Remember When Christmas Edition

How can any of us forget the12 days of Christmas? They were the best of times and for me the most memorable.  From the start of Advent watching the lighting of those 4 candles on each Sunday was like counting off the days before a launch of the Space Shuttle. When you were a kid it took forever for Christmas to arrive.

The holidays officially started with putting up decorations and outdoor lights on the house. Somehow when those boxes stated moving down stairs from the attic, our anticipation and holiday excitement would start. It seemed like we had a hundred boxes of Christmas decorations.  The ones with the lights in them were the biggest and heaviest. The bulbs were large, and deep with color. The wires were thick with insulation and very firm. My job was official bulb tester. I took this job seriously. My mother said throw away any that were faded or had chipped color. If I had any doubt I threw them out. Only the best and brightest would be hung on our house. We always put the lights on the house the weekend before Christmas, just like we did on our tree.

We always hung the outdoor lights on the house when it was the coldest day of December. Keeping the lights untangled, and neatly hung around your neck and shoulders you carefully passed them up to your Dad. He knew exactly where they were supposed to hang and knew if he missed a space he would be short at the end of stringing them up. It was a carefully calculated mathematical equation. When I got old enough to do it, it took me a few times to figure out how to do it right. When they were finished being hung, we waited for dark so we could have the lighting of the house ceremony. We knew we were only days away from having our tree up next.

The tree was purchased from somewhere in the neighborhood. Brought home and put in a bucket of water to keep it fresh. It was always a Scotch Pine and it smelled wonderful when it was brought into the house. The Christmas tree took hours to decorate. First came getting it straight in the stand, then putting on all the lights, then the ornaments, next the tinsel, and finally the “Manger Scene”. The finished decorated tree was mesmerizing and a thing of beauty, each year different and yet each year the so familiar. We heard stories about all the special ornaments. When we were old enough we were able to tell the stories of all those ornaments. It became easier to remember which ones came from Poland, which ones were brought, which were gifts, and which ones were handmade?

I also remember the Christmas Caroling. When I was in the Scouts we caroled in the neighborhood and to a nursing home on Euclid Ave not far from 79th Street. We took them homemade gifts on our caroling visits and when we finished there was always hot cocoa and cookies for our efforts. Back then we were beginning to learn how to give back to the community and to our faith. 

The Food. What can anyone not say about the Polish Christmas Feast? It was the “Eighth Wonder of the World!” The kielbasa, the pierogies, the ham, the sauerkraut, the potatoes  (everything was homemade and prepared three different ways), all those vegetables and all those wonderful desserts!  All those weeks of preparation for one special celebration was worth our wait.

Midnight Mass was a truly special and holy occasion and you had to be old enough to attend. That meant being in at least the 8th grade. You wore your best clothes and they were almost all brand new. Some were gifts you were allowed to open early. The choir sung the Kolendy with such reverence and joy. There were times I even remembered a violin playing in the choir.  The church was packed and you looked for everyone that you knew. The church was incredibly beautiful with the all those red poinsettias and green fir trees with tinsel on them.  Of course after Mass everyone went home to start feasting on all that delicious Polish food. We stayed up all night and celebrated. If it snowed it made Christmas all the more special and magical.

We also kept our tree up until after Epiphany (January 6th), or until the priest came to bless the house and put the infamous K, M, & B in chalk with the year above our door. We also got a small box that had incense in it and a piece of chalk. Sine most mothers didn’t work outside the home back then, we always were there when the priest came. Oh how we had to clean the house before the priest came. Everything had to be just perfect.

It was the grandest of Holidays and the best of times time for family friends and memories. They were some of the happiest times of my life and youth. I am grateful to have lived them.