I’ve hired my friend and huge blog supporter, SherryH, as an occasional staff writer here at BFS. ? SherryH lives near the coast of North Carolina. Her family consists of her husband, their two adult sons, and the requisite writer’s cats. In 2013, Sherry survived a brain tumor that destroyed her eyesight. She’s determined not to let that slow her down. She recently started blogging at http://www.blindnotinvisible.wordpress.com/.
Christmas when I was growing up was a time of plenty. My parents were careful with their money, but they were solidly upper-middle class. And my mom liked to make sure there was plenty to fill our stockings and the space under the Christmas tree.
When we weren’t stationed overseas, we’d make the drive from Massachusetts to Michigan to spend the holidays with family, and after my dad retired from the Army and we moved to Michigan, the family frequently drove to visit us. With my grandpa, aunts, uncles, and cousins on my dad’s side, we could easily have a crowd of twenty eating Christmas dinner, and nearly as many when we drove to my aunt’s for our celebration with my mom’s family.
There was always plenty of good food to eat, dinner, and treats to enjoy before and after, lots of soda and – for the adults – alcohol.
Even then, our celebrations had some frugal aspects. Everyone would bring dishes to pass around for dinner, and the adults drew names for the gift exchange, though kids usually got a gift from each family. We felt so grown up when we finally got to draw names with the adults!
Every year, my sister and I received a Christmas ornament from my parents, and when we grew up and left home, our ornaments, each carefully marked with our initials, went along.
Things weren’t quite as comfortable when my own kids were as young. I didn’t work for the first few years after the kids were born – daycare would have eaten up almost everything I made – and we managed to get into quite a bit of debt. We didn’t have to worry about putting Christmas on the credit cards, because for a lot of years, we didn’t have credit cards at all!
We didn’t get to enjoy most of the family celebrations, because we couldn’t afford the trip. I do remember a couple of years where we made the trip with my parents’ help, but mostly Christmas was a celebration for the four of us, like the overseas Christmases of my childhood.
Even so, I remember those past holidays as a time of joy and plenty.
Every year, my parents would send a Christmas check. When the kids were very young, we bought presents for them to unwrap, but as they got older, we each got a little bit of money from Grandma and Grandpa to spend on ourselves. Other relatives sent money too.
Some of the money was intended for a family present, and we put it to good use. For many years, part of my parent’s gift to us was our annual Sam’s Club membership. I’d renew the membership on our usual monthly trip, and pick up a couple of extras, chocolate chips and walnuts, that our monthly budget didn’t generally stretch to cover.
For many years, we made a ritual of Black Friday shopping. Wal-Mart would generally have a sale on shoes – buy one, get one free or half off. So every year, on the day after Thanksgiving, the four of us would get up late, stroll into the store, and take our time browsing the shoe aisles to find just the right pairs while frenzied shoppers rushed to and fro all around us.
We’d often make time to visit the toy aisle so the boys could spend their Christmas loot – or window shop for purchases to make after Christmas, when the toys were likely to be discounted. They’d carefully peruse every shelf, weighing the merits of each possible selection. Sometimes I think they enjoyed shopping as much as they enjoyed the toys they eventually bought!
I did a lot of shopping after Christmas too – that was when I bought wrapping paper, cards for the next year, and sometimes ornaments.
There were always good things to eat around the holidays. I did a lot of baking, both for economic reasons and because our younger son was gluten intolerant. Pumpkin pie was a favorite, either crustless or made with crumbs I’d prepared in advance.
Frequently someone MrH worked for – either a boss or a client, depending on the year – would give us a ham. If not, I’d find a good sale price on either ham or turkey for our Christmas feast.
Though we didn’t have a lot of money, we didn’t lack for Christmas traditions.
We liked to look at Christmas lights and decorations, whether on a special trip or on our way to somewhere else. There were lighted ornaments hung on all the light poles on the Atlantic Beach Causeway. The lights were all white, except that the last reindeer before you started up the bridge had a red bulb for his nose. The kids always shouted, “There’s Rudolph!” when we spotted him.
Every year we’d pay the $5 donation to walk through the Festival of Trees at the local Civic Center. The trees were sponsored by local businesses or organizations and decorated by various organizations and schools. All proceeds went to the local hospice. And for the three or four days of the Festival, various groups such as high school bands or local choral ensembles would play music or sing for the Festival-goers. It was always magical to walk slowly among the trees, admiring the different styles and themes, looking out for our ornaments when we came to one that had been decorated by the kids’ school or their 4-H group.
It was a dazzling display, well worth the price of admission.
Another year, we went to a Christmas concert put on by a local artist. Though we didn’t have a lot to spare, we managed to buy one of her tapes, and it still occupies a special slot in our collection.
Every year on the weekend before Christmas, the local Fire and Rescue Department would bring “Santa” to visit the local neighborhoods. He’d ride in on the back of a fire truck, the sirens would whir, and kids would start streaming out of their houses to congregate around the truck. Santa or one of his firefighter helpers would give each kid a paper sack with an apple, an orange, and a few pieces of candy. It was a small thing, but always a highlight of that pre-Christmas weekend.
There were occasional Christmas parties with various friends as well.
We Did Spend Money
I’m making it sound as though we didn’t spend any money, and that definitely wasn’t the case. Every year, we bought presents for the boys to find under the tree and in their stockings. We bought and made special foods and spent money to do activities we enjoyed. But by and large, we were frugal, working to get the most out of what we had.
And you know what? As I look back on those frugal Christmases past, I remember going places together, eating together, spending time together. I remember laughter and joy. I remember cookies and carols, construction paper ornaments, the cat who liked to climb up and snooze amid the branches of the Christmas tree.
I don’t remember feeling poor or deprived, but rich beyond measure.
What holiday traditions do you enjoy?