by Joe Blaes
This is my favorite time of the year! The weather has changed in the Midwest and we are waiting for our first snow. The leaves are off the trees and, as I look out over the pond in the backyard, ice is beginning to form. The stores are all decked out in their festive decorations. It is a time of anticipation.
I have fond memories of many past Decembers. I can remember building yule logs. I would drill holes in oak logs and fill them with various chemicals that made colors in the fire as they burned. Some evergreen from the neighbor’s bushes and some red ribbon completed the log. I got the idea from “Boys Life” or “Popular Mechanics.” I would load up my wagon in the evening and go house to house to sell them. It became an annual tradition and people looked forward to my visit in December. I like to think that I added to their celebration of the holidays. Maybe that was the beginning of my entrepreneurial spirit.
December is a time of traditions. When I was growing up, my mom traditionally made fruit cakes from my grandmother’s recipe. My grandfather was a chef at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York City, so I am sure he had a hand in it as well. My mom would actually make and bake the cakes before Thanksgiving, but the process was not finished there. She covered them with cheesecloth and soaked them with whiskey until Christmas. Boy, they sure tasted good! She also baked cookies of every description. I liked all of them but my favorite was her meringue cookies — they were to die for!
Our Boy Scout troop sold Christmas trees every year, and since my dad was the Scoutmaster, we always had a fine looking tree. We usually put it up a few days before Christmas so that it would last through the holidays. After Christmas, all the guys in the neighborhood would collect the trees and take them to a nearby vacant lot for a gigantic bonfire. That vacant lot was where we played — it had trenches for our war games and tree houses as our lookouts.
I am part of the generation that would leave home in the morning, play all day, ride bikes everywhere, have pick-up cork ball games with broomsticks and bottle caps, and play “capture the flag” after dinner ... as long as we were back when the streetlights came on. No one was able to reach us all day. And we were OK. I can fondly remember the Christmas when I received my brand-new bike (no more hand-me-downs — I had an older sister, so I rode a girl’s bike for awhile). I remember my first Flexible Flyer sled and my Red Ryder BB gun (no, I did not shoot any eyes out).
When Sue and I were married, we started our traditions. We opened gifts on Christmas morning. So on Christmas Eve — after the kids went to sleep — we put up the tree and assembled all the toys under it. Santa’s workshop was often open until three or four in the morning. But we have great memories when our four children were young.
Now that all the children are married — and we have been blessed with eight grandchildren — our traditions have changed. We celebrate with an early dinner on Christmas Eve, and the children know Sue has told Santa to stop by our house early so they can get their gifts. So they wait to hear Santa’s bells as he is leaving. Last year, the children rushed outside and said they saw his sleigh in the sky! And who is to say they didn’t? After all, it’s a magical time of the year.
But there is an even greater tradition. I can remember when I was old enough to attend Midnight Mass as a member of the children’s choir. I was asked to be a server at Midnight Mass. This was such a great privilege! The servers had special red cassocks and starched white surpluses. The church was beautifully decorated, and every candle was lit. This was a blessed time!
The reason for the season is to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ more than 2,000 years ago in a stable in Bethlehem. “For unto us a Child is born, come let us adore Him.” My wish for you is that you enjoy the traditions of this holy season with your family and friends. Remember, our greatest assets as human beings are our faith, family, and friends. May the blessings of this glorious season be yours now and throughout the New Year.
Joe Blaes, DDS, Editor — e-mail: [email protected]
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