We grew up having 2 Christmases every year. Christmas Eve was spent with most of the Swedish side of the family and Christmas Day with the Scots. They were two very different celebrations and two very separate sets of food.
Christmas Eve was always at my Great-Aunt Dell and Uncle Winn’s house with the Swedish Great Aunts and Uncles and my Grandpa. They, when we were small,l lived up in the wilderness side of Eagle Rock in what is now just a small sign on the 134 freeway. But then it still was full of Great Horned Owls and big oaks and deer and coyote. I know until I was about 5 they still served lutefisk for dinner but when Great Grandma Hilda died it was decided that was one tradition they could do without so then it switched to Swedish Meatballs and other white foodstuffs. We had a tree both places but the presents were different too. Christmas Eve you didn’t get things off your Christmas list you got things other people thought you might like. This was sometimes successful and sometimes not so much. Uncle Winn and Aunt Dell’s gift as usually made just for us. One year my cousin and I got handmade wooden chests. I still have mine with my treasures in it. It was my first altar for a long time. Another year he had made Chinese checkerboards with agate marbles.
Some of my other aunts and uncles were more likely to get us perfume, Ick!, one year it was a box of Yardley lip glosses (It was around 1966 I think I was in 6th grade and a wild tomboy. It had a lot of white and light pink.) and other things that got promptly left somewhere.
Christmas Eve was also the cookie wars,. my Swedish aunts v my Scottish grandmother. This involved children being lured to the kitchen with the promise of cookies and then being interrogated about which one we liked best. Unluckily for us we always chose Grandma’s and then they would get pissed off but Grandma had a secret. Great Grandma never measured any of the ingredients so her daughters didn’t either and the cookies could be hit or miss. When Grandma married my Grandpa she got Great Grandma to let her follow behind her and she measured what Great Grandma put in the cookies and then she went home and tinkered with the recipes until they were perfect. She was the daughter of a professional baker, after all, and hers were always better. Once you got old enough to figure this all out you went and hid with Uncle Winn in his greenhouse and watched the gnome he said we could catch moving if we were fast enough.
The decorations were always Scandanavian, Angel Chimes, wooden Christmas trees, Blue and white Christmas plates and lots of different tole patterns and Dala horses, Jul goats etc and my aunt’s multitudinous ugly Hummel figurines.
Christmas morning after we had Christmas at our house we went to Grandma’s house. Here we had our second stocking and the one I looked forward to the most. My mom had a penchant for putting office supplies in our stockings and sometimes really weird stuff but Grandma’s were special and always had some standard must have items. The six of us cousins had stockings she had appliquéd for each of us. Mine was a red stocking with a green tree. In the toe of each stocking was a navel orange that I didn’t know was supposed to be the sun until I was a lot older. There were always nuts in the shell usually walnuts, hazelnuts (filberts) and brazil nuts. There were always some chocolate coins aka Hanukah gelt and some hard candy so we had symbols for abundance and prosperity. On top of that were special things like a watch or some piece of really nice jewelry or some surprise that fit in a stocking. Plus we usually had at least one special gift
This was also where we had turkey dinner with all the colourful food unlike the white food the night before. (There is an absolutely hysterical book called “Scandinavian Humor and other myths “ that has a whole chapter on food whiteners that had me on the floor.) Turkey and Stuffing and candied yams, mashed potatoes, pineapple pickle, sometimes green beans, homemade cranberry sauce, rolls and lots of carrots, celery and olives depending on which kid was making demands for finger food. And dessert were some of the huge amount of cookies and something light like floating island or lemon angel pie and always, my mom’s pecan pie.
I liked Christmas a lot better than Thanksgiving and not just for the loot. Thanksgiving is about the food and everybody knew I was way underweight and a picky eater so I was watched like a hawk but for some reason they didn’t watch me at Christmas. And I was more distracted by whatever book I was trying to sneak to the table and read. I can remember getting a whole mess of my favourite “How and Why” science books, field guides, faery books, drawing paper and paints and pens, brand new boxes crayons with 105 crayons that had to be organized in rainbow order before I would do anything else.
One year all I wanted was a Mattel Thing Maker which was a really hot heat source that had cast iron molds and you poured goo in and made bugs and monster heads and things. Mom had said there was no way I was getting something that messy and commercial and dangerous but Grandma and Grandpa got it for me anyway. I loved that thing and I used it until you couldn’t buy the plastic goo anymore. This led to many plastic lizards going through the wash and attacking Lego castles in my brother’s room.
For some reason Christmas Eve was intimidating for me maybe because most of my Aunts never had kids and they didn’t really know what to do with the 6 of us but Christmas Day was all ours and we knew it. I always knew I had to be on my best behavior on Christmas Eve but not on Christmas Day. Someone must have “gotten it” though because the only teddy bear I ever had growing up was Steif bear that I remember getting. Mom always insisted I was too little to remember getting it but I do. I remember riding home lying down in the backseat car bed clutching it and that had to be before my brother usurped it. So I had to be 2 or under.
The best part of Christmas Eve was the walk we always took with all the men. My Uncle’s neighborhood all did some kind of giant Christmas card and this being LA a lot of people worked in the movie industry so you got animated and elaborate cards. I still remember one of Santa being impatient and Mrs Santa trying to press Santa’s pants so he could leave. There was something magical about that walk holding Grandpa or Uncle Winn or my Dad’s hand and walking in the dark of the neighborhood on that night. Anything could have happened even Mrs Santa ironing Santa’s pants.
When we got older and most of the Great-Aunts and Uncles had passed away we started singing at the church’s Christmas Eve service which had its own kind of magic.