Now that yet another Christmas celebration has come and gone, which Christmas memory is your favorite? From all of them, is it a childhood memory or one more recent?
These questions got me thinking. Actually my memories have become a blur especially when remembering the ones when my kids were little. They seem to all blend together. Thank goodness for photographs which validate my memory of some of the events, such as the strolling minstrel – one year my one daughter receiving a guitar from Santa.
When I think of when I was growing up, I do remember Christmas Eve dinners, which is when my family celebrated Christmas. That dinner was steeped in Polish tradition. Christmas Eve is called Wigilia in Polish and my mother even helped us celebrate it when she was at the Lutheran Home in Arlington Heights. Her first year there was memorable when we brought her to the house for lunch and some pierogi, our little Wigilia. The idea of having her with us for dinner in the evening was going to be too much for her and certainly for me, having to care for her. Therefore lunch was perfect. The first year was good and very celebratory; the second year was difficult. She was so weak and fragile, and the time at my house had to be a burden on her. She really did not know where she was.
I remember some of the Christmases growing up, when my brother and I were very small. We always wrote our letter for personal wants, to the Christmas Angel, not to Santa. The Christmas Angel would come via the window which my parents would crack open in the living room. During the evening before our dinner began, we would go for a drive around town to see all the Christmas lights. Before we all got on the road, my mom would excuse herself because she had to check to make sure she turned the oven off before leaving. This is when she would place the presents under the tree, as if the angel stopped by. She did confess to doing this many years later. Then of course my brother and I were absolutely wide-eyed with wonder when we got home to see all the presents under the tree.
I don’t remember having a conflict with any other children about Santa versus the Angel. I guess it may have been that I just played along since I did not want to be different, but yet the Angel was what we believed in. We also did believe in Swienty Mikołaj, or Saint Nicholas, who some call Santa Claus, but he came on December 6th every year. If you leave your shoes out in front of your bed, Swienty Mikołaj would bring you a toy. It’s just that for us he did not come on Christmas Eve. It may seem that all these Polish traditions are rather confusing. You need to understand that the Polish traditions come from a strong Catholic belief system which is why things are done that way.
I do remember with my own kids trying to remember December 6, and falling very short of the mark some years. It’s because you need to remember on December 5th at bedtime to put the shoes out, and then remember to have candy canes or a toy handy to put in the shoes. Many years it was a struggle to keep that tradition alive. But I did keep the Polish Wigilia alive and we still do it today, even with my kid’s spouses participating. It’s all about the food. My one daughter and I go to the Polish grocer to get the fresh fish and marinated herring. My cousin from Poland sends me dried mushrooms for the barszcz, a beet soup. And it would not be Christmas Eve of we did not make pierogi from scratch.
I suppose my favorite Christmas is a compilation of all my Christmases as happy celebrations with family. These memories are a blend of one memory after another, no matter where we lived at the time or who else entered our life. This may be why they are all a blur, because every Christmas is about family and they are all celebrations.