I always loved that I lived in the Rockies when Christmas time rolled around – the mountains and the trees, and winter…well, it was all together just sooo charming. It wasn’t always a white Christmas, but it WAS notoriously cold, occasionally windy and blustery, and more often than not there was snow of some kind on the ground, even if it was only on the mountaintops in the distance outside my window.
Christmas is the only time of year that I really miss the snow. And I don’t miss all of the snow. Wyoming can keep that 50 mph horizontal snow that must be shoveled off the driveway and scraped off the windshield before every little errand of the day. And they can also keep those nasty roads covered in ice with ground blizzards blowing over the top. The only snow I want is the kind that falls gently out of the sky in huge soft flakes and lands in heaps in the yard during the moonlit night. I miss waking up to the bright sunshine and deep snowdrifts, and making that one big bowl of snow ice cream.
I’m quickly learning how people in warm climates celebrate Christmas. Down here in south Texas it seems a little silly to sing about jingle bells and sleigh rides, Jack Frost nipping at my nose, and Frosty the Snowman. What’s funny is, once we get rid of all those songs, the only ones left are the ones about Jesus, and perhaps that’s how it should be anyway?
Then there is the issue of the big, heavy meal. Who wants to eat all that stuff with summer weather outside? On the other hand, I guess my house inside is about the same temp in Texas as my house was inside up north, so what’s the diff? One big difference though, one that is a HUGE PERK, is that the kids can actually PLAY with their Christmas gifts (bikes, wagons, skateboards) outside on Christmas day down here, instead of perching them in a corner of their rooms as a shrine until the weather permits in the spring.
My memories of Christmas as a kid are very fond ones. I grew up in a very small town with grandparents just up the street. I remember those snowy days during Christmas vacation when my grandpa would ring us up on the telephone and say he was on his way with the toboggan. My sisters and I would scramble to get into our snow clothes and boots, neck scarves, stocking caps, and gloves on so we’d be ready when he got there. He’d pull up and toot the horn and we’d bust out the door as fast as we could. There he’d be in his pickup truck with chained up tires and a huge repurposed refrigerator door in tow – round side down – hitched to the truck. All the knobs and handles had been removed. My three sisters and I would push and shove, with knees and elbows, for the best spot on the sled. Papa Leo would watch out the back window and as soon as our rumps hit the metal off he’d go. Weeeee…!
The sled swun this way and that as he drove around corners and zigzagged down the streets. By the third lap through town kids started pouring out of their houses hoping to be invited to ride. My grandpa would slow down just long enough for each kid to hop on and then away we’d go again. He dragged us until our faces were numb and we couldn’t feel our toes or fingers any more.
He seemed to know that exact moment when we were all getting too cold, perhaps the screaming and laughing died down? But, that’s when he would make his final pass, dropping everybody off and then he sailed off into the sunset as the great hero of the day.
Another cherished remembrance was sledding down “Tank Hill.” It was called that because there was a big water tank on the top of it. Not sure why we needed to name it. It was the ONLY hill in Edgerton? Oh well. This hill was right in the center of town with a road that went up and over it rather steeply on one side and much less so on the other. My grandparents lived at the bottom on the steep side. On a snowy day it was the perfect sledding place. Only problem was there was a cross street at the bottom of the hill and people coming along that road couldn’t see anything that was coming down that hill until they were right on top of it.
My grandpa was scared to death one of us kids was going to get run over by a car one of these days, but instead of coming out to yell at us all to find another place to sled, he rigged up a stop sign mounted to a tire at the base so it could stand on its own. Whenever he saw us kids congregating out there with our sleds, he’d drag the stop sign to the middle of the road to make the cars stop and look for sledders before continuing on down the road.
Man, we could really get the speed going down that hill, and the distance out into Maxine Patterson’s drive way on the other side, but, no matter how fast we went we could never make it all the way to the ravine. It must have been the tall dead grasses and sage brush buried below the blanket of white stuff that slowed us down before we got there.
Those sure were some fun times for a kid. The only bummer was that the ride down went really fast and then there was that hill to climb again, with our sleds. No wonder we were all skinny kids.
Something else that plays in my memories are of dad mounting a stereo speaker to the roof of our house wired down through the attic and into the back of mom’s old record player. She kept a stack of Christmas albums playing one after another after another, piping our enchanted holiday music all over the neighborhood outside. You could hear Christmas music for blocks on a still and snowy night…literally all over town, and it just lent that special feeling of Christmas to the outdoors to hear it playing. People were serenaded by Nat King Cole, Andy Williams, and even Elvis as they walked along the streets and stepped out of their cars, bundled up and carrying packages under their arms, going to church, or stopping in to visit family, friends, and neighbors. Sounds like a Norman Rockwell painting doesn’t it! And no one ever complained about the music. Everyone was in the spirit of things, and we all shared in the wonderful life.
I remember our Girl Scout troop usually organized a hay ride around town at Christmas, and we’d all bundle up and bring hot chocolate and cookies to share as we rode along and sang Christmas carols. And not too far away from my house, outside of our sister town of Midwest, laid a frozen pond with a shack beside, where we would build a fire, strap on our ice skates, and make a few thousand laps around. Of course there were weeds frozen into the ice that poked out in a few places and kept us from going too fast, occasionally a tire portruded through and gave us an obstacle to leap over. There were fallen trees out in the middle all covered in snow for us to sit and rest on. If we were lucky, someone would come by with their car and spin cookies on the ice until they got all the snow off for us. If we were extra lucky someone would have been there before us and made a fire in the woodstove in the shack and it would still be glowing.
When we got cold on the old pond, we’d go into the shelter and sit by the wood stove – raging fire stoked inside. Actually, starting that fire was the first thing we did when we got to the pond, if someone hadn’t been there before us, so it would be nice and toasty for later when we couldn’t feel our faces. We had to bring our own wood of course, and newspapers and matches. And we couldn’t forget the big thermos filled with hot chocolate. When our lips were barely able to form words any more, and we couldn’t feel our fingers or toes, it was time to huddle in by the fire until we got warm again. The time it took to sip a cup of hot chocolate was just about long enough and we were ready to get back out there and go, go, go again.
Sometimes my sisters and I would have that pond all to ourselves, and other times a whole crowd would show up with the same idea. It didn’t matter, it was fun either way. One thing I can say about it though, country ice is a darn sight different from city ice. I can remember I nearly broke my neck the first time I ever skated on that fine, slick city ice, at an ice arena. Country ice is like…hmmm… ice with a handful of dirt sprinkled on it. It’s hard to skate on, with all the snags, lumps, bumps, and obstacles. But that old country ice had all the best memories.
My mom and dad always made Christmas special. We always had a real tree and the same lights and decorations from year to year. Whatever those big cotton balls were that set over each light bulb, and always the silver dangling stuff – was it icicles? Mom also had little lights that looked like mini lava lamps with some kind of colored liquid in them. I remember laughing and poking fun at our mom for always bringing home the sickly little Charlie Brown Christmas tree. Seemed like my friends all had big huge full trees piled on with decorations – my mom brought home the one tree nobody else wanted – scrawny and ugly, and sparse, but that is a huge part of my fondest memories now.
I remember dad and his hot beverages, that my parents enjoyed sharing with their adult friends who came by – Tom and Jerry’s, hot buttered rums, and spicy eggnogs. And there was always a big tray of some sort of goodies, either meats and cheeses or cookies and candies sitting around.
My parents never had much extra money, so our presents were never the big things that other kids got. No big fancy bikes. No state-of-the-art sleds. No new pair of skis, bindings, and ski gear. But there was always something, several somethings in fact, and always toys to play with.
I remember the battery operated train that lit up and made whistling sounds and moved across the floor. And my favorite gift of all was the set of tops that my mom gave me that I played with on the kitchen floor all the way past New Years. I remember the kitchen set that my aunt Dixie gave my sister’s and me – a fridge and stove and sink and washer. And I remember the year that the dog unwrapped all the presents under the tree that my Uncle Scott sent. We were away and when we came home we walked in the door to shreds of Christmas wrapping strewn all over the living room, and the presents, now naked sitting virtually untouched under the tree, almost where they were before the dog tore into them. I don’t know how my mom ever figured whose gifts were whose after that.
It’s hard to give up treasured traditions. Growing up, my family always opened presents on Christmas Eve, and Santa’s gifts on Christmas morning. When I got married my husband had different traditions. They always opened ONE present on Christmas Eve and all the others on Christmas morning. It worked well to blend his traditions and mine into something new by going to my mom’s house to open presents on Christmas Eve, having snacks and visiting with my family, and then have Christmas morning with just hubby, kids, and me at our house.
On Christmas morning in Wyoming my hubby usually got up early, lit a fire in the wood stove, and started a pot of coffee. I’d get up shortly after and retrieve the egg and bacon casserole from the fridge and put it in the oven, along with a pan of cinnamon rolls, so we’d have them to nibble on later. Then if the kids hadn’t already woken us, we’d go wake them, and gather ourselves around the lit up Christmas tree when it was still very dark outside. The youngest child was always in charge of passing out presents to everyone, and then we’d all open together.
I remember with a smile the year Dani was more excited about what was in her stocking than the wrapped boxes under the tree, and even walked right past the shiny new bike (or was it a wagon) – apparently invisible to her blurry eyes – for her infatuation with what was in that stocking. Makes me smile and shake my head to think of it.
With all the gifts unwrapped the kids would spend the morning playing, while hubbie and I bagged up the shreds of Christmas wrapping strewn to the walls, along with all the boxes, and debris. We’d get ourselves some coffee and breakfast and watch them play while we figured out how to set our new watches, or program our new electronic gadgets. After a few hours it was time for a nap!
My husband and I always wanted to recreate the generosity of his parents for our kids, saving up all year to buy the big awesome presents that were all the rage. His parents spoiled his sister and him with extravagant gifts, like SCHWINN bicycles, Kawasaki motorcycles, and even sports cars. Hard times haven’t always allowed that, and we’ve tended to be thriftier than we wanted to be, but also like the Christmases of my childhood, the gifts may not have always been big and expensive, but there was always lots of love and fun that day.
It’s all about the gifts when you are a kid, but I wanted my kids to forever know that Jesus was the real reason for the season, and to that end we always had an advent wreath that we lit, and an advent calendar for them to do. We endeavored to do special things at Christmas to help the less fortunate – like picking an Angel Tree person to give gifts to, or put a food basket together for someone, or take gifts to the mission. And we went to church functions, as many as we could fit in to our busy lives, like living nativities, Christmas plays, and bell choirs, that celebrated Jesus’ birth.
Something else that I adopted as tradition was an annual letter, which evolved to include a picture or picture page, and sent out to all our family and friends, both mine and Matthew’s, old and new. Life gets so busy; people have a tendency to slip away and fade into history when they take new jobs, move to new cities, or move on to new hobbies, and this seemed my opportunity to reel them back in, keep in touch, and get caught back up rather than let them go. I have come to love the ritual of Christmas letters. I live for the letters that flood my mailbox too. They are the highlight of the season for me, and I want to perpetuate it to the best of my ability so that it will continue.
I am totally happy to give up Black Friday and all the shopping frenzy to curl up with a hot cup of something and put my thoughts down on paper. And I love the anticipation of getting their letters in return.
I love the Christmas plays and living nativities. I love the Choir performances and the tree lightings in the park. I love the Christmas parades and the company Christmas parties (well sometimes).
I love driving around and looking at the lights. I have always tried to cram as much of all that stuff as possible into the season, making all of it part of the tradition, even when having so much to do is overwhelming and stressful. I can’t seem to part with any of it.
But, the decorating – UGH. That’s when the Grinch comes out in me. I just don’t like, actually I haaaaaaate, (hate, hate, hate…hate, hate, double hate, loooooothe entirely) to drag it all out from its dark dusty hidey hole, only to drag it all back in a couple weeks, and it doesn’t fit anymore – kind of like my suitcase on vacation. What’s up with that? I’m such a scrooge. I am soooooo lazy!!! But, totally appreciative of everyone else’s efforts. And the older I get, and the bigger the family gets, the more presents there are to buy, which is a little unfun for me too. What to get everyone??? I love the idea of drawing names for Christmas and only buying that one big nice present, and only getting that one big nice present. Or instead of presents for the grown-ups, I like even better that we all give to the charity of our choice in each other’s names.
The last couple of years that we lived in Wyoming, our family had gotten so big that our houses were busting at the seams to host a big get-together, and we all worked, and there ended up chatter about just not getting together for Christmas. What? Well, I couldn’t think of anything more depressing, so I came up with a Christmas Open House party on Christmas Eve that seemed a good solution. I would host and have food and snacks, and people could come and go as they pleased, on their way to whatever other events they had scheduled, or just drop by for a nibble and a hug on their way home from school or work. I was a busy working lady too, so I didn’t have time to make a big fancy feast. I made my Green Chili enchiladas, buffet style (because I hadn’t moved to Texas yet to get those doggone fabuloso tamales).
When our oldest moved to Seattle we tried to fly her home for that first Christmas , but the morning of her flight, Denver got one of its notorious snow storms. The airport was closed, all travelers were stranded, and our daughter’s flight was cancelled. And there would be no rescheduling it in the forseable next few days. Ho hum. Well, we were all forlorn, sobbing, and missing each other, so we decided the weather was decent enough on both our ends to drive and meet each other half-way, which happened to be Missoula, MT. We spent Christmas in the Best Western on I-90. Christmas Eve we went to Walmart and got construction paper, glue sticks, tape, and scissors, and back at the room made a big, green paper Christmas tree with paper ornaments and a gold star on top, which we taped to the wall. We pushed all our presents over under it. Then on Christmas morning we all went downstairs in our jammies and got plates full of free breakfast and took it back to the room. The TV played A Christmas Story, as it usually does, and we sat around on the beds and ate our scrambled eggs, bacon, and waffles, and unwrapped our presents. The girls played with their toys, and Matthew went outside in the parking lot to play with his remote control helecopter, and we all took naps, and watched movies, and snuggled, with big smiles on our faces. It was the best Christmas EVER!!!
I hope you have enjoyed my little toboggan ride down memory lane, and I also pray that you have just as many wonderful memories! May Jesus live in our hearts this season and every day of the year. May we find a way to cherish the holiday whether we are surrounded by family and steeped in tradition, or upon a donkey in a strange land where there is no room at the inn? The Lord bless and keep you my friends, God bless us every one!
I just had to share…. My mama sent me these photos just the other day of the snow back home. Holy Jamima Monkeys, look at those icicles!!!
CHRISTMAS EVE OPEN HOUSE
~ Recipes ~
If you have a restaurant in your town that makes a green chili that you love, most are usually willing to sell you a quart or gallon of it if you order it in advance. Otherwise, here’s my always-a-little different recipe:
COLLEEN’S GREEN CHILI
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 lbs. Leftover pork roast, pulled and chopped
1 ½ teaspoons ground cumin
1 tablespoon Mexican oregano
½ teaspoon crushed red pepper (now I use chili pequin for everything)
2 large jalapeños, coarsely chopped
2 pkgs frozen Hatch Green Chilies, one “Hot” and one “Mild”
1 8 oz. can Rotel diced tomatoes (I don’t always add this)
1 tablespoon lime juice
2 cups chicken stock
1 teaspoon salt, and ground pepper to taste
Tortillas (corn &/or flour) to serve with Chili
Saute onions and garlic in a tablespoon of olive oil. Toss in pork and let brown slightly. Add remaining ingredients and let simmer about 30 minutes. If you prefer your green chili a little thicker, mix a little corn starch (1 tsp) with cold water and stir in until thickened. If you prefer your green chili a little soupier, add more chicken broth. Use less or more jalapeños and red pepper to suit your taste. Serve with corn and flour tortillas.
COLLEEN’S CHICKEN ENCHILADA FILLING
4 chicken breasts cooked, pulled, and chopped
½ cup chopped white onion
Seasoned with a small can of green enchilada sauce
COLLEEN’S BEEF ENCHILADA FILLING
1 lb ground beef, cooked and drained
½ cup chopped white onion
Seasoned with a small can of red enchilada sauce
Chopped green onions
Sliced black olives
Shredded Colby/jack cheese
I put the Green Chili in a Crockpot on low, and the chicken and beef in an electric skillet on warm, separated with a folded piece of aluminum foil. I had the tortillas in a little covered tortilla warmer container, and all the toppings in a Tupperware container with the divided sections. I set it all out on my kitchen counter like a buffet and let people grab a plate and help themselves. They started with their choice of tortilla, filled it with their choice of meat and rolled it up. Then covered it with green chili and their choice of toppings. It was so easy.
• Warm Artichoke dip & tortilla chips
• Cream Cheese with hot pepper jelly poured on top, served with the big wheat thins crackers
• A store-bought Christmas Cookie tray
• A store-bought veggie tray