Saturday, December 24, 2011

Advent Calendar - Christmas Eve

How did you, your family or your ancestors spend Christmas Eve?

There are a number of things about Christmas Eve that I remember vividly.  We always sang Christmas Carols around the Christmas Tree before we went to bed on Christmas Eve.  Of course there was also the obligatory shortbread and glass of milk left out for Santa, and a carrot for the reindeer.
As I got older we used to go to the local Carols by Candlelight service at the football ground.  This was always held on Christmas Eve.  It was good old-fashioned community singing, where everybody joined in with the (usually) Salvation Army choir and band.  As a teenager I remember that we went to the carols, then returned home and sat up with our neighbours and waited till midnight, then we opened our Christmas presents!
I also went to Midnight service at Church on many Christmas Eves.  This was always a special service which I really enjoyed.  My grandmother often took me to Midnight service at her Church.
Carols By Candlelight - Myer Music Bowl c 1980
Another annual event on Christmas Eve was the Carols By Candelight held at the Myer Music Bowl in Melbourne.  As far as I can remember we never went to the Music Bowl, but we always tried to watch it on television if we were at home, and especially when we were at my grandmothers.  She sang in a choir called "The Argus Singers", and they were part of a massed choir that sang at the Music Bowl Carols.  Again, it used to be a night of good comunity singing - now it is a showcase for modern day 'artists' who quite often massacre the traditional carols and / or sing 'new' Christmas songs that just don't have the same feel to them.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Advent Calendar - Christmas At School

I remember that we always celebrated Christmas at Primary School - making Christmas decorations, Christmas cards, various other Christmas themed activities.  I also remember we used to sing lots of Christmas songs.  I only remember one Christmas pageant (for want of a better word).  It was when I was in Grade 1, so I had been at school for just one year, and all the Infant classes were crammed into two rooms which opened up with concertina doors between them.  We all sang Christmas Carols and there were probably some children dressed up for a Nativity performance.
At Sunday School I remember dressing up for various Nativity performances too.

When I became a teacher myself I loved Christmas in the classroom.  From 1st December it was fair game.  I always drew a large Santa picture on the blackboard, and all our activities (where possible) were Christmas based.  None of the big schools I was teaching at had Christmas Concerts, but both small rural schoos did.  My favourites where the ones at my first rural school - because there were only two full time teachers and 30 or so children we went all out.  Even some of the parents put on acts.  The annual Christmas Concert was a big attraction for the whole community - everyone came.
At the end of the festivities the children all chanted for Santa to pay a visit, which he always did armed with a small gift for each child.
A wonderful country supper was then enjoyed by all.

Advent Calendar - Holiday Happenings

Often times December to mid-January birthdays and anniversaries get over shadowed by the Christmas/Hanukkah/New Year holidays. So we’re going to shine a spotlight on those family members and ancestors this time around. Select one or more December to mid-January birthdays and/or anniversaries on your family tree. Write a short tribute to or memory of those birthday guys and gals and write a toast to the anniversary couples.

Lindsay George Arnold GOOD DCM
Beryl GOOD, nee WALSH
December / January Birthdays and Anniversaries? Do they come in any other months? Our first grandchild, Avalon May CROMB, was born on December 4th - she has just turned 15 (now 16). Where have the years gone? Our daughter-in-law Janine Maree ROBERTS (nee GIRI) had her birthday on December 13th. My grandmother Beryl GOOD nee WALSH was born on 5th December 1903 and died on 2nd August 1996. My grandfather Lindsay George Arnold GOOD was born on 13th January 1897 and died on 14th January 1965. My husband's birthday is January 3rd. My step-daughter Karen Lynette CROMB, nee ROBERTS, has her birthday on 26th December. I was first married on 5th January 1974, and my second marriage was on 17th January 1998. All in all December / January are full of holiday happenings for our family. 
(First published December 2010)

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Advent Calendar - Fruit Cake, Friend or Foe?

A decorated cake  - but not quite like mine
Did you like fruitcake? Did your family receive fruitcakes? Have you ever re-gifted fruitcake? Have you ever devised creative uses for fruitcake?

Over the years I have decorated a number of fruit cakes for Christmas. Usually I would make the fruit cake a week or so before Christmas and although it was tradition to put almond icing on the cake no-one really liked almond icing so I would just use royal icing. Then I would paint a santa picture on the icing using food colouring. Usually we had all had so much to eat by the time we got to the Christmas cake that no-one felt like eating fruit cake. I haven't got any photos on my creations. And I haven't decorated a cake for a number of years. 
(First published 2010)

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Advent Calendar - Christmas Cookies

Did your family or ancestors make Christmas Cookies? How did you help? Did you have a favorite cookie?

I don't recall that my grandmother made any cookies especially for Christmas, but my mother has always made shortbread.  As I was growing up I seem to recall that the shortbread was mainly at Christmas, but nowadays Mum makes it all year.  She still uses the same recipe she used when I was little.

Here is her recipe:

Ingredients:        Butter – 8 ozs (250 gms)
                          Plain Flour – 10½ ozs (330 gms)
                          Icing Sugar – 3½ ozs (110 gms)
                          Cornflour – 2 ozs (65 gms)
                          Vanilla – ½ tsp (a dribble!)
                          Salt        - pinch (optional)
Method:  Cream butter and sugar.  Add vanilla.  Work flours in until a pliable paste.  Flatten out (do NOT roll) to 3/8" (1cm) thickness.  Cut into pieces and bake in a moderate oven (1800) for 20 – 25 minutes.

Note:  To make good shortbread you must knead the dough till it comes clean from your hands.

It is beautiful shortbread!  Mum often gives it as a gift to friends and relations.
I have used the same recipe to make shortbread at Christmas time, and intend doing so again this year to give some to our neighbours.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Advent Calendar - Holiday Parties

Did your family throw a holiday party each year? Do you remember attending any holiday parties?

No, we didn't have Christmas Parties that I remember when I was growing up.  However, for a number of years my husband and I held a pre-Christmas drinks party.  We would invite all the local friends that we had perhaps not seen very often during the year.
For the past couple of years I have not felt well enough to worry about hosting a party, but last year I decided we would give it a go.  I sent out invitations early November, for a party in the first week of December, thinking that would get in before most other Christmas Parties.  Wrong!  Most of the people we invited were unable to come due to prior commitments.  Then, of those who did respond in the affirmative, one couple got held up at a grandchild's dance concert on the day and didn't make it, and another couple had a funeral to attend on the day.  So this year I decided we weren't going to try to compete with all the other end of year festivities that people seem to be drawn into.  I did think of having pre-Christmas in July drinks, but July came and went too quickly for me to do anything but think about it.
Also in recent years there has always been a work Christmas break-up function to attend.  These are usually great fun, and often involve a Kris Kringle of one sort or another.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Advent Calendar - Santa Claus

Did you ever send a letter to Santa? Did you ever visit Santa and “make a list?” Do you still believe in Santa Claus?

My brother and I always wrote a letter to SantaI don't remember whether Santa ever wrote a letter back!  I continued the tradition with my daughter. I still have a couple of letters from Susan to Santa which he must have left lying around.  Of course, the letters contained the wish-list.  We were also taken to visit Santa in various shops.  I don't have photos of me with Santa, but I do have many of my daughter as she paid the mandatory visit to Santa.
When my mother was a child she knew her parents didn't have much money - and the year her friends were starting to doubt the existence of Santa my mother had proof positive that he did exist.  When Mum found a beautiful doll under the tree she knew there had to be a Santa because her parents could never have afforded a doll like that.
My parents cleverly got around the problem of multiple Santas, and also how to explain why Santa brought some children very expensive presents while others got less.  All of the Santas that we saw at Christmas parties, in the shops etc. were Santa's Helpers.  As for the presents, the main present we got was from Mum and Dad, and it was the smaller presents in our stockings that came from Santa.
I remember the year I learned about the secret of Santa - I went snooping looking for presents.  I found a case under my parents' bed, full of toys.  I told my brother - who promptly told my mother!  Mum told me I had spoiled the surprise - yet it had never occurred to me that this meant Mum and Dad "helped" Santa each year.  I may have cottoned on when I saw those same toys in our stockings (that's where Santa left the presents from him), but as I'd only had a brief look in the suitcase even that might not have spoiled anything.
I have a wonderful photo of one of our granddaughters - squealing with delight when Santa visited a Christmas party we were attending.
Do I still believe in Santa?  Why, of course .........

Monday, December 05, 2011

Advent Calendar - Outdoor Decorations

Did people in your neighborhood decorate with lights? Did some people really go “all out” when decorating? Any stories involving your ancestors and decorations?

I don't recall that it was the done thing to decorate the outside of the house as I was growing up.  About the closest it came to was that many houses had a lighted Christmas Tree in a window facing the street.  In fact my brother and I made up a game called, obviously, Christmas Tree - a kind of spotto we played on long car trips at Christmas time.  Each time we saw a tree we called out C, or H, or R etc. until we had seen enough trees to spell the words Christmas Tree.  First one to spell it was the winner.
Now, we put up some coloured lights outside on the verandah and in trees and the garden, but most of our decorations are inside.  Our neigbours however, go all out!
I love travelling around to look at the decorated houses, and we usually do this every year.  Some years we have been in Bendigo at or near Christmas time and there are some spectacular street displays there which have been well worth the time and effort to look at them.

Sunday, December 04, 2011

Advent Calendar - Christmas Cards

Back to the Advent Calendar where I began this blog in earnest - this time for 2011.
The prompt for today:
Did your family send cards? Did your family display the ones they received? Do you still send Christmas cards? Do you have any cards from your ancestors?
My immediate family has always sent Christmas Cards to family and friends.  Often, perhaps unfortunately, it is the only contact we have with some friends all year.  But at least they know that they are thought of and remembered.
When I was little we would use the cards we received in  scrapbooks, or to make cards of our  own.  We also took the cards to school where they were used to make cards for mum and dad. (Obviously this was done the following year!)
The cards we received were always displayed around the loungeroom.  I don't remember any particular tradition regarding Christmas Cards, except that they were always part of Christmas.
Unfortunately I don't have any cards from years gone by - although birthday cards were always kept and pasted into an album.  A tradition I continued for my own daughter.
Nowadays I still send cards to family and friends - about 80 each year.  I also send (in addition to a 'real' card) an e-card to those friends and family who have internet access.  I try to make sure my cards are done and posted in the first week of December.  For those we don't have much contact with during the year I also include a letter which reviews our year.  Whilst this is done on the computer I personalise them by using mail merge.  I have a data document set up with individual names and a section for family specific chat.  So everyone gets the main letter, with their names printed at the beginning of the letter, and most have an extra paragraph or two that is specific to that family - perhaps asking about a family member, or commenting on something that is only significant for that family.  Therefore, my Christmas letter is as personalised as a mass-produce letter can be.
I also send a card to each of my grandchildren - just for them, rather than them being included in the family card.  I know our daughter saved the cards when the girls were younger, but I'm not sure if she still does.  I'm not sure whether our daughter-in-law ever kept the cards.  Our other daughter has yet to produce any grandchildren, but I'm sure she would keep cards if and when she becomes a mother.
I do keep a record of who I send to, and who sends us cards.  Usually the two lists are the same - but there are some people who I send to who never send cards.  If someone sends us a card and I haven't sent them one I will do so and add them to my list for next year.
I do keep all handmade cards, and occasionally an especially beautiful card just for sentimental reasons.  When I was teaching I used to let the children in my class cut up last year's cards to make cards for their family.  I have also used pictures from last year's cards to make gift tags in the current year.
I have strings around the loungeroom walls on which I hang the cards to display them.