Friday, December 19, 2014

Christmas Traditions

Happy holidays, folks. This is usually the day when I contemplate my seasonal affective disorder, but it isn't bothering me this year, for some reason. Maybe I outgrew it. Hey, the sun is shining! All my Christmas presents are bought! What could be nicer?

So instead of griping about being depressed I thought I'd talk about traditional Christmas activities that my family and other families have indulged in over the years, things I've seen and heard about that charm me. The latest belongs to my dentist's assistant. Christmas Pajamas.

When she and her husband were very young and her little boy was a baby, they hadn't much money for presents, so they agreed to give each other a pair of pajamas. On Christmas Eve they came home from church, opened their pajamas, put them on, and wore them all through Christmas day. They still do this. All three of them open their pajamas on Christmas Eve and wear them all day on Christmas, even going out to visit the wife's sister and her family (who may also be wearing their own Christmas pajamas. The practice is spreading).

Our family has a tradition of opening one present on Christmas Eve, though I never thought of pajamas. This tradition began many years ago in Woodbury, New Jersey, when my Dad was serving in the navy in Camden and we rented the downstairs half of a house. The landlords, the Harneys, lived in the upstairs half. Mrs. Harney, a very sweet woman, had a boy of her own but no daughters, and so she was pleased to wrap up girlie presents and give them to my sister and me on Christmas Eve. We opened them by candlelight. I still remember some of the things she gave me, an interlocking set of wooden doll furniture that you could take apart like a puzzle and put in the doll house, a pair of four-inch porcelain dolls dressed up like a bride and groom, or it might have been Fred and Ginger, in evening clothes. I still had them after we moved to Illinois, where I loved them to pieces.

In Illinois our neighbors, the Fuldes, hosted a huge family party every Christmas. One of the features of this gathering was the awarding of the Cow Plate. It was a dinner-sized plate hand-painted with a picture of a Holstein standing in a field. To be given the Cow Plate was an honor, signifying some great achievement of the previous year, getting married, having a baby, buying a farm, or whatever the Fuldes and Bainbridges could think of to merit the plate. It was not a thing of beauty. That was part of the fun. I dimly recall that the ceremony was accompanied by a chorus of "Roll Out the Barrel." I had a crush on one of the Bainbridge cousins, and so they let me hang around.

To be in love at Christmastime is the best tradition, I think. And to have a baby lying under the tree. Harold and I put John under the tree for his first Christmas while we opened presents. He was about six weeks old. He slept through it all, and so he doesn't remember any of it. But I do.

© 2014 Kate Gallison


  1. This essay was just lovely.
    My husband grew up in Woodbury. In fact several years ago I attended his 50th high school reunion.

  2. Kate, adorable picture and a very touching symbol of the child under the tree... what a lovely thought. Thelma Straw