Monday, December 2, 2013

Our Christmas Family Traditions

If you grew up in the '50s and '60s, there may be a photo of your family that looks similar to this one.

Gathering around the tree on Christmas morning for a family photo was just one of those Kodak moments in our family - and it still is.

In big families, many Kodak moments are never recorded or aren't exactly accurate.

Although this photo makes it appear that there were four children in the family on Christmas morning of 1957, there were actually five. The baby of the family was sleeping in another room. That baby was me.

In our family, the Nativity was always the first Christmas decor item on display.

When the Nativity was put on display, the wise men and shepherds were far away and baby Jesus wasn't yet in the picture.

Each day the wise men and shepherds moved closer to the Nativity.

On Christmas morning, baby Jesus finally arrived in the manger.

This photo, taken several years before my birth, features my oldest sister. The same Nativity is still displayed every year at my parents' house.

This photo of the Christmas tree was taken with black and white film, so you can't tell that the bulbs are multi-colored.

The photo also doesn't tell you that the tree was decorated in the early hours of Christmas morning after Midnight Mass.

When we went to bed, there was a bare tree. While we slept, or tried to sleep, Santa decorated the tree.

The tinsel was placed on the tree one piece at a time and only placed, never tossed.

The tree contained various ornaments including many Old World style ornaments, bubble lights, tinsel, strands of garland and a star at the top.

My Mom made the curtains in the background when she was a newlywed in the mid 1940s. Those curtains have been around longer than any of my parents' children.

Same ornaments with a few added, but a different tree. You'll notice the same curtains.

This photo was taken in 2003 and includes two of my parents' many grandchildren.

My parents' children were spread out over almost 20 years.

As a result, their grandchildren range in age from five to several in their 30s.

My parents have seven great-grandchildren, the grandchildren of me and one of my older sisters. All of the great-grandchildren are close in age to my parents' younger grandchildren, the children of our three youngest siblings.

Our family has been members of the same church since I was in elementary school.

Several of us attended the parish school which was located next door to the church.

Each week, my parents meet the local siblings and grandchildren for Mass and then they all go out to lunch together.

Those who are visiting from out of state nearly always attend Mass with the family.

This photo, taken in front of Immaculate Conception's Nativity, features my youngest brother's five children.

All five of my brother's children were baptized at this church, as were my older sister's five children and my oldest.

My two younger children were baptized at a different church near my parents' home. The priest who performed their Baptisms was my childhood priest.

Each year when I was a child, we made special Christmas cookies using a recipe handed down from my Mom's side of the family.

As you can see, my younger brother was invading my personal space, something that happens a lot in big families.

For many years after we all moved out of our parents' house, my Dad made Christmas cookies each year and sent to us.

Some of us continued the tradition in our own families, making hundreds of rolled shortbread cookies and decorating each cookie with icing and colored sugar.

Christmas cookies were pretty much the only thing I had cooked when I got married. I learned to cook on the fly, but always loved baking more than cooking real food.

My children grew up with the tradition of making our family's special Christmas cookies each year.

When my kids were younger, we made dozens of plates of cookies each year for teachers, friends, coworkers, neighbors and family members.

Now my daughters make Christmas cookies at their houses with their own children.

I always try to get together with my kids and grandkids during December for a baking day.

In addition to our family's Christmas cookies, we make a variety of other cookies to give to our friends.

The rolled Christmas cookies are a perennial favorite among friends and coworkers.

I shared the recipe with my sister-in-law while staying at my youngest brother's house after Christmas one year.

For several years, my sister-in-law and her kids have made cookies for all of the family and shipped them out, carrying on the family tradition.

Several of the cookie cutters I use were gifts from my parents when I was a newlywed.

I always decorate the Santa cookies the way I remember decorating them as a child.

Santa's boots and bag are brown, the toys in the bag are multi-colored and Santa is red.

I also decorate wreath cookies the same way I remember decorating them years ago, using red sugar for the berries and green for the wreath.

In my family, gifts were always opened one at a time. Everyone else watched as each person opened their gifts.

With such a large family, Christmas unwrapping takes much longer now. The one gift at a time rule still reigns in my parents' family, but I eventually had to let go of that rule with my kids.

The Christmas celebration is usually held at my youngest brother's house these days.

There's not enough room for everyone at my parents' house and the noise level quickly grows too loud for my Mom to handle.

The youngest kids in attendance generally pass out gifts, but an adult oversees the operation to make sure that things go smoothly.

In this picture, my older sister is reminding my brother's kids that we hand out gifts one at a time and that we wait for each person to open their gift before handing out another.

There's always a big open box sitting nearby for the used paper. Basketballs made from balled-up wrapping paper fly across the room and some even make it into the box.

It's great being part of a big family. Those who grow up without lots of siblings don't know what they're missing.

Family traditions are a way for each generation to feel connected to the others. Whether your family is big or small, family traditions remind kids that they are part of something bigger and that they are surrounded by love.

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