Christmas Memories


Christmas is upon us. I’ve had a lifetime of dealing with good ones and bad ones.

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With the revolving door of father’s in my life growing up, you never really knew what Christmas would bring and, I’m not just talking about presents.

Up until the age of five, it was my grandparents who filled in the Santa role. My mother was on her third husband by then and since her second one didn’t want me living with them I lived with my grandparents. My father was long gone and I have no memory of Christmas with him.

I’m sure there was great food since my grandmother was in charge of that. She couldn’t stand having anyone ‘underfed’ and, thankfully, she was an excellent cook. I know I get my love of cooking from her.

When the third dad came along things changed and for the better. We would go to his mother’s house on Christmas Eve for a big family gathering. They were Polish and the food was a little different than my grandmother’s Southern cuisine, but I liked it. Plus, there were always plates and more plates full of cookies and fudge. It was a feast!

We would get back to our house very late and *Surprise!*, my grandparents would be there and inform me I had just missed Santa! Again!

All the gifts would be under the tree and one year there was a small table and chairs, just the right size for a little girl to sit at, with a beautiful tea set in the middle. Santa had even left cookies for me! I loved that Christmas so much.

When I was twelve my mother had divorced number three and I had a two-year-old brother. We were living in a shit box trailer in an ugly part of town with a complete dearth of cheer.

Mom came home, drunk, around midnight with a Charlie Brown tree, a bag of mixed nuts, and some Christmas cookies. I was grateful my brother would never remember that year.

Then there were the years with her fourth husband, the psycho, where we would all put on our fake happy faces and pretend we were family.

Good times? Not so much.

So, I promised myself, when I had a family of my own I would make Christmas something special. Even before our first child was born we began our traditions.

I remember Dave carrying a fresh cut tree down the main road in Hartsdale, NY to our little garden apartment. It looked so much fuller at the lot but, no matter, it filled a big empty hole in our living room and we loved it.


As our family grew Christmas became, even more, fun. The kids were in 1st and 3rd grade when we moved to Stow, Massachusetts. We had a lovely little house with a cathedral ceiling that gave us room for a beautiful ten-foot tree every Christmas for eight years. We were living the dream!

Once the kids flew the nest every year was a little different. To fill the gap, we would plan big Christmas parties every year. We love to entertain and it’s the ‘most wonderful time of the year’ for that!

Now that the kids have their own families there are no set rituals for the holidays anymore. The old saying, ‘A daughter’s a daughter for the rest of her life, a son is a son til he takes a wife’ is true.

So, we’ve accepted our back seat and treasure any and every way we can be together for the holidays. At this point, it’s most important that the grandkids start savoring their own treasured family holiday traditions and building memories to carry forward.

Happy New Year from Cape May


My final thought here is…living in this beautiful little Victorian hamlet, Cape May, has brought the look, feel and, spirit of Christmas back for me. Life is Good!

What are your favorite holiday traditions or memories?




  1. Roxanne Jones

    I’ve got a memory bank filled with similarly “uneven” Christmases, Barbara–and have loved making my own traditions as an adult (and they can vary from year to year!). My best to you this holiday season!

    • Barbara

      It’s all ebb and flow, Roxanne, and it’s all good. Merry Merry to you!

  2. Haralee

    How wonderful that you set your own family traditions and cherish them.
    The first Christmas with my husband’s family I was shocked. I put a lot of thought and time into buying presents and bringing home made delights and saw his parents and some of his sibs exchanging gifts with each other and just devouring any food in sight! His folks are dead and we do not see his surviving sibs so we now have lovely Holidays.

    • Barbara

      Every family is different, I’ve learned, so you have to form your own way of celebrating. And, even then, you have to be fluid because times change. Just happy to be here and able to celebrate.

  3. Angela

    I have tried to block out my own Christmas horrors of a drunk mother and abusive stepfather and I too tried to create joyous memories for my children. They are grown now and have families of their own and I see how they have succeeded in making Christmas/Hanukkah fun for their families.
    My husband and I are empty nesters but we go all out during this season. My childhood can not be changed but we can enjoy the present and the future.

    • Barbara

      Amen to that, Angela! I think it makes us appreciate it even more.
      Merry Christmas! Happy Hanukkah!!

  4. Tom Sightings

    I had only one dad and he wasn’t a drunk so … no good stories to tell! Anyway, I’m glad you landed in such a beautiful spot … and what a cheery house (yours or not yours?)

    • Barbara

      That one isn’t ours, but ours is cheery, too! Merry Christmas!!

  5. Janis

    I’m lucky that I have all good memories of my childhood Christmases. That you were able to put those rocky times behind you and create the world you desired says a lot for your spirit. Merry Christmas!

    • Barbara

      You have to keep looking for the bright side! Thanks for stopping by and sharing, Janis.

  6. Eileen Hopkins

    We had family Christmas’s with my dad’s parents every year until they died. My father was an only child and his very British parents kept things rather formal although it was a day of food and extended family and a few presents. The proverbial fruit cake and Christmas pudding were guaranteed to be on the menu. Christmas morning was ours, though, and I received a doll every year until I was 12!! We had homemade net stockings covered with Christmas stickers and we only received an orange, some nuts and hard candy and a pair of socks or nylons but it was so exciting. One tradition I passed on to my children and they to theirs was Christmas pajamas. My mom made ours and we received them Christmas Eve. I never quite made my kids theirs (!!!) but the “Pajama Lady” always was able to sneak them into their rooms on Christmas Eve without getting caught! Now it is fun adult times, a dinner with friends and hopefully some Christmas phone calls. No presents and, sadly, no Pajama Lady at my house anymore! Ho! Ho! Ho!

    • Barbara

      Sounds very British, Eileen! We used to always let them open one gift on Christmas Eve and it was always pajamas!
      Merry Christmas my friend!

  7. Lee Sequeira

    Love the stories and old photos Barb — isn’t writing about all of it so cathartic, sweet, bittersweet and a million other things?

    As a kid, one of my favorite Christmas traditions, was getting in the car with Mom & Dad (in my PJs) and Dad would drive us around to look at all the pretty twinkling lights on the homes and lawns in the neighborhood. When I got older and I had my own car, I’d take my mom around beautiful Cape May to see homes and B & Bs like this one — I love the magic of Christmas, I just wish it would last all through the winter months.

    • Barbara

      Being here for our third year now has made me nostalgic at Christmas time. This is such a beautiful old Historic town and they really know how to do up the Holidays right! I’m glad you got to see it in all its glory!
      Merry Christmas!!

  8. pia

    Two memories—both originally from movies:
    My favorite childhood movie was Yankee Doodle Dandy with James Cagney about George M Cohan. We got seven little gifts and on the 8th night of Chanukah our big gift. My parents gave me an album—the light opera version of Yankee Doodle Dandy. For an 8 year old rocker this was horrible. Later it became my friend’s official joint rolling album. I thought that very clever then.

    Like many people we would drive around looking at lights. I was obsessed with the movie Miracle on 34th Street. I knew the house was on the North Shore of Nassau County or couldn’t imagine it being anywhere else so every year we would look for it. One year I was sure I found it–in Great Neck, slightly off the Expressway.

    Many years later I began a blog. I wrote about this and found out that the house is in Port Washington–North Shore Nassau for sure but not a town I was or am intimate with. The comments went on for years. I even have an aerial map of the house! Had no idea how many people from differing generations are obsessed with this house. I think it implies security, love and everything that’s good about this season that doesn’t involve gifts and/or food and drink. Most of all it signifies a happy ending.

    • Barbara

      Pia, we lived in Port Washington in 1972! I never knew that house was there. I’m sure it wasn’t near our house, a duplex, because it wasn’t the ‘best’ area.
      Love your memories!

  9. Linda P.

    Although our family life certainly wasn’t always perfect, we had the proverbial 50’s and 60’s Christmas celebrations. My birthday is Christmas Day, and, although I was always the earliest riser in my family, I was asked by my parents to stay in bed each Christmas morning until my younger siblings woke so they could “surprise” me by singing Happy Birthday to me. Then, my birthday celebration over and done (no birthday cake or anything like that), we were like a herd of small ponies stampeding into the living room. Santa’s presents were in the open, unwrapped, while our parents’ presents were wrapped, to distinguish them. We didn’t get a lot because we didn’t have much money, but in those days, a new skirt or blouse was much appreciated, especially if it was “store bought.” Dad worked shift work, and almost always worked on Christmas Day, so our Christmas meal occurred whenever he was home: at noon if he was working “evenings,” or at dinner if he was working “days” or “graveyard” shift. As the oldest child, I always helped Mom do all the cooking, and I was in charge of all dishes, so it wasn’t a day of leisure, exactly, but the memories are uniformly good ones. Not many Christmases stand out because they were all like that. I do remember comparing dolls with the neighbor girls when I was about six and realizing that mine fell far short of the next-door neighbor’s glorious bride doll and telling some made-up-tale about how Mickey Mouse was going to be delivering my oh-so-special doll later. I felt guilty about that forever, and learned that telling fibs just wasn’t worth it. Then, there was the one Christmas we spent at my grandmother’s, after my grandfather’s death. Her brother died unexpectedly, and I was the only one who had brought “funeral worthy” clothes with me, so I drove her and my great aunt to the funeral and escorted them, my sixteen-year-old self horrified when the two old women gossiped and laughed at the other old women all during their brother’s funeral!

    • Barbara

      Wow, Linda, that’s quite an interesting family history. I hope you’ve made better memories for your family and can share the love of the season.
      Merry Christmas!

  10. Caitlynne Grace

    Christmases till 5 years ago are those I often recall, not with fondness, but to remind myself of what not to repeat with my own family now. My side of the family was obsessed with pretense and showing off, my husband’s a tiresome affair of calming and placating and distracting an ingrate of an unforgiving mother-in-law constantly angry with her long-suffering husband for no good reason. Christmas with my family meant entertaining neighbours who my parents were not really close to, but insisted on inviting to our home for catered food because “We have to show them we are Christians; this is called evangelizing.” Evangelising over, no respite because we were allowed no TV whatsoever; we all had to sit and listen to my mother’s preaching, because she had to fill in the gaping holes in the pastor’s Christmas preaching. No looking left or right or asking permission to go to the park or mall or anywhere just to get away, because that was a form of breaking the Commandment Honor Thy father and mother.

    5 years ago, my husband decided that as much as he loved his mum, who had a good heart, despite everything, Christmas with his or my side wasn’t the sort we wanted the kids to grow up with. Both were empty, devoid of peace and joy. We owed it to ourselves and to the kids to show them what Christmas really was. So, we visited our families before Christmas, but spent Christmas by ourselves, going to Christmas Mass, returning home, my husband reading the Nativity passages again and explaining them to the kids. We cooked a special lunch and dinner, played games together, and loved one another.

    It was by far much better than previous years. Yet, my heart ached for extended family. Not for mine. Not for his. But for a family that loved. All of us ached inside, but the alternative – to return to the past practices – wasn’t an option.

    Then, 3 years ago, we decided to invite everyone to our place. It allowed us to control and filter the negative bits that marred things. We cooked for everyone, firmly stopped arguments, took care of each need. In turn, family members found joy in helping out with the dishes, cleaning etc. The house rang with laughter and kidding.

    We finally found our Christmas.

    • Barbara

      What a great story, Caitlynne. It’s really a shame when the early memories are so unhappy, I know, but finding a way to make the holidays special within the core of your family is a wonderful gift. I’m so glad you’ve found peace within for the holidays.
      Merry Christmas!

  11. hillsmom

    Dilatory Comment 😎 I grew up in Chicago, and lived for some years in a home, but went to public school (it’s complicated.) We each, there were 5 girls, could invite a friend over on one afternoon to decorate the tree, and have snacks etc. Now the tinsel, sometimes called “icicles”, had to be hung one strip at a time, but the guests usually tossed it on the tree. After they had gone, we would take everything off and redo the decorating properly.
    My children asked me why they always got an orange in their stocking. When I was a child, an orange in December was a big treat. The other big treat was a box of chocolate-covered cherries. So they got that too. I still have many of the hand-made ornaments done my my kids, as well as the taped together “Shiny Brite” boxes of round ornaments. Oh, we found out when we had cats, to secure the tree to the wall for obvious reasons.
    Merry, merry, & Happy, happy, dear Barbara. Be sure to let us know if you see any Snowy Owls this winter.
    No more tinsel, because we were afraid the cats might try to ingest it. =^..^=

    • Barbara

      We had a cat that ate tinsel, too, Diane. After he passed away, (from a fur ball!) I realized where my allergies came from, so no more cats. We gave up tinsel a while ago.
      Wishing you a joyous Christmas and very Happy New Year!!

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