Things stay the same. Yet, they change completely. Christmas now is nothing like Christmases of the past, yet there is something very familiar in it.
I'm not speaking of the Spiritual side of Christmas. Or even the historical side of Christmas. I'm speaking of the personal, intra-family side of Christmas.
My earliest memories of Christmas start with Mama working to prepare the house, decorate for the holiday. It didn't involve much shopping. She'd cut sprigs of cedar, use pipe cleaners and small glass balls from the Five and Dime. She'd make arrangements in a vase. Stick springs in the shiplap on the front porch around the door frame and windows. Then the old screw-in Christmas lights would be strung around the door.
Our tree was always a real one. Usually a small pine or pine top or a cedar. Everything wasn't owned by the timber companies then. There were plenty of places one could go and cut a tree, without anyone hollering or raising cane. Seldom got it more than two weeks before Christmas, as keeping water in the stand could only keep the needles on the tree for about that long. There would be more of those old large bulb lights strung on the tree. Lots of different colored glass balls and ornaments. Occasionally a paper chain I had made from construction paper. Or sometimes we'd pop and string some popcorn. And I loved to cover the finished tree in ice cycles.
For the most part, gifts weren't expensive. Just something Mama thought the person might enjoy or need. Usually one per person. I remember Mama Ruth, mother's mother, would put a small envelope on the tree with the name of a grandchild on it. Each envelope held only a dollar. A dollar didn't do a lot, even in the late 60's or the 70's, but it was constant. It was a sure bet, you'd have an envelope and there would be a dollar. For most of the years of my memory, she was a widow on a fixed income. Funny, it is only now that I'm older that I can realize how much love was in those envelopes and how hard even it must have been sometimes to have a dollar for each child.
Food preparations would start a few days in advance of the 25th. That's because both my sisters were grown, married and started families of their own. They would be at our house on Christmas day for dinner. (Down here that's the noon meal. The evening meal is supper.) Bowls of assorted nuts would appear along with the ones stacked with fresh oranges and apples.
Anyway, Mama would start on her candies first. Fudge, date rolls, etc. Then there'd be flurry of pie baking. Chocolate, buttermilk, sweet potato, pecan. Some cookie baking too. Chocolate chip was a standard. Sometimes tea cakes. All these sweets were on hand to share over coffee with anyone who happened by. But mostly, they'd be our desert on that special day.
The day before was involved with a lot of work on her cornbread dressing. The chicken had to be boiled, and deboned. She had to make several bakers of her buttermilk cornbread. (Note: in the South anything that is good, can be better when you use buttermilk....cornbread, biscuits, pancakes, hushpuppies, etc.) A whole lot of dicing of onion & celery. Christmas morning she was at it by daylight. Sometimes there was turkey. Often ham, glazed with a brown sugar glaze. Vegetables. The putting together and baking of the dressing. The making of her own Jello salad, with nuts, coconut and fruit cocktail.
Not long before noon, the family would be arriving. Kids often tagging along their favorite toy Santa had left at their house. My sisters, each bringing their own dishes to complement the meal Mama had made. Brother-in-laws sometimes arriving at the last minute, fresh off the deer stand. We'd have a merry old time opening and exchanging our gifts. Gather around the table for grace as the smell of the rolls coming out of the oven filled the room.
We'd all sit down together, eating, talking, visiting, laughing. Then as the parades on TV gave way to football there'd be dishwashing, relaxing, playing, catnapping. And they'd start to migrate off to their homes or another destination. The house would be rather still and silent again. I'd cuddle with Daddy as he finished the football games. Mama would often take a well deserved nap. But a feeling of oneness, of love and tradition lingered like the scent of Daddy's aftershave.