Christmas memories and traditions
Christmas time brings back a flood of memories of long ago special Christmas and holiday traditions for me.
For about 20 years or so one of our family traditions was a special Christmas brunch with family friends. Our families would alternate hosting duties; one year the brunch would be at our house and the following year our friends the Maiers would host. The tables were set beautifully with crystal and china, cloth napkins and silver. The brunch was always bountiful, everything was homemade, nothing was ‘diet” or “light” or “low fat,” rather there was lots of butter, cream, eggs, and bacon. I also remember authentic Italian nougat candy from our friends’ grandfather, Papa Bob’s store that specialized in imported Italian food. Unfortunately, as a child, I did not appreciate the delicious Italian treat the way I would today!
The tradition began when my parents and their friends were young and we children were small and it was too difficult to travel to distant family, so the friends became de-facto family. This tradition continued until all of the kids eventually became adults themselves and we could partake of the mimosas and have adult conversations about literature and issues revolving around politics and education. The conversations were always spirited, lively and everyone had very strong opinions. As the tradition evolved, other friends and family joined us. Eventually, lives changed, circumstances changed and people moved away.
Another tradition that seems to have disappeared is Christmas caroling. When I was in middle and high school my friends and I went caroling every year, usually on a Friday night close to Christmas. We wandered the streets of Fredonia, going house to house, usually in the vicinity of Temple Street where my grandparents lived; Central Avenue and Maple Avenue where my good friend Courtnay’s family lived; Chestnut Street, Risley Street, maybe we’d swing over to University Park and eventually we’d end up back at someone’s house to drink hot chocolate and eat Christmas cookies. Our high school band director Claretta Metzger had a tradition of taking the seniors caroling. We’d go to the band members’ houses and play and/or sing for the parents and then she invited us to her house for treats afterward.
In the 1970s and ’80s the senior class at Fredonia High School would paint the lobby windows at Christmastime. This was a tradition that I could not wait to do! Every year there were big, bright, bold Christmas pictures and messages painted all over the large windows in the entrance to the high school and as a kid I thought it was so very cool! It was a special activity that was reserved only for the seniors and was kind of a rite of passage; one of those things that you checked off your list on the way to graduation.
The last Christmas memory I want to mention is shopping! My mom and I always went Christmas shopping the day after Thanksgiving, way before it became a thing, before it became a free for all frenzy of craziness. At the Seneca Mall we always picked out a lovely dress for my grandma at L.L. Berger or Jenss and my mom would let me pick out a necklace or pin to match. We always had it gift wrapped in the store’s signature wrapping paper.
I loved having lunch at the restaurant on the second floor of Hengerer’s Department Store that overlooked the main concourse of the mall. If we shopped in Erie we would have lunch at the Tick Tock Room at Kaufmann’s Department Store that was decorated with all kinds of clocks, in homage to the giant clock outside the flagship store on Fifth Avenue in Pittsburgh. We would always go to Tiffany’s Bakery to get a loaf of cinnamon bread and gigantic chocolate chip cookies before heading home.
Locally, two places stand out in my mind for Christmas shopping: Sidey’s Department Store and Boo Rowland’s shop Luweibdeh. Sidey’s was the place to get Bonne Bell Lipsmackers in a variety of flavors like orange soda, Dr. Pepper, raspberry and banana marshmallow for my friends for gifts. My mom always took me to Sidey’s to get an outfit for the school Christmas concert when I was a kid too. One of the best jobs I ever had was in the gift-wrapping department at Sidey’s my senior year of college. I always loved wrapping Christmas gifts so this was the perfect job. There were gigantic rolls of wrapping paper hanging from the wall and I can still hear the distinct sound of the paper as we ripped it off along the metal edge of the rack to make a perfectly clean edge. The weekend before Christmas the Sideys hired carolers to sing throughout the store, roving from department to department. There was a Secret Santa gift exchange and a Christmas breakfast at the White Inn for all the employees.
Shopping at Luweibdeh was always an adventure! There were so many lovely things to look at and at Christmas time Boo would tie the most spectacular bows on gift boxes. She would also offer shoppers a small glass of sherry for Christmas cheer. What a great way to shop!