I spent my childhood in Metairie, Louisiana, during the 1960s.  I was the youngest of three daughters, enduring seven and five years age difference between me and my sisters. Cindy being the oldest got a room of her own, and Terry & I shared a room until Cindy went to college (Ole Miss).  I got to move into her room at the ripe old age of 11!

We had an interesting mix of cultures on our street.  A family from Mexico lived to the left of us, a family from France lived to the right of us, while Texans lived across the street.  My best friends lived catty-corner, and their dad was from Honduras. Naturally, native New Orleanians supplied adhesion to the mix.  I think my parents, my best friend’s mom and one other family were the only Mississippians in the neighborhood.

Christmases back in those days were fantastically magical. Mama and Daddy took us to Canal Street where we would gaze at the animated Mr. Bingle (snowman ad campaign) in the store front window display of Maison Blanche.  One year, my sisters and I got to buy ornaments all our own to hang on the tree.  My trio of elf ornaments have been hanging on my Christmas trees ever since.

Decorating the Christmas tree was always a family affair — well, an affair for the females family members anyway.  Daddy took us with him to help pick out the tree.  He bought it, brought it home and then watched his girls decorate it.  Mama used Ivory Snow Flakes and a bit of warm water to whip up frothy “snow” in a big bowl.  We dipped our hands in the white foamy mixture and slathered the tree limbs, covering each branch until the tree looked like it belonged in a scenic wintry postcard.  Once the “snow” hardened, we could decorate with lights, ornaments and tinsel.  Yes, each year we undecorated and frugally kept each sliver of tinsel to reuse the following year! I’ve never met anyone who used Ivory Snow Flakes to “snow” their tree like we did, and now Ivory Snow Flakes are a thing of the past.  Can’t find them anywhere.

I do not remember when the tradition began, but at some point, my sisters and I each had our own special Christmas candle.  I think Cindy had a Christmas Tree, Terry had a caroler, or a Santa, and I had a candlestick.  Our traditional Christmas Eve dinner was spaghetti, only took us about 10 minutes to serve up, eat up and clean up, because afterwards, we opened gifts from friends and from each other!  Going to bed was a mite easier than most other nights, but getting to sleep was almost impossible!

I remember waking up during the night and carefully peeking at Terry’s watch.  The numbers and hands on the dial glowed in the dark. One o’clock, three thirty, four fifteen — WHEN would morning come???  Eventually, Terry’s watch would read 5:00, or 6:00, and we would bound out of the bed and head for Cindy’s room.  She always pleaded, “Wait!!! Let me get my glasses on!”  Seemed like an eternity!  Still laugh about that today!  We would light our little candles and tiptoe down the stairs.  The candlelight gave just enough light to see that presents were under the tree, but the spectacle was not completely evident until the tree lights were plugged in.  A beautiful sight!

  1. Cliff Green

    Valerie, your sentence: “Each year we undecorated and frugally kept each sliver of tinsel to reuse the following year!” was right on. So did my family. Some of that stuff lasted for years. Thanks for the memories.

  2. Frank Povah

    Christmas just doesn’t seem right this year. The last Christmas I spent in Australia the official (shade) temperature in our town was 120°F. That’s Christmas to me, but now I know how my wife felt during her first Australian Christmas.

    Our family saved wrapping paper and cards too. The cards were cut up and used as decorations next year. Me, I had a thing about Easter eggs. Mum’s best girlfriend always gave us kids the ‘expensive’ ornate eggs lavishly decorated with hard frosting and silver ‘cashews’ and I could never bring myself to eat mine. I’d keep them in a box under my bed, sometimes for months, until they became inedible anyway.

  3. Do you remember the first Christmas you were sure about Santa’s helpers but still hoped for a miracle. I jumped up as you described and ran to the Christmas Tree and when it looked the same way it did the night before I went back to bed. The Christmas magic was gone. And stayed gone untill I became one of Santa’s helpers.

  4. We, too, would frugally save each silver strand of tinsel from year to year, and no matter how carefully we rewound them on the cardboard, by the next year they would be hideously tangled. And the author didn’t tell the part about if one light went out, the whole strand would go out, and we, usually Dad, would have to replace each light until he found the one that made the strand light up again. If there were 2 lights out, it became almost impossible to get the strand to light back up. But he usually did. When Christmas lights came out that one could break and the rest of the strand would stay lit, it eased the Christmas tension immeasurably.

    We always had chili w/ spaghetti on Christmas Eve and went to bed pretty early, as my sister would wake up around 4:30 and begin pleading for me to get up. If I didn’t, she would pronounce, “You got ice skates!” … and so on, until I would jump out of bed so as not to have all my Santa surprises spoiled.

    Enjoyed this article.

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