Jennifer L. Grubbs: Ghosts of Christmases past
December 23, 2008
As I prepare for my first Christmas in Craig and away from family on the Front Range, I am reminded of things that once were holiday constants.
This column is a tribute to the holiday memories that both warm my heart and haunt me; my Dickensian ghosts of Christmases past, reminding me of how wonderful previous holidays have been.
Growing up, my father always found a way to take vacations at the holidays, so more often than not, all six members of my family would load up into a sky-blue station wagon or a black-with-green-stripes Suburban and head to Denver to be with extended family. Some years, we headed to Breckenridge to be with my father’s mother, Grandma Jackie. More often, though, we wound up at Mom’s parents’ house in central Denver.
Once we got there – and it was usually after dark – we were treated to an amazing Christmas lights display at Grandma Rosie and Papa Melvin’s house. They had an 80-foot evergreen tree in their front yard, and it was always strung from top to bottom with large, multi-colored bulbs, which could be seen for many blocks. There was also a lit-up nativity scene and lights on all of the bushes and lining the house and windows. Papa would use small aluminum pie tines to line the light bulbs, making them shine even brighter.
When we went inside, we got to see all of the decorations put out by Grandma Rosie (called Grandma by us four kids). That included many music boxes, candles, figurines, hanging things and, of course, the Christmas tree.
And the house always smelled like Christmas to us, because of the aromas of cookies, candy, pies and, well, just the smell of Grandma and Papa’s house.
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Another collective happy holiday memory is all of the Nittler family Christmas parties I’ve attended through the years.
This party, which happens every Dec. 23 (it’s happening tonight, too), is a gathering of the relatives of the Nittler brothers and sisters – 13 total, at least six who lived in the Denver area and others who flew or drove in with their families just for the party), including Grandma Rosie.
During my childhood, the party usually involved 30 to 50 people, and there are still 20 to 30 who attend every year, most of them part of the third and fourth generation of this extended family.
It has been held at various Denver area homes, church halls, Knights of Columbus halls and anywhere else we could get on that night. We all brought food for a potluck, Great-Uncle Jerry and Great-Aunt Betty always brought wine in a box, plenty of cousins brought beer, and we all had a jolly good time, eating, playing games, singing, dancing and, most important, talking and catching up.
Every year, it was fun to see who was able to come and who wasn’t; which cousin had a new significant other or a new baby; and just how wide our extended family reaches.
On the years when we went up to Breckenridge, I always enjoyed seeing Grandma Jackie and her mountain home. There were big windows that we could look out of and see the tons of pine trees (so different from living on the plains in Sterling) and all of the snow (not so different from Craig). And it was so nice to see our other grandmother, whom we didn’t see nearly as often.
We usually stayed in Breckenridge for just the day, or one night, and then headed back to Grandma Rosie and Pap’s house. There was always so much left to do back down the mountain in Denver.
There was last-minute shopping, a Santa’s helper’s lap to sit on at a mall, more cookies to bake, taffy to pull and presents to wrap – and then to open – plus, games to play, midnight mass to attend, and then a big wait on Christmas Eve to fall asleep so Santa could stop at the house.
A highlight of all of this was opening our presents from one another. My family has always opened these gifts on Christmas Eve, after dinner, but before going to mass. We would sit around in the family room, with the beautifully decorated tree in the background, and someone would pass out the presents, checking the tag to see whom it was for and then piling the gifts up next to us. And with an extended family of two grandparents, my aunt’s family of four and my family of six, we always had pretty large stacks.
Then, we would excitedly tear into the paper and bows, exclaiming over the treasures inside. Some gifts were big, some were small; all were appreciated.
These are just a sampling of my special Christmas moments.
My memories – my ghosts of Christmases past – are no different from the various gifts I received over the years: all are much appreciated.
And just like in “A Christmas Carol,” these ghosts of Christmas past keep me focused on how blessed I have been to have experienced nearly three decades’ worth of Christmas memories with my family, immediate and extended.