Nacwolin’s post the other day got me thinking (she’s been doing that a lot recently) about how Christmas family dinners and gatherings are often used to retell stories that often teach children and new spouses the history and traditions of the family. I think it’s a great way to keep alive the memories of relatives that have passed on – for example, the Beloved knew my mom, but never had a chance to know my father, who passed away in 1998, so I always tell stories about him.
It got me thinking of the Ancestral Betz home in Camden, New Jersey and the Christmases that we had there while I was growing up. I think that they were pretty “normal” by most standards of the day – we had my mom’s side of the family** (lets just call them “the E’s”) over on Christmas (for ham) and the Betz-family over from Philly around New Year’s (for turkey) nearly every year – and stories were often passed around for hours at each. The Betz’s were typically more boisterous than my mom’s family – my father’s family had some hard-drinkers, while the E’s were tee-totaling Methodists.
Decorating was always a big deal. When I was a child, the tree would go up the weekend before Christmas, but remained unadorned. My folks would decorate the tree while we were sleeping – providing a dramatic change on Christmas morning. My brother, sister and I would wait at the top of the stairs, anxiously awaiting the “all-clear” to come downstairs. What anticipation!
One of my most lasting memories is not the tree, but the decorated mantle. The Nativity was front and center, framed by greens from the bushes from our lawn. On either edge, there was a red, rotating tree. They rotated due to a red incandescent bulb underneath that generated heat, which escaped out the flaps in the heavy-paper tree-cone. They were special because they were the very first Christmas decorations my parents bought when they moved in to the ABH in 1952. By the time I was around (the youngest), 20-30 years of use had torn the caps, and seams and some of the flaps were gone and one of them didn’t rotate anymore, but they were (and still are) my most vivid memory of our home at Christmas.
Sadly, I think they were trashed during the time when my mom moved to my sister's after my father died. I would gladly put them up here at the Aerie, scotch tape and all. I may have to troll on eBay and see what I can find…
**(I almost included their name, but somehow posting my mother’s maiden name seems like a bad idea…)