Written by Beth Whitaker as told to Rebecca Mallory
Last weekend my family held the big annual family Christmas party in Utah. I unfortunately came down with a cold and couldn’t go. I was feeling very sorry for myself until my darling sister sent me what she wrote as her part of “A Dickens Family Christmas.” It brought back such blessed memories of my childhood. With her permission, I share this visit from the ghost of my “Christmas past” and wish a warm and happy Christmas season for you and your families.
I am the ghost of Christmas past! Our parents created a loving home and welcomed eight daughters and one son . Mother and Dad loved each other very deeply and all of us children knew that. Every night when dad came home from work, he would sneak up behind her as she was cooking dinner. (She actually always knew he was there) He would come up behind her, put his arms around her and give her a kiss on her neck and teasingly ask, “Are you trying to starve me to death?” Mother would say, “Just a few more minutes, just a few more minutes…. When I was a child, that small gesture seemed unnecessary, even gross! But the older I got, the more secure it made me feel and the more I cherished that sweet memory.
Mother always cooked the best Christmas dinners. She made delicious slush with pineapple and bananas from a recipe given to her by our Aunt Minnie, which was served in the most elegant little glasses. We had turkey with the best stuffing ever, the recipe being one that had been handed down from her great grandmother. Mounds of mashed potatoes with butter right in the center, delicious rolls and banana cream, pumpkin, pecan and apple pies! Her table was set just so with a beautiful cream-colored table cloth, her lovely china, silverware and green glasses. Mother made everyone so welcome and always made sure there was plenty to eat! There were always plenty of people, plenty of food and plenty of dishes afterward! We had no dishwasher, but we made it fun with many hands pitching in. We enjoyed great conversations while cleaning up and working together.
Mother was raised in a home where the needle arts were taught. Her oldest sister, Pearl, could study a beautiful dress in a shop window or catalog and then could recreate it to the finest detail…without a pattern. One Christmas mother decided to make dresses for each of us. I remember that one by one we took turns going into her sewing room and were told to keep our eyes tightly closed and not to peek while she slipped the dress over our heads to make sure it fit just right. I’m sure she worked late into the night because the next morning there, hanging on a rack by the Christmas tree, were our beautiful dresses each with a name tag on the shoulder. They were magical.
Delta, Utah was a very small town and there was a Christmas Eve tradition where Santa’s helper would ride through the neighborhoods on the fire engine stopping just as the sun went down at each home so the children could sit on his knee and tell him what they wanted for Christmas! He never knocked or rang the doorbell, but he would simply barge through the door with a big bag on his back and shout, “HOHOHO! Merry Christmas!” I remember our 3 year old sister as Santa came through the door. She screamed in horror and burst into tears wanting nothing to do with him….until she watched her sisters sit on his knee and receive a little brown bag of candy, peanuts and an orange! She eventually took her turn and no doubt got just what she asked for the next morning.
One Christmas mother was out of town and we decided to surprise her by decorating the tree. We listened happily to Andy Williams, Perry Como and Bing Crosby as we carefully unwrapped the ornaments. But first…We wanted a flocked tree so we got out the Kirby vacuum and fixed it so it would blow out the air, attached the bag of white flock and then decided it might be a good idea if we held sheets around the tree! Since we were doing it in the LIVING ROOM! Oh my goodness! What a big mess! The flock shot out all over everywhere and we were horrified! We quickly took the tree outside and began scooping up the fine white powder that had covered the entire front room! I don’t remember mother being overly upset about that so I guess we did a pretty good job cleaning up.
On Christmas morning before any gifts were opened, we would kneel down and have family prayer. Daddy would thank Heavenly Father for our warm home, our family, our many blessings and for the birth of His Son Jesus Christ. Then he would sit next to the tree and one by one hand out the gifts. We each took our turn opening our presents before the next one was handed out. One year there were several boxes of similar size and we knew we were all in for a treat! And sure enough each of us received a brand new shiny pair of ICE SKATES! We were so excited! That afternoon we bundled up in our warmest coats, hats, scarves and gloves, piled into the green Pontiac station wagon and drove out to the reservoir west of town. We put on our ice skates and slipping and sliding, falling and laughing we had the best time trying out our wonderful gifts. I remember Daddy taking my hand and one of the others, and we headed out across that murky, grayish green frozen water. It seemed like the farther we got from shore, the more the creaks and groans and popping got louder and louder until I was sure the ice would crack open and we would be drown in the icy cold water! I looked up at Daddy and asked if we were going to be alright. He squeezed my hand tightly and said, “We will be just fine. Don’t you worry about anything, we’ll be just fine.” And we were! I knew my Dad would never do anything to harm me and I trusted him completely. Our Dad was our greatest hero.
The most wonderful part of Christmas was our special Family Home Evening on Christmas Eve. We would have a program and then sing fun Christmas carols like Frosty the Snowman, Here Comes Suzie Snowflake, Deck the Halls accompanied by our second oldest sister, Susan, and then we would sing the sacred hymns, The First NOEL, Oh Little Town of Bethlehem, Hark the Herald Angels and Silent Night. Then Daddy would reach for the big brown family Bible and read from Luke 2 about the birth of the Savior: “And it came to pass in those days that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed….”
Then Susan would start playing the introduction to our favorite Christmas song of all….Dad would stand by the piano as he sang in his most beautiful Tenor voice, “Oh Holy Night, the stars are brightly shining, it is the night of our dear Savior’s birth”……..
Those memories of Christmases past remind us that our parents loved each of us and taught us the sacred importance of family and loving relationships. I am grateful for precious memories of Christmas’s past and hope that I am creating some of those memories for my children and grandchildren.
Merry Christmas to all of you!