Many years ago my dad woke me up in the middle of the night. I sensed panic as he grabbed me up in his arms and ran toward my parent’s bedroom. Suddenly, he unceremoniously dropped like a hot potato on the bed.
Dad dropped me in response to my mother’s urgent screams. The baby was coming. No time to call an ambulance. No time to load everyone up in the car. The baby was coming… NOW!
My little sister, Linda, was born at home in the wee hours of the morning. Dad arrived just in time to catch Linda as she pushed her way into this world. It was quite the event.
A Family Tradition is Born
Linda’s birthday falls two weeks before Christmas. So, it became our family tradition to put up the Christmas tree the weekend after Linda’s birthday.
It’s one of many family holiday traditions we hold close.
Each year we received a new ornament to hang on the tree. Linda and I still have ornaments that are decades old. My brother, Don, still hangs the paper mache bell he made in kindergarten at the top of his Christmas tree. My brother, David, has a special spot for his toy soldier.
Santa had a strange look on his face when we visited him in 1963. That’s Linda in the red coat. Don is in front of her. Lisa sit on Santa’s other knee and I’m keeping watch from behind. David wouldn’t join our Christmas celebrations for another three years.
And they were celebrations! Christmas morning my brothers and sisters and I would run to open our stockings. Santa always put a tangerine in the toe followed by ribbon candy, mixed shelled nuts, and a special little toy. A juicy orange topped each of our home-made felt stockings.
We weren’t allowed to open our presents until Mom and Dad stumbled out of their bedroom at 6 a.m. One year my brothers couldn’t wait so they moved the clock forward to 6 a.m. and woke us all up. When we finished opening our presents it was still suspiciously dark outside. Like 4 a.m. dark!
“‘Twas the night before Christmas…”
But one of our most loved, most treasured, most remembered traditions centered around a 29 cent copy of “The Night Before Christmas.”
Florence Sarah Winship illustrated this book published in 1958. Our mom bought it for us, but our memories center around Dad reading it to us.
You see, Mom was clever. She needed to wrap presents without five kids poking around. So, she sent Dad, the book, a candle and five squirmy kids into the bedroom on Christmas Eve for the annual reading of the “Night Before Christmas.”
The lights were always turned off and the youngest child held the candle that illuminated the book. (In retrospect, a candle and five kids on a bed was probably a fire hazard waiting to happen!)
After each of us gently ran our chubby fingers over the fuzzy part of Santa’s cap, Dad would slowly open the cover to the first page.
Then he would read in his rich, low voice, “Twas the night before Christmas and all through the house, not a creature was stirring…” Then he would whisper, “…not even a mouse.” In 10 seconds he mesmerized all five of his children. We leaned forward as each word rolled off his tongue.
But it was more than just the story. Dad made sure to point out the illustrations of the sleeping dog in front of the fireplace, the bells on the toes of the stockings and bunnies in the snow as the reindeer dashed to the top of the porch and the top of the wall.
With each page turn our listening intensified. Then Dad would read the last page. “Happy Christmas to all and to all a good night.”
Silence. None of us would speak for a good 15 seconds, entranced by the story and the experience.
Then we’d yell for Dad to read it again. The second time in his John F. Kennedy voice. Then he’d switch to John Wayne’s voice for the third read-through. (Somehow a line about “roping a rattlesnake” always worked its way into the John Wayne version.) Then it was off to bed.
Where did your family traditions begin?
Our dad grew up very poor. That may be why he always made Christmas an amazing, magical event for our family. To this day my brothers and sister and I all have a special love for the season our father embraced so tightly.
We wish you a season filled with family and love.
Linda’s older (and wiser) sister,
Linda may be the designer, but I’m the writer.
I’ll pop up every now and again with more stories about my sister and her amazing talent for design at LaBella Casa