Tangerines and walnuts and Daddy singing. That’s my Christmas memory. Let me explain. Our family took Advent seriously. So our tree went up Christmas Eve, not before, which added to our anticipation. We’d go out about sunset and pick a Christmas tree. Then, while Mom cooked dinner, Dad would put up the tree and string the lights. While we did dishes, Mom would bring out the box of ornaments, a stepladder for putting on the tree topper. But first the stepladder would hold our tree-trimming treats: a big bowl of tangerines and the old wooden nut bowl filled with nuts and a nutcracker. We’d trim the tree, all the while nibbling on those tangerines and nuts, which, to this day mean Christmas to me.
When we were really little, that would be it – the tree trimmed, we’d be off to bed, to awaken the next morning finding Santa’s gifts. I’m the oldest, so one year I passed some invisible marker and got to stay up and help my parents wrap gifts for “the little kids”.
As we got older still we’d all stay up and join my parents at Midnight Mass. It was so awe-inspiring to me. Our simple church was transformed into something grand, and for that night I felt, so were we.
The miracle of Jesus’s birth was made real here on earth when, in the car on the ride home, my stoic Norwegian-Dutch father would sing! He would actually open his mouth and sing all the Christmas carols with us, and not only knew all the words, but knew the tune as well! Our Irish mother was like a songbird, singing constantly, but we heard our father sing but that one night a year.
Then home to open presents (“oh look! I got my Yogi Berra catcher’s mitt”, says 10 year old Diane; ‘Hey, cool, my own transistor radio” I said at 14). Dad would stay til we had the gifts opened then he’d bustle off to the kitchen to make us a big hearty breakfast. Eating breakfast at 2 AM was thrilling to us kids.