Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Little Pitchers and Christmas Traditions

I was reading a magazine article that suggested Christmas is a good time for families to sit around the table and share stories as a way of bringing generations together.

I was immediately catapulted into Christmas Past when our family did that very thing.

With caveats.

One Christmas (or more likely, a composite of Christmases, the details of each having merged into one memory), after dinner had been eaten, and the food and dishes cleared away, the adults sat around the table and talked. I say the adults, because children then were seen and not heard. The children were me, my sister and baby brother, and our cousins.

We had traveled by train to Mom's parents' house in upstate New York.  After breakfast on Christmas Eve morning we walked to our aunt and uncle's house, across town. It was so cold the snow squeaked when we trod on it and our breath froze in a mist in front of our faces.

We went to my aunt's because Grandma's house was too small to host the entire family and although I don't know for sure, she probably had to work. Grandma was a waitress and proud that she had a job in the Depression. I can see her now in her white uniform with a hankie peeking  out of the breast pocket. The hankie would be edged in pink or purple or yellow lace that she crocheted in what spare time she had.

But we did all get together that afternoon and evening. Grandparents, parents, aunts and uncles and cousins crowded around a table and shared a meal, after which the children were told to "go in the other room and play."

We pretended to obey, but our ears were cocked toward the kitchen where, after many cups of coffee and a few bottles of beer, the laughter grew louder and occasionally turned into guffaws as one tale after another was told: Do you remember when...?

This was how our family history was passed down -- unguarded stories and little pitchers with big ears.

Someone finally noticed it was getting late and the children needed to go to bed. We were once again bundled up to face the icy cold starting with leggings and adding jacket, galoshes, muffler, cap and mittens. We were so well padded we could have rolled down the hill to Grandma's, but we rode back  in someone's car (I have a fuzzy memory of riding with my sister in the rumble seat, but that was probably another occasion). The sky was clear with the glittering stars reflected in the ice crystals caught in the tree branches.

Once inside Grandma's kitchen, our outdoor clothing was removed in reverse order, by which time we were wide awake again. A bedtime snack of cocoa and cookies appeared. The goodies were not home made. Although our mother began her baking a month before Christmas, neither of my grandmothers had, to my knowledge, ever baked a cookie in her life. These were store-bought cookies from a tin, which were a treat to us because we didn't have store-bought at home.

Tucked in bed at last, we were given the conflicting orders to go right to sleep and to listen for Santa's sleigh.

I don't know if we'll sit around the table and tell family stories this holiday. I am pretty sure, however, that if we do the younger members will stay at the table and add their own.

Traditions aren't meant to be carved in stone.



  1. What wonderful memories! And phrases I too heard many times in my childhood -- "children should be seen and not heard" and "little pitchers have big ears". :)


  2. Lovely post - thanks for sharing your memories. I think our parents attended the same schools as I was always told to go in the other room and play, too. And getting bundled up to go out in the cold! I still hate going anywhere in the winter.

  3. Sandy, Love walking down memory lane with you. I especially liked the details about what clothes you were wearing and the conflicting instructions about getting to sleep.

  4. I remember the "seen but not heard" rule. I think that's why my sister, brother and I grew up very shy. No matter where we went - to visit relatives, whatever, we had to sit there all prim and proper and never say a word unless spoken to. Our relatives lived too far away to spend Christmas with, but when we moved to the city, Mom would cook large meals and invite many. We were never asked to leave the table - by then we were much too old! Smile. I enjoyed your story.

  5. That's a good memory, Sandy. I remember how excited I was as a young child: the gifts, the food, the staying up late. Once a bit older, Christmas became a bit more stressful than exciting.

  6. hehehehe....it was such a big deal to finally sit at the "grown up" table and share conversations!