorating trees with my father.

When I was really little and we lived in the Society Hill section of Philadelphia we had twelve or fourteen foot ceilings (I forget precisely how tall), so we got a really tall tree every year. I remember going with my father as a little, little girl down to freight yard railroad tracks somewhere near South Philadelphia to pick out a tree. I remember one snowy Christmas I wasn’t sure we would get the tree home- it was the 1960s and my parents’ car at the time was a red VW bug!

Decorating a tree with my father was a process with a capital “P”. He would lay out the boxes of ornaments and they went up in a specific order according to size and shape. His trees always had an amazing balance to them.

Well all except for the year we got the tree with what my mother called “spinal meningitis.” You see, we didn’t realize the tree had a curve in the trunk.

And then there was the year that Kitty Joy our big red orange tabby REALLY got into the catnip stockings early. First she skidded up and down the front hallway and then we found her at the top of the Christmas tree, celebrating with what only could be described as a “load on”!

Of course the largest family joke, was when would the Christmas tree actually come down? One year I swear my father left it up until Valentine’s Day.

From the time I was a little, little girl, I have all these fantastic memories of Christmas. I think somewhere I might also have still some of the notes from Santa that my father wrote with his opposite hand after dutifully devouring the plate of cookies and milk my sister and I put out for many many years. I also have vague memories of being posed with my sister in front of the Christmas tree every year.

When we became adults, and after my sister had married, I also have memories of those Christmases. I remember all the years of when my niece and nephew were really little of trying to keep them out of the presents before Christmas morning. Can’t blame them there, as I was a closet present shaker when I was little. I was just more stealth about it.

I have memories of my brother-in-law when my sister and he moved to New York coming into their kitchen with some bags loaded down with presents, and other bags loaded down with the most fabulous cheeses and holiday snacks. I can see him in my mind’s eye bustling around their kitchen island putting things away, getting things out, combined with his laughter and the joyful shouts of my niece and nephew excited that the father was home.

I have a few friends who will be facing Christmas this year with the loss of parents for the first time (we are getting to “that age”) and I know it will be hard for them. But I hope they truly celebrate the season as I believe that is what their parents would have wanted. And if the tears come, let them flow, but remember the happy and not the sad.

Keep good memories alive by keeping traditions intact.

So slowly, bit by bit, Christmas is creeping in. And although I am feeling a bit of the bittersweet season upon me, I won’t stop because these family members who are no longer with us made the holidays magical and special.

So people might laugh at my love of vintage Christmas ornaments and my childlike glee of decorating. Or think I’m a little nutty to make a Christmas wreath almost every year, but these are the traditions instilled within me that keep the Christmas- loving child inside of me alive.

And although life can get bittersweet like an O. Henry Christmas story, there is no trading it in.

Thanks for stopping by today.

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