Yahoo! News asked writers from the Yahoo! Contributor Network to share their personal holiday tales and traditions. Below is a story from a contributor.
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When I was about 12 years old, my mother died. She became seriously ill around Christmas time, and disappeared into a hospital by early January. On February 1, 1971, we found out she was dead, and the holiday season gradually became a nightmare. Our dad informed us of his engagement the following Christmas and my truly wicked stepmother gradually ruined what little Christmas spirit we had left.
Embracing my military family, marrying a jolly and devoted family man, having our own child, and growing with a lifetime of better times gradually healed those early wounds and brought Christmas back home for me. Long years in Germany and Italy, quiet winters in Upper Michigan, and dashing off for wartime deployments are all part of my journey and the Christmas traditions we’ve built over the years.
While my stepmother loved her cold, silver and blue artificial monstrosity in the living room, we’ve enjoyed fat evergreens (usually picked out by husband Warren and son Vincent.) One of Germany’s loveliest cities, Rothenburg o.d. Tauber, was the site of my first adult Christmas memories and set the stage for collecting handmade, unique ornaments. Our trees show the style of those Bavarian Christmas Trees (Tannenbaumen,) filled with handsome porcelain Santas, little wooden figures, as well as paper and school crafted beauties from our son Vincent.
Gramma Hagen delighted in presenting us with picture ornaments of Vincent’s school photos. Over the years, I’ve made it a point to add a new ornament so I can look at the tree and remember many special times in my life. One year, over in Italy, my old boss simply gave us her small “party tree” as we left. That little gem saved us during the years we lived in southern Italy and real Christmas trees were harder to find. According to legend, Saint Nicholas himself came from nearby Bari. We were fortunate to have the chance to live overseas during the holidays, finding unique ornaments over the years. I remember specific people and places as I place the individual pieces on the branches of our Christmas Tree back home in Michigan.
Military service members, first responders, workers in essential areas, as well as pilots and flight crews all share a tradition of working through the holidays. My first Air Force commander was Kenneth A Minihan, a true leader in the field of establishing a military family connection for overseas personnel. As a young colonel, he was tireless in personally spreading cheer to the troops and their families at our small base in southern Italy, San Vito dei Normanni Air Station. Minihan stressed the whole family unit being disconnected from their traditional homes stateside, demanding supervisors, office chiefs and junior officers work together to bring Christmas joy to their troops.
He set a personal example, spending hours on our operations floor, greeting and commiserating with the young troops working various intelligence workstations. He returned each shift, even the dreaded overnight “mids,” to lend a sympathetic ear. He never missed a flight Christmas Party, and invited us into his own home during the holidays. I swear he spent more time working as “Santa” around the community than with his own family! His command staff were equally involved, so Christmastime in Italy was quite upbeat and motivational.
In later years, I had the chance to volunteer for relief shifts at the watch center on Offutt AFB and even set up Christmas dinner “on flight” for our own detachment on the same old Italian base. I remember the grand buffet dinners we had in those early days, where married couples brought in turkeys, hams, and hot side dishes, and single airmen contributed the paper plates, napkins, drinks, and ready-made side dishes like cheese and crackers right in the operations area. Now retired, we send care packages, host single friends, and contribute something to local charity in light of that theme of bringing a bit of Christmas cheer to shift workers.
Christmas in the Community
Since retiring to St Ignace, in Upper Michigan, we’ve been lucky to enjoy Christmas in a small community setting. The season is highlighted with school programs, a community Christmas tree lighting, and countless community dinners. For about 10 years, I worked at Community Action and raced around with the special holiday meals delivered to homebound elders. One of those seniors ended up on hemo-dialysis as a result of kidney failure. I trained to run dialysis machine at Mr. Dick Hadden’s home, and remember long hours spent decorating his tree. Workers from our local market, McFarlane’s Country Corner, set up a huge evergreen at his home, called Chalet Mackinac, located at the base of the Mackinac Bridge. This 90 year old gentleman was thrilled to see all the individual ornaments he and his wife collected over the years. Another nonagenarian was without a tree, so we gave her a small one that had belonged to Warren’s grandmother. She was just thrilled and our whole family shared her delight with an old tree that had just been taking up space in the attic!
Simple Things at Home
My best memories involve my husband Warren and our son Vincent, with many happy years spent in our little cabin in the woods at Fort Algonquin in St. Ignace Township. Warren is so cheerful by nature, and has as much fun unwrapping socks as he does any large basket of bath gear or Christmas foods. When we were first married, money was tight and yet I discovered heaps of gifts under the tree. That man wraps up everything and even the Christmas socks were individually presented! Warren’s enthusiasm is contagious and we all have more fun thanks to our own family Santa! Re-gifting might be a negative thing on Seinfeld re-runs, but you don’t have to spend money to have fun.
Check out the Buy Nothing Christmas website for specific ideas for enjoying the spirit of Christmas this winter! Simply walking our puppy out in the woods, with the snow-painted firs and balsams, is enough to bring a smile. While our son spends his first Christmas away from home this year with his girlfriend’s family, Warren and I are back to where we started our marriage, 28 years ago. We’re looking forward to Vincent’s homecoming for New Years and a new tradition of belated Merry Christmas!