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Christmas then and now

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By Carolyn Ten Broeck, Editor

Christmas will be quiet at Ten Broeck Manor this year. Tom and I will celebrate at home, most likely with just our furry companions, a hot meal and perhaps an adult beverage.

Next week, after the paper is finished I will head to Georgia to spend Christmas with my children and Tom will venture to his sisters' on the East Coast. Because of his most recent back surgery, he can't travel the almost-eight hours up north so he'll FaceTime with the granddaughters when they open presents.

Due to this odd arrangement, I haven't been in a real hurry to wrap presents this year. Everything I've bought for the Georgia clan is under the tree – in whatever packaging it came in. I'll take my time this weekend and wrap, or bag, or maybe not.

This is a real departure for me, as I'm a devout traditionalist when it comes to this particular holiday.

I've never NOT had a tree filled with ornaments that mean something. No fancy pink or lavender tree here. Everything is the way it was as I was growing up.

We have a super nice nativity scene that Tom's mom made when she was carrying him 55 years ago, but we've never put it on display due to the cats who manage to find a way to destruct everything nice. Instead, I have a cheap ceramic set that finds its way out of the box just so I can have this piece of tradition to carry forward. This year, for the first time in my adult life, baby Jesus was put out with it. Usually, He doesn't find His way into the stable until midnight Christmas Eve/morning. But this year, I just plopped Him in there anyhow.

My family was big on traditions when I was growing up.

My father's siblings were spread far and wide, but Christmas was the time they all came together for at least two weeks. My cousins and I were close in age so we loved the time to climb the mountain my grandparents owned, ride the mule to the grocery store or hide out in the basement and plot how we'd trick the youngest cousin.

But Christmas Eve, we were all there, under one roof, about 25 of us. We feasted on homemade cookies, candies, fruit and nuts while the adults shot fireworks, including some dynamite caps.

Back in those days citrus was only a Christmas item, and I could eat my weight in tangerines. I still remember the stickiness on my fingers from peeling so many.

About 9 p.m. we'd gather in my grandparents' small living room. All the children sat in the floor and the adults crowded the sofa, chairs, lard cans – whatever they could find.

Inevitably Santa would pay us a visit and always bring a large peppermint stick to all the children.

Santa never tarried long, and none of us ever doubted it was THE Santa. Our parents were there so we knew it wasn't them. To this day, I have to believe it was the REAL Santa, even if he looked a little creepy.

After Santa left, my uncle, Daddy's youngest brother, crawled under the mountain of presents and presented them one at a time, calling out both the names of the giver and the recipient. It went on for hours and while the children marveled at all the socks, shirts and underwear (There was seldom a toy among the loot.), the adults drank coffee, ate some more, talked a lot until at last it was time to go home.

It was straight to bed upon arrival because we knew Santa would not come if we weren't asleep.

My brother, Paul, and I shared a room for many years and we'd always try to stay awake to catch Santa in the act, but we never could.

We knew better than to get the folks out of bed before dawn so Paul and I would sneak into the living room and look at all the packages, daring not to tear into them.

Instead we emptied our stockings – an athletic tube sock, not the fancy ones like today – and in it would be an orange, an apple, a tangerine, a banana, a handful of mixed nuts and some hard candy. No presents. No money. Just food. And we were thankful.

By that time the folks were up and we opened our presents, played with them a while and then got ready to head back to the grandparents for a feast fit for a king.

Every year was the same. Every year. And today, I know it was idyllic.

When the grandparents died, my folks amended some of the traditions just as I would when I married and moved away.

Today, my own children have made some of their own changes but for the most part they're continuing with what they were brought up with.

Now with blended families and scattered family members, we all make do with what we have to work with.

I believe I had the best Christmases ever. My children think they did.

I hope that's the way every generation feels.

Because when it gets down to it, there's nothing better than sharing memories of happy times with the people you love.

Make some memories this Christmas. You'll be glad you did.