Of Christmases Past

Sara Etgen-Baker

© Copyright 2023 by Sara Etgen-Baker
Dave amd Sara at tje Christmas tree.
                                           Dave amd Sara at tje Christmas tree.

It gradually turned chilly between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Although Frosty the Snowman rarely visited our part of Texas, his pal, Jack Frost, surely did. He wafted his way through the drafty house, chased by welcome bursts of heat from the floor furnace—a square metal floor grate that funneled heat from the living room to the rest of the house. Mom and dad called it the ‘register.’ When those chilly days arrived, my brothers and I hustled towards it wrapped in the welcome arms of warmth stretching from the ‘register.’

The holiday season, those frosty weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas, were filled with a host of memorable sights and sounds: smelling the aroma of Mother’s baking emanating from her tiny kitchen; drinking creamy hot cocoa with marshmallows; eating Mother’s gooey cinnamon rolls and savoring the taste; bundling up in my coat before slipping my hands into my white fur hand muff and walking to the downtown square where Santa always appeared; and inhaling the sweet pine smell of our Christmas tree, to name just a few.

No matter how many years we celebrated, the holiday season was always as fresh and new as the scent radiating from the tree that stood in the corner of our living room. The royally dressed fir beamed like a high school senior just crowned Homecoming Queen. Her dress, a basic forest green, shone with multi-colored jewels and ribbons of tinsel. In her hair, she wore a whispering angel tiara. At her feet, were six ladies-in-waiting, poinsettias dressed in bright red velvet. Here and there in a protected pocket of her branches hung precious ornaments, vintage glass ornaments from my grandparent’s attic. In the quiet of holiday evenings, I often stood before her, enchanted by her royal presence, intoxicated by the swirl of her perfume.

During the holiday season, Mother made what I called ‘her cakes without icing.’ I perched on a stool watching her as she blended together a heavy batter filled with chopped figs, walnuts, pecans, dates, and colorful candied fruit. I listened to Christmas music and patiently waited—the smell of nutmeg, cinnamon, and dark molasses wafting through the air. Three hours later, the fruitcakes emerged from the oven only to be doused with peach brandy, wrapped in cheesecloth, and then stored for consumption weeks later.

During those weeks, I pestered Mother. “Are they done yet?”

No, not yet. Be patient. Homemade fruitcake needs to ripen before it can be eaten. It gets better with age.”

Christmas Eve we delved into our Christmas stockings, plump as Santa himself, with candy canes peeking over the edges. Fudge, cookies, the traditional Christmas orange, tiny trinkets, and surprises spilled out until at the very toe was a special treat—a sparkling silver dollar. Before going to bed, we were each given another treat—a single slice of Mother’s ripened, brandy-soaked fruitcake topped with a generous dollop of thick whipped cream. I always ate my slice slowly, letting the flavors linger in my mouth secretly wishing the holidays would last forever.

Christmas morning my eyes opened to the sound of Mother flipping pancakes on the griddle. Everyone assembled at the table and devoured those pancakes covering them in hot sticky syrup and slathering them in butter. The house was filled with merriment, talking, and laughing. Once our bellies were full, we rushed into the living room and let the wrapping paper fly. We made weak attempts to wait and watch while other family members opened their presents, but as the time passed we lost our self-control.

Here’s another one for you,” Mother said on Christmas morning, handing me a package. I looked at it, baffled. Having spent so much time examining the presents underneath the tree, I recognized this one. But it hadn’t been mine. It was Mother’s. A new label had been put on it, with my name written in Mother’s handwriting.

Open it! Let’s see what it is!” Mother exclaimed, a joyful look crossing her face---a look I really didn’t understand.

I ripped off the paper revealing a set of hot hair rollers. I was flabbergasted; for in my 12-year-old world, receiving far outweighed giving. Mother’s selfless act was simply incomprehensible to me. Tears filled my eyes as I recognized how much Mother must love me to give up her Christmas so I could have another present.

Although I remember many of my childhood Christmases, I fondly remember that particular Christmas because it had a tremendous impact on me. I understood for the first time that Mother wasn’t ‘giving up her Christmas.’ Rather, she found greater joy in giving. In so doing, she taught me that giving is truly better than receiving. The true magic of Christmas is in the giving

Contact Sara

(Unless you type the author's name
in the subject line of the message
we won't know where to send it.)

Sara's story list and biography

Book Case

Home Page

The Preservation Foundation, Inc., A Nonprofit Book Publisher