Christmas memories are among the most deeply ingrained in my mind because my parents always did their best to create magic for us each year. My sister and I grew up in the ‘70s and ‘80s, and the holiday seemed so magical and innocent when I look back on it now.
I can remember the excitement I felt each year on the day the Christmas tree went up. Whether the tree was real, or later artificial, my excitement about it was the same. My heart would flutter as I pictured the things that might be left under our tree by Santa in a few weeks. The boxes of shiny ornaments would be pulled out of the closet, and mama would let me help her to carefully decorate the tree after dad put the fat, multi-colored lights on it.
First, she’d unroll long strands of tinsel; sometimes silver, sometimes gold. I would help her wrap the sparkly metallic garland around the tree, tucking it down into the branches, wherever a bit more shine was needed.
Next, we’d open the decorations box and begin to place ornaments on the tree. The gingerbread men; the red, white and pink swirl lollipop; and the golden flocked rocking horse with its red felt saddle were my favorite ornaments to hang on the bristly branches of each year’s tree.
Finally, we’d open the icicles. They were silky, silver strands that I’d place on my head to pretend they were my long, silver hair. Mom would laughingly fuss and say, “Roonie, get them off your head and on the tree!” In retrospect, I am sure she was trying to keep them from getting all over the carpet, as they were rather difficult to clean up, being as silky and slippery as they were. They certainly finished off our beautiful tree with a flourish; our sparkly masterpiece was complete.
Those first Christmases were spent in Charlotte, North Carolina, as my parents had moved there for a few years after they married in St. Petersburg. It was cold on Christmas in North Carolina, typically, and mom did lots of cookie baking and hot chocolate making. I would snuggle into my fluffy quilted pink bathrobe and little fuzzy slippers as I shuffled around in our little house on Ivanhoe Place. I’d lie on the floor under the tree and stare up at it, enjoying the light, the sparkle, and the color of it all. Pure magic.
When we moved to St. Joe Beach, our Christmases were just as special, as I now had a little sister to enjoy them with. We’d let her decorate the lower branches of our tree with unbreakable ornaments made of wood or felt, and she’d put them all in one little clump on the tree. We’d secretly move them apart a bit later when she wasn’t looking.
We began to add some lovely beach-themed ornaments to our tree then, many of them made by our Grammy, an avid crafter. We’d proudly add those ornaments to the tree as well, made from scallop shells or oyster shells, and admire them, too. I remember her making a tabletop Christmas tree out of shells we’d find on the beach; she covered a styrofoam craft cone with the shells by attaching them with a special kind of glue. It was beautiful.
The magic of Christmas is different now, of course. I’m an adult, and my three children have all moved out into their own homes. But when November rolls around, my sister Sherrin and I still love to visit vintage shops to look at all the pretty decorations that fill every shelf, nook and cranny.
Soon after we walk through the door of these places, such as Bay Breeze Antiques on Reid Avenue, where I found a wonderful vintage shell-covered wreath recently, or our favorite antique malls here in Texas, we are whisked back in time to those early Christmases. As we see the displays of glass ornaments from the ‘60s with their shiny silver, pink and blue glass, or the Santa Clauses covered with velvet flocking, and the occasional unopened vintage package of metallic icicles or tinsel, it feels like we’re kids again for just a minute.
I can picture the tree with my first bike under it. I picture the dolls for my little sis and me, or a train supposedly for me but really for dad. I remember how that all felt. What a treasure these stores are; I always say they’re like stepping into time machines for a brief visit to childhood. If you haven’t tried this particular version of time travel lately, I highly recommend it. Find a shop to visit and head back in time.
Now, I know there are Christmas cookie recipes everywhere, but since I’m walking back in time, I thought I’d share one of my very favorites that I've made for many years. You might like to make these for your friends or family this year. They’re so scrumptious that they're great for gifting, too.
Stephanie Hill-Frazier is a writer, food blogger and regional television chef, whose on-air nickname is "Mama Steph." She grew up in Gulf County, on St. Joe Beach, a place she will forever call home. She is married and has three young adult sons who still feel joy at Christmas, as she does. You can find more of her recipes at www.whatsouthernfolkseat.com.
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