My Indiana Hometown Chrtistmas Memories

CATHERINE LANIGAN

My Indiana Hometown Christmas Memories

There is something magical and nostalgic about holidays spent in small towns. Perhaps it is the fact that less time is spent in traffic and more time is spent in the kitchen or up on a ladder hanging another garland. In addition, small-towners tend to hang onto “the way it’s always been done” long enough for rituals and celebrations to become traditions. Grandmothers and mothers hand down their recipes or secrets of why their pie crusts, cakes or cookies are better than anyone else’s.

Our family created our Christmas traditions out of whole cloth because my mother’s family all lived in Florida and my father’s family didn’t “do” much for Christmas. My mother did all the decorating, except for putting up the tree, all the cooking, baking, shopping, wrapping, Christmas cards and sewing Christmas dresses and nightgowns for myself and my sister and knitting mittens for all four of us children.

When I was very young, my father did not do his shopping until very late Christmas Eve night when he would drive through snow or sleet to Chicago for the “Midnight Sales” at Marshall Fields. By the time I was eleven or twelve, I took my father shopping on the 23rd, (he would never shop any sooner) with lists in hand and we went to all our favorite stores in La Porte. I would then wrap his gifts for him and he would write out the cards.

In our home, Christmas Eve was just as big a day and night as Christmas Day. My father usually worked until the mid-afternoon, while my mother, sister, Nancy, and I made bread dough, Christmas coffee cakes and casseroles we would eat the next day. The house always smelled of butter, sugar, cinnamon and bread. There isn’t a scented candle today to take the place of those aromas.

Once my father came home, our Christmas began. We loaded up our turquoise and white Mercury station wagon with gifts, mother’s home-made cookies, several poinsettias and headed out to deliver our treasures. Because we were Catholic, in those days we went to confession in Michigan City. We visited Godparents, Aunts, Uncles and friends and dropped off our gifts to them. At each house, we were invited in to share hot chocolate and Christmas cookies. When my Uncle Dick was alive and living in La Porte, we ended our evening at his house where he had made homemade eggnog and his wife, Sara, had prepared luscious soup, bread and dessert for us.

Throughout our trip, we sang Christmas carols and drove through neighborhoods just to look at the lights. As the night wore on and the churches lit up for late night services, I always sensed a solemn mystery to Christmas Eve night, as if something special was truly about to happen. For my younger siblings, it was the anticipation in their eyes hoping they would actually see Santa in his sleigh. But my wonder at it all, was that I felt that on this night, especially, I could touch the angels. My imagination did not have to run far to envision a tiny baby being placed in a manger filled with hay, the warm breath of cows and donkeys chasing away the chill of winter. No one ever had to tell me there was no such thing as magic or a beneficent being in a red suit who brought gifts to children. I knew the truth. There were blessings all around us.

Whether we are gifted with a life in a small town or large city, we keep our traditions alive, generation after generation for the love of little Jesus. We want to remember him and his promise to us. We need to shore up our faith each time life knocks us down. No matter how tacky or silly our Christmas rituals and traditions are, we continue to imbue them with hope and love. Certainly, Jesus did when he came to earth to show us the way.

Catherine is the author of over forty published novels and non-fiction. Her newest fiction, LOVE SHADOWS, will be published in April, 2014 by Harlequin Heartwarming. The story is set in the small town of Indian Lake in Northwestern Indiana.