Besides the trip to cut down the Christmas tree each year, there were always a few activities that come to mind when I think about the holidays.
We always had jigsaw puzzles. At every holiday function. And they were holiday themed. Easter ones, Thanksgiving ones, even Valentine’s day. But we had several different Christmas ones. And we did them every year. New ones would appear from time to time, but we never stopped doing the old ones. We’d just cycle in the new ones. One in particular I remember was the gingerbread house. There also was a wreath made of dog bones, polar bears (winter themed), Christmas ornaments, and I believe even Santa’s workshop to name a few.
We’d designate a table as “the puzzle table” for the entire holiday, and do puzzle after puzzle, with music on in the background. Somehow we never lost a piece. When people would come over for Christmas day dinner, they’d eat, drink hot cider and work on the puzzle, all while talking and having a good time. And of course my sister and I fought over who got to put in the last piece…which meant either Dad or Mom did it instead.
We’d play many a card game as a family. Specifically we played Uno, hearts and pinochle (double deck, 4 players for you card sharks out there). Now these were not the Norman Rockwell everything is merry card games. These were vicious. For example, once I gave my mother the queen of spades during hearts. She turned to me, and said, completely seriously, “bitch, I’m gonna get you for that.” And she did. Then next round she nailed me but good, giving me a nasty run of hearts AND the queen of spades, but not enough to shoot the moon. Damn her, I went from first place to third place in ONE hand. But before you call child services, we always had a good time. We’d call each other names and scream and laugh and thoroughly enjoy ourselves. As a family. How many other people can say they had that good of a time just hanging out with their family? My sister and I know we were pretty lucky in that respect.
Growing up my sister and I weren’t allowed to watch much tv. We were allowed the Muppet Show (a family event), sci-fi with my dad, and PBS. That’s about it. So Christmas time was special because it meant we got to stay up late and watch all the special shows. The Charlie Brown Christmas with the pitiful tree, “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever,” Frosty the Snowman, Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer, John Denver and the Muppets Christmas, other Christmas specials that came out over the years, the parades on TV, and most special of all, the ballet of the Nutcracker with Mikhail Baryshnikov in the title role.
Everyone has their favorite Christmas/holiday music albums. For some people it’s carols or pop music, but for us it was an album called “A Brass Christmas,” George Winston (both “December” and “Winter into Spring”), and John Denver & the Muppets. Jenna and I danced around the living room to Miss Piggy singing “Christmas is coming” every year. I still have those albums, now on CD rather than vinyl. And it just doesn’t feel like Christmas until I play them.