My earliest Christmas memories come from our house in Detroit when I was six years old and my sister Kay was a baby. The memories arise, as most of my early memories do, from 8mm. movies that my father took. I am never sure whether I am remembering the happening or the pictures of the event, but I am ever grateful to my father for keeping such a good photographic history of our family.
I really cannot recall a time during my growing up years that we spent Christmas at home. Fairly early on Christmas Eve day, Kay and I would get placed in the bathtub to get cleaned up for our trip and, lo and behold! We would hear sleigh bells jingling, and, hurriedly getting dried and dressed, we would rush to the living room and find that Santa had made an early visit. Mother always assured us that “He knew when we were going to be away as well as whether we had been naughty or nice.” After opening gifts and exclaiming over them, we each got to choose just one to take with us in the car. We would then bundle up and hop in the Chevy sedan and go “over the river and through the woods” to Grandmother’s house. We always spent Christmas Eve at Grandma and Grandpa Brown’s house in Jackson along with most of my aunts and uncles and cousins. My mother had nine brothers and sisters and I had 15 cousins on that side of the family. Most of these cousins lived with their parents in the Jackson area, so the gathering was always large and noisy, but I remember it as a truly happy occasion.
Because we were going to be gone on Christmas Eve and the next day, our tree at home was decorated a few days before Christmas. It was always a real tree, usually a balsam or spruce, because our family liked to have some space in the branches. Father’s job was to set up the tree and put on the strings of lights. Then Kay and I helped Mother decorate the tree. I recall the glass balls and ornaments--I still have a few of them--and the “icicles” that were carefully separated and hung after the ornaments were put in place. None of that throwing on clumps of icicles for our family.
Running in a circle under the tree was my father’s Lionel train. When he turned it on, the headlight on the engine would light, and the control would make the train go around the tree. I am pretty sure there was also a whistle and smoke coming from the engine. The cars were large enough to hold small treasures which we were allowed to place in them. Also under the tree or close by would be the little Christmas scene which mother would arrange. She used a flat mirror for an ice rink and had lots of cotton for snow. The figures and buildings were not the “village scenes” available today, but were little cardboard buildings covered with glitter and some matching snowmen that were made in Japan and could double as ornaments. There were also little “bottle brush” trees whose green branches were tipped with “snow”. I still have a few of these trees and figures, which occupy a place of honor on my windowsill at Christmas time each year along with an antique Santa in his sleigh which we inherited from my husband’s family.
The overpowering idea of Christmas that I remember was that Christmas was a time to get together with “family” to share the wonders of the season.