Growing up in Kenner in the fifties, Christmas was always a special time of the year for us as it must have been for most others growing up elsewhere. There was a “ritual” of sorts associated with the Christmas season. Each family had its own traditions and some got passed down to the next generation, but usually each generation has to establish their own. Back then in my family, we could count on the same series of events occurring every year without fail, and I began looking forward to them as early as Halloween, which for us kids “officially” kicked off the “holiday seasons.”
We kids looked forward to Christmas with the usual expectation of new toys and time off from school. We wrote our Christmas lists and letters to Santa long after we discovered the truth. We wanted to perpetuate the “gift gravy train” as long as we could get away with it.
Depending on what day Christmas landed on, school let out the day before Christmas Eve and resumed the day after New Years Day. Christmas Eve was for me even bigger that Christmas itself. Christmas Eve was a big extended family night when everyone was having a party and exchanging gifts all over the neighborhood, and most of my extended family lived within easy walking distance, even if inebriated. On Christmas Eve we went first to my grandparent’s house on the corner of Sixth and Minor to exchange gifts. This exchange was among my grandparents, aunts, and cousins on my mother’s side. They always exchanged gifts on Christmas Eve. As I recall, those festivities kicked off at 7pm precisely.
This was followed by a visit to MB’s side of the family for a party at Boo and Margie’s house at the other end of the block. Sometime during the evening we paid a visit to Mary’s house. Mary was the black lady who cleaned my dad’s office and did light housework for the Manard clan. We took her gifts like a turkey or ham and Christmas “bonus” cash, a bottle of Seven Crown whisky and stayed long enough to share some Christmas cheer with her and her family.
After returning home, we retired late, and the kids went to sleep (not really), while our parents put out the toys from Santa. There was no way I was going to wait until Christmas morning to play with my stuff that Santa left. For weeks prior, I practiced creeping down the long hallway between our kitchen and the living room where the tree was set up. I discovered that certain boards of the wood floor in the hall of our elevated house creaked loudly when stepped on. After some experimenting, I discovered that if I hugged the walls during my creep down the hall, I made less noise, thus I was not likely to awaken my parents. That was probably overkill, as my parents slept like rocks after all that work, play, and the adult beverages they had consumed at the parties. There was little chance of me waking them, but the stealth was part of the fun and created a genuine adrenalin rush.
About an hour after they went to bed, I would make my first foray to see the goodies under the tree. Ninja-like I would silently roll out of my bed, pausing to see if the rustling of my sheets had aroused my parents. Getting no response, I stood and moved to the doorway, avoiding the center of the room and any creaking floorboards. Again, I paused to see if they had heard me. And again no “Lane, what are you doing?” issued forth from my parents bedroom. I then carefully slipped through the kitchen and into that treacherous hallway and hugged the wall to avoid those tattletale boards and took one careful step at a time toward the living room and my Christmas goodies. Upon arrival, I turned on only the tree lights and beheld a display of toys and gifts so carefully laid out such that the display would shame the window dresser at the Maison Blanche department store downtown. I examined each object with barely restrained glee, lest I wake my snoring parents, and was very careful to put each item back exactly as “Santa” had displayed it. Temporarily satisfied, I then snuck back to bed and tried to sleep. That didn’t work.
Within the hour, I made another ninja-assault on the Christmas tree. This time I not only examined my toys but also those of my sisters. Then back to bed again. This was a case of “wash, rinse and repeat” all night long. Needless to say, on Christmas Day I was very sleepy and went to bed early that night.
Christmas morning was a time to open the gifts of our immediate family and play with the new toys, but before we could really enjoy everything, it was hurry up and get dressed to have Christmas dinner at my grandparent’s house at noon, and they ALWAYS ate at noon! Since they were from central Louisiana (Point Coupee and LaSalle Parish), the fare was different from what was usually found on Christmas tables in New Orleans. We had the usual obligatory turkey, but instead of brown gravy made from the drippings served over the oyster dressing or dirty rice, we had white giblet gravy over white rice. The stuffing was cornbread instead of oyster dressing my wife made as part of our later Christmas meal traditions. The cranberry sauce was always that can shaped gelatinous glob, but I loved it and still do. Janis refuses to let me eat it today and makes her own cranberry sauce from fresh cranberries, and I must admit, it is actually better than the gelatinous glob. The wine was usually Mogen David Concord Grape and sweet enough to almost qualify as grape juice and induce instant tooth decay. But we ate like we hadn’t eaten in days.
That was a long time ago, and we do things a bit differently today. Even our traditions established during our young married life are gone with deceased parents and family members grown, married with kids of their own, and some living in another state. I miss those Christmas Times of long ago, but there comes a time when you have to let go and let the kids establish their own traditions.
Another thing I really wish I could bring back and enjoy today is my Aunt Ethel’s fruitcake. Every fall she and my mother would make fruitcakes a few weeks before Christmas, and she had a great fruitcake recipe! After baking they were liberally dribbled with bourbon whiskey and allowed to soak in the bourbon for a couple of weeks before eating. Man, they were good. I need to find that recipe.
In closing: To all of you reading this, I hope you have some Christmas Traditions you cherish, and most of all, I wish you a very Merry Christmas and remember “He is the reason for the season.”
NOTE: The image is a screen grab from Google Street View of the house I grew up in as it looks today.
8 responses to “Christmas”
To paraphrase Carl Sandburg’s poem – ‘The memories creep in / On little cat feet’ … Christmas Eve was always a guarantee of a big party, ‘adult beverages,’ plenty of pre-Christmas food, and a ‘presenting of presents’ by Mom and one of our relatives we called ‘Uncle Henry’ … Henry was funny enough sober, but once he put a few under his belt, he was non-stop. Maybe it was the alcohol that let him do it all with a straight face and a ‘Who, ME?’ look in his eyes.
The absolute least favorite part of Christmas Eve was the mandatory attendance at Midnight Mass. I preferred going to St Stephens if we had to go, simply because Midnight Mass was always a High Mass and St Stephens had a great organist. Sometimes we had to go to St Francis of Assisi or – gasp! – St Henry’s. The St Francis crowd seemed to always smell of wet wool and watery rubber galoshes.
We, too, learnt to do the Midnight Creep downstairs to check out what was under the tree before turning around to climb the stairs back to our beds. ‘Course, all we were doing was verifying that what we’d found in Mom and Dad’s closet a few weeks earlier was really what was in the wrapping.
The Big Cranberry Glob: Yes! Ocean Spray Gelatinous Special Blend. Had the rib marks from the can imprinted in the gel matrix. I liked it then and like it still – and don’t care if it’s ‘unhealthy.’ My daughter makes a much better cranberry dish than Ocean Spray, but it’s really not so much about the ‘healthiness’ or even the flavor as it is about the memories that taste brings back.
I quit drinking years ago, but even tho’ I live a non-alcoholic lifestyle these days, I still have one glass of Claret wine at Christmas to remember the people who used to be with me at the table – and who aren’t today. Even that small amount is enough to cause the tip of my nose to go numb just ‘cos my body’s no longer accustomed to the presence of alcohol in its bloodstream.
Today I have no real ‘traditions’ that I keep alive save for those not yet lost to memory. I join my daughter and her family and help them celebrate their traditions … and that’s really the way it should work. One generation gives way to the next, and the next establishes its own way of doing things … but y’ can still hold on to the memories of the way things used to be done … Merry Christmas, all.
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Great blog. It brought to mind many of my past Christmases and the traditions. Some of those traditions are still around even after 60 years, or perhaps unknown to me even longer.
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I remember laying in the ditch acrosss the street in front of “Gram and Gramps” and Dot and Henrys house playing with our new Christmas toys and everyone elses. The great thing about us living so close together was that we got to celebrate Christmas many times at your house, Manard and Eltons house, Kibbys house, Gram and Gramps house and our house across Williams.
That “ditch” was the perfect recliner. It was usually dry and full of perfectly manicured St Augustine grass that was shaped like a lazy boy. It was shaded by Henrys trees in his front yard.
You would usually get something to do with the military because you were always playing soldiers with Buck. Elton and Manard would always get some sports equiptment. Kip would come all the way from Garden Lane wich was only two blocks away but seemed so far at the time. Kip and Mike would usually get some coyboy stuff.
One Christmas I got a trampoline that some how fit in my front living room. It was right next to the Chrismas tree and Christmas morning I jumped so high I hit my head on the ceiling and fell into the Chrismas tree. It broke several of the “bubble” lights that spewed colored liquid all over my Mothers white carpet. I guess it was Christmas so I didn’t get my usual spanking that day.
Thanks for the memeories Laney Boy! We sure were lucky kids!
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How in the world did they fit that thing in the living room? Then you had to take it apart to move it outside. Santa is a weird dude. Lucky indeed, Grease.
You REALLY liked that ditch!
I remember App’s egg nog Christmas Eve. And Mommie said “After milk and cookies all over the world, Santa would prefer a coke”! And I have the fruit cake recipe in App’s hand and I’ve made it! I was actually thinking about making this year.
If you make them, I WANT ONE!
Tensie and Wensie! Your Momma and Daddy were sure proud of you two, as were we all, especially Lane!
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