Thursday, December 12, 2013

Twelve Traditions of Christmas by Karen Rock


Harlequin Heartwarming is a romance line that celebrates love, family and traditions. They are the glue that holds us all together. As there are only twelve days left in our Heartwarming countdown to Christmas, I’m going to share twelve, treasured holiday traditions that bind and define my family to this day!

1.       1. Ornament Beauty Contest- Once we’d decorated the tree, my sister and I would select our ‘contestants’ and lay these fragile glass beauties on the floor, judging them on color, shape, and design. The winner got to hang her ornament in the coveted spot, just below our Christmas angel. Broken ornaments were automatically disqualified, and the contest was suspended while we hurriedly cleaned up the mess and prayed our parents wouldn’t notice.
 

2.       Santa’s Workshop- as we were a family long on love and short on funds, my parents relied on ingenuity and items scavenged from the Salvation Army. After Thanksgiving, a ‘Santa’s Workshop’ sign appeared on our basement door, and we were told that elves had been sent to work on our one-of-a-kind presents down there. If we peeked, they would instantly vanish. Yikes! The weeks spent pacing by that door, stopping to listen with an ear pressed to it, wondering why Santa let his elves sometimes say bad words, was torture! But in the end, some of the most amazing presents emerged from this ‘workshop’ including a huge kid’s kitchen that was much better than the Mattel version, a beauty salon with blow dryers that worked if we used our imaginations, and an artist station where we could finger paint, sculpt and color. I always felt like the luckiest kid since my presents were made especially for me J

3.      3. Christmas Bake-off: My mother and five of her six sisters lived close to one another and loved each other dearly. Yet a sort of shadow fell on us during the third week of December when my mother began laying out her recipes and writing long lists of ingredients. A flurry of phone calls heralded the start of cookie baking time as each sister jockeyed to claim one family recipe or another. Everyone loved the ease of our jam-filled thumbprint cookies and no one wanted to be stuck making our most complicated family cookie: the dreaded Cartellate. It required making a homemade honey wine, a pasta machine, and a deep fryer. But after much maneuvering, each sister had her assigned cookie. My mother baked dozens of the same cookie and we all got together on the weekend before Christmas to exchange the treats and gifts. Everyone left with platters of the best assortment of cookies I've ever had- to this day. Yum.
 
4.       Dog Grooming:  We were fond of strays and took them in whenever they wandered close enough to our house to nab them- lol. Yet these skittish pets, though loving, were not the most domesticated. Rather than tame their wild spirit, we let them live as they pleased save for their annual Christmas season bath. We’d give them a scrub that ended with us as wet as our dog, and gifted each with a large rawhide bone that they happily chewed until morning J

5.       Dad Shopping: Although my mother spent most of her time with the elves in Santa’s workshop, my father eschewed that and drove us to a store devoted entirely to toys. I marveled each year at the extravagance of a place that didn’t also sell powdered milk and scratch off tickets. My sisters and I reverently strolled down the aisles, my father taking notes when we expressed interest in one item or another. At the end, he hustled us to our car and asked us to name our top three gifts in order of importance. I was always careful to list them in price order because I knew that Dad would be talking it over with Santa and The Big Guy didn’t have a lot of money to spend on all of the kids in the world. It was an anxious and giddy wait in the back of that Oldsmobile as we second guessed our choices and fervently hoped for what we wanted most. At our father’s yell, we all knew to duck our heads and cover our eyes in case we saw Santa. The sight would turn our gifts into coal! To be sure we didn’t see him, my father always opened the trunk for a bit. Once it shut, we knew it was safe to uncover our eyes and sit up again.

6.       Christmas Movies: Thank goodness for TV Guide! We poured over it when it arrived, circling the dates when Charlie Brown Christmas, The Grinch, Rudolf, Frosty the Snowman and Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town would be showing on regular channels. We taped a list of dates and times next to the TV and popped popcorn and dressed in our best flannel nightgowns for each viewing, singing along with Burl Ives no matter how many times my older sister, Jeanne shushed us.

7.       School Elves: Our art teacher/Fleetwood Mac Super Fan would assign us a wonderful project each December that… better still… could be a gift to our parents. I never worked harder on anything in school than I did on clay ashtrays, papier-mâché hearts, finger-painted family portraits, elbow macaroni frames and multi-colored woven oven mitts. While an A on a test made my mother smile, these gifts brought her to tears. Impressed with the importance of this mission, I lavished all of my time on them until I got them just right.

8.      8. Christmas Trouble: It was inevitable, we weren’t the Waltons by any stretch, that one or more of us got in some serious trouble during that all important season. While I never liked angering my parents, there was more urgency when it happened so close to Christmas. Santa was watching, they’d sternly remind us when we quarreled over things like who got to play Barbie and who got stuck being Ken, whose turn it was to ride the bike to school, and who was responsible for the broken ornaments on the floor. Ultimately all was smoothed out when my father showed us the piece of coal he got one year as a boy, the tangible evidence working its magic every time.

9.       Christmas Caroling: Since most of the kids in my neighborhood had about as much in the way of funds as we did, we cobbled together a singing group that began sporadically practicing in my friend, Francine’s basement. Our plan was to ride bikes to a more affluent neighborhood, sing carols, and hope for a treat or- better yet- some money! We’d start off with about twelve or so participants and by the time the performance day arrived, we’d be lucky if four to five showed up. Still, we soldiered on, working our way from one twinkling house to another, jumping for joy when we got cookies, warm cider, and yes- even some change. My favorite moment was a time when an elderly woman who’d once yelled at me to stop riding in her neighborhood gave each of us a hug. I’d never felt so special before.

10.   Midnight Mass: The smell of incense, the previous nights of restless sleep, and our caroling excursions all added up to a mighty struggle to stay awake as the priest chanted and sang, prayed and lectured. The minute my eyes drifted closed, I’d get a swift kick from my sister Cathy or an elbow from Jeanne. If they were suffering, then so was I. But the service wasn’t all bad. In fact, it really was beautiful. The choir sounded heavenly, the message was always uplifting, and the chance to speak my heart to God buoyed me. Although I trudged into church, I always floated out of it.

11.   Jingle Bells: Unable to sleep on Christmas Eve, my sister Cathy and I would whisper to each other, wondering what Santa would bring, fretting about which list we’d landed on this year. At some point, our anxious conversations would be interrupted by loud, jingling bells. They rang so long and so clearly, we knew that Santa was in the house that very minute!!! We held hands (we shared a bed), squeezing each other and trying not to make a sound. If Santa knew we were naughty kids who hadn’t gone to sleep, he’d take away our presents. In that way, Cathy and I woke in each other’s arms every Christmas morning, a warm sensation I still miss to this day.

12.               Hurry up… Now Wait: No matter the time, regardless if only the barest pink rimmed the purple sky, the first to wake- usually me- would run into the hall and shout “Merry Christmas!” followed by “Hurry up!” Cathy stumbled out after me and my older sister, Jeanne, took longer since she was too cool to get that excited about anything. When my parents’ bedroom door remained firmly closed, we banged on it until we heard them groan, say a word or two we weren’t allowed to say, and their bedsprings creak. It was only until Jeanne threatened to go back to bed, that my father opened the door and swept by us, majestic in his plaid bathrobe and brown corduroy slippers. My mother gave us all a hug and told us to wait on the landing while Dad checked to make sure everything was alright for us to look.
 
I never knew what that meant except that it felt like forever as we squirmed, tapped our feet, and held our heads, waiting for the ‘all clear’. But no matter how much this tested our patience, we knew better than to disobey since one look from us before Dad checked it out would instantly turn everything to coal. Finally, after the smell of coffee drifted up the stairs, my father yelled that it was okay to come downstairs. Like racehorses, we bolted for the tree (even Jeanne escalated her saunter to a quick step) and instantly began figuring out which unwrapped presents where meant for whom. In the end, although I sometimes I got the wrong doll, or a game I hadn’t asked for, I ultimately learned that Christmas was about celebrating with family. The gifts, cookies, money and so on didn’t matter nearly as much as sitting on that wooden floor, surrounded by those I loved most. Although I’ve created my own traditions with my daughter and husband, I still follow the most important one: cherishing time with loved ones.
 

If you have a special family tradition, from years past or present, please share it with us! I will choose a winner from the comment section to receive a personalized, autographed copy of my Heartwarming novel, WISH ME TOMORROW and a bookmark J Please check my facebook account, http://www.facebook.com/karenrockwrites tomorrow. I will announce the winner there and provide you with directions on how to contact me with your mailing information. Wishing you all a wonderful holiday and a Happy New Year J

20 comments:

  1. Karen - you were blessed with such a wonderful family! Your memories are rich with what Christmas should be all about. My favorite memory is of my sister and I shopping with my father for my mother's gift. The best part about it was that he'd buy whatever each of us wanted to give her. Whenever I shopped alone with Lorraine, who was nine years older, she had a lot of input and my preferences usually went by the wayside. But Dad would buy Mom the matching purse set of glass case, wallet, key case, and cigarette case. If that was what I wanted to give her, it didn't matter to him that she didn't smoke, and that the whole thing cost five times more than my allowance.

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    1. What a lovely tradition!! Your Dad loved you girls, and your mother so much. I adore that he didn't question your choices and honored them as gifts that came from your heart :)

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  2. Wow you have so mnay awesome traditions! We didn't had a lot of christmas traditions in our house. Here in the Netherlands we also celebrate 'Sinterklaas' which takes place on 5 December and when we where really small we celebrated that with presents instead of christmas, christmas was smaller and more for the older family members.
    As we got older we started celebrating christmas and only ate some candy during 'Sinterklaas'. From then onwards we usually spend christmas evening and one of the christmas days at home and the other day with family (my grandparents, my aunt, uncle and my cousin). The day we stayed home we usually opened presents and played games, it usually was just my mom, my sister and me on those days.

    My mom told us that when she was little it was a tradition to stay up till midnight on christmas eve and then eat a certain bread (sorry I have no idea how to translate the name and google translate is no help). I wasn't a big fan of that bread and we actually only did this a few times. Some years we would stay up late on christmas eve to open presents that evening.

    One the day we celebrated with family we usually did 'surprises' everyone randomly got the name of another family member and we had to buy a prsent for them, make a ryme and hide the present in a box or even something more elaborate. This actually is a 'Sinterklaas' tradition, but we usually did this during christmas. It's always fun to see what everyone had made and bought. My uncle always made the longest rymes of everyone. And my grandma still wrote hers by hand so you always knew immedialy if grandma or grandpa had gotten you as soon as you saw the ryme.

    So we didn't have that many traditions, but I always liked the christmas season. Everyone seemed to be in a better mood and everything looked so happy with all the lights everywhere.

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    1. Thank you so much, Lola, for sharing these amazing traditions! I'm so glad to hear about Sinterklaas and how, in the Netherlands, the Holiday Season really does extend over the month of December instead of all in one day! I love that your family surprised each other with special presents that you found with rhymes. It's so personal and something I'm sure you've always treasured! Thanks so much for stopping by the blog :)

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  3. Karen, you have a lot of lovely traditions to follow. Our main tradition was that we celebrated on Christmas Eve and Santa always came when we went out to look at Christmas lights. Once when I was about 8 I decided I wanted to see Santa and I wasn't going to look at lights. No amount of cajoling got me to budge from the house. To this day I don't know how my parents managed, but we all stayed home. Around eleven o'clock there was a knock at the door and when my sister and I ran to open it, all of our presents were sitting there in two huge baskets. I was sure from then on that Santa worked in mysterious ways.

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  4. It awes and amazes me what parents will do to share their love of Christmas with their children! Roz- you are lucky you didn't get coal- haha. But I suspect you were too good of a child for that! Your parents were so loving to have found away to still keep the magic of Christmas alive in your heart... though I'm still wondering how in dickens they pulled that off!

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  5. What great traditions, Karen! You're family is so much fun. Just reading this post made me feel like a kid again.

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    1. Thanks, Rula. It brought me right back to that time :) I think that's why I like writing for kids as well as adults; it gives me a chance to be part of that world again.

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  6. Those are great! I really like the stray animal tradition!

    The fondest memory I have of Christmas tradition growing up, was my stocking.

    I'd get up, do my morning thing, and when I re-entered my bedroom, my full to bursting stocking would be on my pillow! Mom always had the fun cheesy things in my stocking. She continued this tradition with me(minus the pillow delivery) even after I became a mother. Right up until she finally lost her fight with cancer. (stupid cancer!) She did the same thing with my Easter basket, too. ;)

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    1. Oh, Kat. Your mom was a beautiful person. What a doll! I love that she kept up the tradition until she was no longer able to. That is true love and devotion. I'm so sad to hear of her loss. Please accept my condolences. Yet there is some comfort to know that our loved ones live on through these incredible memories and traditions they made for us. Your wonderful mother will never be forgotten. And agreed on calling cancer stupid! It's stolen two of the people I love the most in the world. Wishing you a lovely Holiday season, Kat and thank you so much for stopping by the blog :)

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    2. Kat- you are the winner of my giveaway! Thank you so much for your wonderful post. Please email me at karenrock@live.com :)

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    3. Eeep! That's fantastic! Thank you very much! I look forward to reading something light, for a change. So many dystopian books lately! I will think of Mom and my stockings and the goofy things she'd put in them while I crack the book and sniff the pages. No, I'm NOT weird! ;)

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  7. Your family traditions sound both beautiful and fun, Karen! And what a clever plan your parents had for teaching you to stay away from the preparations!
    I definitely relate to the "hurry and wait" system. I remember it well, especially as we got older and tried to appear nonchalant on Christmas morning.

    Besides getting together with my cousins, aunts, and uncles, some of my favorite memories include decorating the tree, watching White Christmas on television, and telling Santa what we wanted. How convenient that he sat right in front of Firestone's, where we could look at all the toys and talk about the ones we liked the most.

    And, of course, there were the stockings. I never knew exactly what would be in mine, but I was pretty sure it would contain a couple of tangerines in the bottom and miniature candy near the top. (I discovered Hershey's special dark chocolate that way.)

    Christmas music has always been a big part of the holiday season for me, and I've loved being in cantatas, and even caroling occasionally. May you and yours have a lovely Christmas this year, with all the joy and peace you can find.

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    1. Hi Dale :) Special Dark Chocolate is a Christmas miracle- YUM. How neat that they paired it with tangerines. I'm feeling hungry as I read! I love music too, though my sister got all of the talent. She sings with her church to this day and I love to go and hear her!

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  8. My sons are getting older, two have moved out. BUT for Christmas I get all my boys under the same roof. We begin with games like pictionary or scatagories, laughing and just having fun. Once it gets late we retire ti bed. At the crack of dawn or way earlier, the kids still peek in their stockings before waking us up. We take turns opening gifts. Doughnuts are next in the agenda. The boys hang out while my husband and I get our yummy Christmas dinner underway. We eat but only after saying blessing. Finally, we pack up our cars and head to my moms house where we eat goodies and open gifts. Its my favorite time of year. I'm the luckiest woman in the world.

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  9. Tina you are so lucky! What a beautiful day :) And how lovely to have all of your boys under one roof. My daughter heads off to college next year and I'm stressed about how hard it will be in the future, wondering if she'll be home for the holidays... I'm glad to hear that adult children do come home. Wishing you a wonderful Christmas and New Year :)

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  10. Congratulations, Kat Prosser! You are the winner of my heartwarming giveaway! Please email your mailing information to me at karenrock@live.com. Thank you :)

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  11. Wonderful post Karen! And your storyteller talent shines through:)

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  12. Thanks so much, Jen :-) I always love your posts too !!

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  13. Karen, I love these traditions. Feels like there's a book in there somewhere!

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