Staying in Focus: Memories of Christmas Past

Christmas memories are some of our most treasured memories because they are reminders of our past, shared experiences of childhood and of family. They speak of a time  when wonder and excitement filled our lives, and we believed anything was possible.

No that I’m older, many of my Christmas memories include loved ones I have lost – my grandparents, my dad, my brother, John, and friends I’ve lost touch with. Within my Christmas memories, however, they walk with me again. I can recall, as if it were yesterday, going to buy our tree on the coldest night of the year. How my dad figured this out remains a mystery, but I can still feel the bite of the cold, our cheeks and noses cherry red, our joy when we knew we had found the perfect tree. The next step was to hang the outside lights on the next coldest night of the year! I remember helping my father string the lights on the bushes in front of our house, the snow coming down and the wind whipping it into drifts. Most of my childhood Christmases were white.

Right before Christmas each year, usually on a Sunday, we would drive up to check on our summer cabin at Lake Wallkill in Sussex County, NJ. We would stop to do a little Christmas shopping in a large department store there. We’d make our purchases as snow began to fall, and once home, rush to hide them from view. I have a clear memory of buying a set of colored pencils there. They were made of clear plastic which made it easy to see what color they were. and by twisting the top of the pencil, the color moved down to keep a point ready to color. Funny, the things you remember.

I recall the smell of the roasting turkey, the tartness of cranberry sauce and the incomparable tasty delight of one of my grandma’s pies. My grandmother had 9 children and she and my aunt lived next door to us, so at Christmas, when her seven sons and their families came to call, they dropped in for a visit with us, too. It took most of the week between Christmas and New Year’s day to visit and be visited by all our relatives and friends.

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The first Christmas I remember was when I was  5, and we traveled to Florida to visit my dad’s uncle. I remember taking a ride in a glass bottom boat in the Everglades. When I was 8, I received a Shirley Temple Treasury.IMG_7847 I still have the book, although I had to make it a new cover for it. When I  was 11, Santa brought me my first camera – a Kodak Brownie. This is the first picture I took with it.

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I recall the Christmas  I received a nine transistor radio.  It was bright red, and I could listen to Cousin Brucie on 77 WABC radio from our backyard poolside deck.  What a marvel! My first tape player, also a Christmas gift,was a reel to reel – long before 8 tracks, cassettes and the i Pod. We would tape our favorite TV shows (audio only, of course), then play them over and over.

During high school and college, I was the local TAP/CAP (Teen Action Program/College Action Program) coördinator for the March of Dimes, and each Christmas we would go out caroling and accept donations for the March of Dimes.  What fun we had strolling along under a dark sky spangled with stars, filling the cold night air with song.IMG_0003

Christmas memories grow more precious as the years go by. New traditions eventually replace the old as children grow, friendships fade, families move, and loved ones pass away but those memories of Christmases past stay with us, as clear and crisp as a winter’s day in late December.

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