I am a Southern girl, and Christmas is very big in our family, our town, and our heritage. We never bought a Christmas tree, but the men chopped one down and brought it home. No one had artificial trees - it would have been a disgraceful thing, except for old Mrs. Nelly who had a pink tree with white ornaments.
My father and brothers always had to get the biggest tree they could find. Our house had a very tall ceiling in the foyer so it would go there. The boys would go out and spend time looking for the perfect tree. They would chop it down with their axes (later, chainsaws), and load it on the sled (later: truck or tractor) and get it home. Then the ladies would take over. Mother would fix us hot chocolate for the kids and coffee with whiskey for the adults (you knew you were an adult when you could have coffee!). We'd spend hours stringing popcorn and cranberries for the garland. Mother had the precision down perfectly: the trick is to air pop the popcorn, and freeze the cranberries.
Each ornament had a special meaning as my parents would make it a tradition to buy a new one each year for each of the children. My brothers and I would eagerly wait for the boxes to be brought down, a job my rambunctious brothers could not be trusted with as the ornaments were delicate. Each year, bringing out the ornaments was a journey through history. Mostly for my parents, they would reminsce about where they bought this or that one, how old my brothers or I were at the time, and how fast we were growing up.
My family was very big into traditions. My mother would cook using recipes that had been passed down through her family through the generations. Fudge, sugar cookies, gingerbread, fruitcakes. My favorite was when my mom would make hard cinnamon and stretchy taffy candy. Her sister, Fannie, our Aunt, would come over and she and my mother would spend hours in the kitchen laughing and laughing as they stretched candy. The kids would come in and try to sneak candy and get our hands slapped, "no eating before dinner!"
Christmas dinner was the highlight of the season. We'd drool for days before hand in anticipation. The kitchen, by today's standards, was actually quite small and rather old fashioned, but the heavenly aromas that drifted from that room were next to divine. My mother would bake quail with cranberry stuffing, mashed potatoes and gravy, yams, beans, sweet potatoe pie and my mom's dessert trays of candy (my personal favorite was the rich, dark fudge with walnuts).
I felt that I've never been able to recapture the love and magic of the holiday season for my family as well as my own parents did for us, but we definitely tried. I kept many of their traditions and hope that my children and now my grandchildren will appreciate their timelessness. All my memories of Christmas are of a deep Southern Christmas.
To all of anyone who bothers to read my prose, all the warm wishes of the season no matter what religion you do or don't follow, and the harmony of the season bring cherished memories to all of you.