An expectation for Christmas Eve at our
family home for over 50 years was the Christmas punch made
using a simple combination of lime sherbet and 7-Up. (1)
There was some mystery as to the proportions
and how it was to be stirred. But it was always presented
in a grand style and ladled into cups from the Fostoria punch
bowl that was part of the Fostoria wedding dishes that Axel
and Betty received in 1946.
Fostoria punch bowl and
ladle on Axel and Betty's dining table
The Christmas Tree
Mom loved to decorate the Christmas tree
each year and a fresh-cut spruce or fir which always found
its place in the same corner of their living room. She liked
as many colored lights as possible and in the 1950's we had
some bubble lights that seemed special (perhaps because I
remember bubble lights on my grandparent's small tree when
I was a little boy).
I also remember my grandparents had tinsel
on their trees and Betty used tinsel alot in the 1950's. She
may have inhereited a few ornaments from her parents but most
of her tree decorations developed over the years one ornament
at a time. I'm sure she knew the history of every ornament
on the tree.
"H" Street December
Lyncrest December 1955
In the 1980's and 90's Mom and I were
both fascinated by some Hallmark motion ornaments that had
clear domes that would display various moving characters and
scenes: Kringle's Toy Shop, The Village Express(with a train
traveling around a village (1),
or a sleigh going around a turn-of-the century house.
They were all a bit noisy but Mom and I thought they added
magic to the tree and we had alot of fun each year at the
after Christmas sales when Hallmark would sell these ornaments
for at least 60% off.
Of course as a child the Christmas tree
was most closely associated with the place where Christmas
presents were located. So in the days leading up to Christmas
there was the typical shaking of presents under the tree to
try and figure out what was in each wrapped gift that had
your name on it.
My siblings and I were fortunate to grow
up in a time and an environment where we never worried about
not having a Christmas tree or not having presents under the
tree or for that matter not having to worry about anything
of real consequence.
We had many 'sweet-tooths' in the family
and we each had our favorite cookie but we also always had
plenty of other cookies to choose from.
Spritz pressed cookies were my favorite
(green tree shaped or red poisettas pressed from our MIRRO
Cooky Press). Sharon's favorites were buttery sugar cookies.
Bev and Ron loved spritz cookies. Bev also liked Mexican Wedding
cookies which Mom also enjoyed. Dad looked forward to haystacks.
James liked the frosting covered sugar cookies the best. But
they were all good.
When I was quite young we would make sugar
cookies and use a cookie cutter shaped like Santa that we
would then decorate quite elaborately. What part of that Santa
you would eat first varied in the family.
Sugar cookies were also made with cut-out
stars and christmas trees.
Looking through the mostly hand-written
recipes on the 3 x 5 index cards that Mom used for all of
her important recipes there are a surprising number of memories
Seeing Mom's handwriting has its own emotions.
And remembering the smells and tastes
that go with each of those recipes are sensations that still
Ramona Stromberg's Spritz
cookie recipe copied by Betty for her Recipe box. For additional
Recipes click here
But until I was recently looking at these
recipe cards I had forgotten how many of these recipes came
from friends, so that the sugar cookie recipe that I remember
so well wasn't simply a sugar cookie recipe, it was Violet
Edgington's sugar cookie recipe. The sour cream sugar cookie
was Mrs. Taylor's; Ramona Stromberg's was the spritz cookie
recipe and Jean Milford's was the Mexican Wedding Cookies.
It's also ironic that I remember both
of my grandmother's sugar cookies but I don't have a recipe
for either one. Perhaps that is because I think they baked
alot of things without using recipes.
Even how a recipe got into a recipe box
could have its own path.
Recipes could come from visiting someone's
house and enjoying the cookie and asking for the recipe.
Recipe parties were also an opportunity
to bring your favorite recipe and exchange them while you
had a cup of coffee and caught up on neighborhood news.
My parent's were friends with the Stromberg's
for decades yet the Spritz cookie recipe that was in mom's
recipe box noted that it came via Leota Sondregger, a neighbor
and the mother of a friend of mine, and not from Ramona directly.
Giving a plate of cookies to friends and neighbors was also
a common Christmas gift and a plate received could also result
in a follow-up request for a recipe.
Baking cookies with the associated smells
and then enjoying a warm cookie right out of the oven is a
strong memory for me and clearly comfort food. Although cookies
have what now might be labeled the villain sugar ingredient
I think there is some truth to what Barbara Jordan said about
cookies and a better world:
Think what a better world it would
be if we all, the whole world, had cookies and milk about
three o'clock every afternoon and then lay down on our
blankets for a nap.
I'm certain Santa, the most famous proponent
of cookies and milk, would agree.
When to Open Presents
I was always interested in comparing the
practice friends would follow versus our own tradition for
present opening, namely "When do we get to open
our Christmas presents"?
Our basic house rule on this topic was
that you could choose one gift on Christmas Eve and then the
rest would be opened in the morning after Santa visited.
"In the morning" is a key phrase
and should have been a legally defined term since we were
up before the Sun on most Christmas mornings.
So what do you do in at that time of morning
when not a creature is stirring? I believe that the rule in
our house was that we could look in our stocking and open
whatever Santa had brought as soon as we were up but other
presents had to wait until the whole family was present.
A pre-step before opening any Santa gift
was to first look at the milk and cookies that had been left
for Santa. This was of course at some point more ritual than
dependency about Santa actually having come. Nevertheless
it was always good to observe that at least a bite had been
taken out of a cookie and perhaps a swallow of milk.With that
step completed it was then time to open Santa's presents.
Christmas Music - Firestone Records
The Firestone store was just across the
street from where Dad worked in Lincoln at the Rudge &
Guenzel Building, 12th & "N".
After we bought our new Magnovox stereophonic
sound console at Montgomery Wards in 1962 Dad would annually
purchase the Firestone Christmas Carol Album at that downtown
Firestone store. These albums were 33 1/3 rpm stereo recordings
and they were in competition with the annual Christmas album
offered by Goodyear, their chief rival in tires.
We were apparently a "Firestone" house,
at least for the Christmas Carol album, and I'm sure our Magnovox
played those albums many times during the Christmas season.
Bev and Doug listening to Firestone
Christmas Carols, 1962. (Magnavox stereo and selection
of 45 rpms on the shelf)
Part of the full page Firestone
advertisement in the Lincoln Sunday Journal and Star,
November 24, 1963
(Note: This newspaper got
saved because it was part of the Journal's Sport Red
section which was headlined in red capital letters, NEXT
NU STOP... MIAMI followed by details of the Big
Red's victory over Oklahoma 29-20 to earn a berth in the Orange
A family picture in front
of the Stereo, 1962. The Christmas tree artwork made by my
Aunt Fay on the wall was decorated with some of her old jewelry.
Christmas Chocolates - Russell Stover
A Holiday wrapped box of Russell Stover
"Assorted Chocolates" was always a treat at Christmas.
From 1942 until the plant closed in 1959
Russell Stover was making hand-dipped chocolates in Lincoln,
Nebraska. I can remember Dad bringing home a box of chocolates
and wondering when it would be opened. I loved the caramels,
and the orange and vanilla creams.
We may have had chocolates before Christmas
but I know after our Christmas Eve supper a chocolate was
Which one to select was my first question,
but I'm not sure if choosing only one was a rule. I do know
that before I became confident about what was inside the chocolate
that I selected (based on the picture and 'map' provided inside
the box), there were occasions when what I selected was not
what I expected and do-overs were allowed.
Russell Stover chocolates took on additional
family significance after Bev's first summer job which was
selling Russell Stover chocolates at a Gateway Mall store.
Christmas Eve Supper
A light supper before going to church
always included Dad's homemade oyster soup.
Fresh oysters from IGA on 27th Street
or from wherever the freshest oysters could be found that
year were only purchased at Christmas.
Yum Yums (2)
(sloppy joes) or homemade chili were usually options for those
who didn't want to eat oyster soup.
A Russell Stover's chocolate and homemade
Christmas cookies were offered for desert but it wasn't until
after we got back from church that the cookie platter was
in full display. It was also then that the cookies were eaten
with our traditional Christmas lime punch.
Cookie plate 1956
In a Christmas Eve story and tribute
to his parents written for his 2008 Christmas card, Axel
gives us details of what he remembers being served on Christmas
Eve when he was growing up:
"My Mom always prepared
oyster stew, rye bread, cheese, crackers and celery sticks
along with pie for dessert."
Just before bed a plate with usually two
cookies and a glass of milk was set out for Santa's visit.
We were reminded that we didn't put too many cookies out because
Santa had so many houses to visit. Naturally, when we got
up in the morning at least one bite had been taken out of
a cookie and a little milk had been drunk which confirmed
his visit and the fact that Santa was indeed appreciative
but probably getting a bit full.
Mom had a small collection of Santa Claus
figures that she displayed during Christmas and kept in a
China cabinet the rest of the year. She wasn't really a collector
but she did have an assortment of Santas. The most noteable
thing about how she displayed the figures in the cabinet during
the year was how they were organized.
There was one shelf set aside for the
naughty Santas who smoked and had a pipe in their hand or
mouth (and also perhaps had a questionable drink or bottle
in their hand).
The grandchildren would always comment
about Grandma putting the bad Santas on their own shelf. I'm
sure there were other anti-smoking discussions with Mom and
the kids and grandkids but I think the naughty Santas on their
own shelf were her best message.
The Naughty Santas
The Address Book - Tempus Fugit
Sending out Christmas cards for most of
the 20th century had a dependency on the address book. Its
information needed to be accurate and Christmas was a great
time to review and update that book.
Years later, looking through our parent's
address book you were observing a tangible piece of history
that documents how life changes at the most basic level. Hand-written
in ink or pencil, names and addresses have been erased or
more often crossed off and replaced due to a family move,
death, divorce, births and marriages.
In the address book you can see how the
first change is relatively easy and crossed-out information
can be strategically replaced close to the original entry.
But as each entry has its own history and as it can change
multiple times then space starts becoming an issue and updated
entries start looking a little messy.
It's also is interesting how long distance
phone numbers started becoming more common entries in the
address book as phone service and technology changed.
I can remember in the 1950's a long distance
call in our house was limited to true emergencies and each
minute on the phone was carefully monitored. I can also remember
"collect calls" coming in and a decision sometimes
was required if the call should be accepted or if we'd say
"no" and then call the number back (which was cheaper
than a collect call).
Tempus Fugit is probably a better
name for an address book because in the end an address book,
like our parent's book, is a time capsule of who were the
close friends and relatives of a family and how those relationships
were literally documented and changed in the Address Book
Summary - Tis the Season
Looking back we had many family Christmastime
activities that took place each year. Some had roots from
Axel and Betty's parents. Some were initiated by Axel and
Betty. Some are now documented, and others were simply part
of the moment.
I'm sure my memories are themselves a
recipe made of nostalgia and ingredients of this and that
(also knowing that memories change through the years).
But the smell of sugar cookies and homemade
bread and cinnamon rolls coming out of the wood burning cookstove
that my Grandpa and Grandma Barr had in their kitchen and
the flannel sheets that I would sleep on when we visited them
in the winter and the fresh fir trees that we would decorate
and the music of Handel's Messiah that we would hear at the
annual concert in the Coliseum building on the University
of Nebraska campus for me are all still vivid and sensual
memories of the Holiday Season.
I was fortunate to be part of the Axel
and Betty Christmastime traditions.
As the years pass it's interesting what
one remembers and values and wants to document.
As Barbara Kingsolver, author of Animal
Dreams wrote: "It's surprising how much memory is
built around things unnoticed at the time."
For me, these are traditions that I apparently
noticed enough to remember them now.
Bev and Doug at Christmas
1959 listening to records in front of the radio/phonograph
built by Dad. Bev is holding a 45 rpm. Christmas
decorations are on top of the phonograph - the little white
country church that plugged in and lit up; the wax candles
of evergreens and reindeer and the large turquoise ornament
style candle, all of which were never lit but were displayed
for many years.
On the back of this photograph
was written by Mom "Ready for bed listening to records."
Clearly, Friends of the Phonograph
in the making.
Main Menu of Memories