Dear Friends: My love of the past really blossoms at Christmas! Here are my ten favorite Christmas traditions, for your reading pleasure during this most wonderful time of the year.
1. Vintage Decorations From My Childhood
I go a little nuts decorating my house for Christmas. (Just writing those words reminds me of the old song by Yogi Yorgesson, which you can hear by clicking here: I Yust Go Nuts at Christmas.)
When I was growing up on the farm in Saskatchewan, our decorations were pretty humble. We twirled streamers of red and green crepe paper together and draped them from the ceiling, fastening them in the centre with a red crepe paper bell. Our family never owned anything fancy, but we had a nativity scene, and Christmas candles shaped like elves, and a few special tree decorations — some of which I still own.
Most of the vintage tree decorations and lights are now so fragile that I display them in a silver bowl.
I also hang my bottlebrush wreath, which came from my grandparents and is probably 100 years old.
2. Vintage Decor From My Husband’s Childhood
My husband was born and raised in Berlin, although he has been a proud Canadian for decades. Years ago, one of our kids asked him: “Do they have Christmas in Germany?” He replied indignantly: “Germans INVENTED Christmas!”
Well, not quite — but we do owe the Christmas tree, the Advent calendar, and several other wonderful traditions to Germany.
One of our favorites is this old Christmas pyramid from Germany. Our children, and now our grandchildren, never tire of lighting the candles and watching the figures whirl around as the hot air from the candle flames rises. One of the angels fell off and was glued on backwards — so while everyone else is hurrying toward Bethlehem, she is in full retreat.
I also have several treasured vintage tablecloths embroidered by my German mother-in-law, Gerda Drews.
Note that the elves look suspiciously like gnomes — another iconic German symbol!
3. Vintage Handmade Christmas Decorations
I think it is fair to say that EVERYTHING made by hand is better than store-bought.
My three girls made these Christmas angels from wooden spools and scraps of fabric and yarn when they were young, and they have pride of place on the tree.
Using a 12-inch newspaper advertisement for inspiration, I cut out and sewed this life-sized Christmas angel wall hanging back in 1995 when we lived in Mexico, practically swooning with delight at the huge variety of fabrics available. Mexican women still sew, and it’s obvious by the number of fabric stores.
The darling little rocking horse shirt, worn by my grandson Jack in the top photo on this page, is another precious handmade keepsake.
I can’t take the credit for this one — it was sewn by his other grandmother and a wonderful craftswoman, Lise Niddrie, for her own son, Tom.
Here is Jack’s father Tom wearing the shirt on a visit to Santa some thirty years ago!
4. Favorite Christmas Children’s Book
Each year I bring out my collection of children’s Christmas books. Far and away our family favorite is this one, written in 1986. Every page has a tiny detachable letter, game or puzzle. If there’s a little one in your family, he or she must have a copy!
5. Favorite Christmas Movie
Every year we watch the movie White Christmas with Bing Crosby, and we never tire of it. The most famous song is, of course, “White Christmas,” but in our family we prefer the duet “Sisters,” sung by Rosemary Clooney and Vera-Ellen.
My own sister and I performed this song at a family reunion, my daughters have performed it at school talent shows, and now my granddaughters Nora and Juliet are practising the words for their turn in the spotlight! Listen to it by clicking here: Sisters.
Then for a laugh, listen to the lip-synchronized version performed by Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye here: Sisters.
6. Favorite Christmas Recipe
Jellied salads have fallen out of favour, for some strange reason, but our family loves the cool, crisp, crunchiness of my mother’s signature jellied salad.
She even included it in this cookbook which I compiled for a family reunion some years ago. (The sketch on the front cover was done by my cousin Pat Shivak, showing the old farmhouse that belonged to our grandparents George and Mary Margaret Florence, near Richard, Saskatchewan.)
And here, you lucky readers, is my mother’s recipe!
7. Favorite Relaxing Tradition
Did you ever notice that doing jigsaw puzzles is a great way to visit with friends and family? It’s fun to search for that elusive missing piece while you are catching up with people you haven’t seen for a while.
8. Favorite Christmas Eve Tradition
We are fortunate to live close to a fantastic hot pool located in nearby Radium Hot Springs. On Christmas Eve, we bundle up the kids and go for a soak in the pool. On the way home, we drive around and look at the Christmas lights. By the time we get home, the kids are drowsy and ready to hit the hay, too sleepy to wait up for Santa.
9. Favorite Personal Tradition
When I was a kid, on Christmas Day we always listened to the Queen’s message on the radio. Later we graduated to television. Now, even though I might not catch her message at the exact time it is broadcast around the world, I always take a few minutes on Christmas Day and watch her message on my computer screen. Sadly, Queen Elizabeth won’t be around much longer, and how odd it will be to hear the King’s Message instead!
10. Favorite Christmas Gift
Each year I remember how excited I was to receive my doll Rosemary back in 1958, when I was just seven years old.
I first spotted her in the front window of a grocery store in Battleford, Saskatchewan, dressed in a beautiful pink and silver ballgown. She was being offered by the store owner Bill Moore as the first prize in a Christmas draw. I begged my parents for enough money to buy a ticket, without much hope of winning.
On Christmas morning, I found Rosemary under the tree! Much later, I learned that my father had asked Mr. Moore to order an extra Rosemary doll just for me. Her earrings and her silver shoes are gone, and her ball gown is now in tatters, but I ended up acquiring a whole wardrobe for her, and played with her for many years. I still own Rosemary, and here she is.
Interestingly, many other little girls owned a Rosemary doll. In fact, they were so common back in the 1950s that they were called “Grocery Store Dolls.” I found several photos online of Rosemary in her original dress.
That doesn’t diminish the thrill that I felt when I opened that huge box (Rosemary is 30 inches tall) and discovered that Santa had answered my prayers!
Friends, that concludes my ten favorite Christmas traditions, although of course I have many others. What are your favorite Christmas traditions?
* * * * *
Christmas at Wildwood
One of the chapters in my novel Wildwood describes the first Christmas that my heroine Molly and her little daughter Bridget spend in the old farmhouse in northern Alberta, without plumbing or electricity, or any money to buy gifts. I had so much fun writing that chapter! I found this photo online, which reminds me a little bit of celebrating Christmas at Wildwood.
In the past month, I have Skyped with two book clubs who just finished reading Wildwood — one in Grand Forks, British Columbia; and another one in Los Angeles! I’m always available via Skype to visit your book club, so please keep me in mind for 2020. If you aren’t sure how it works, contact me and I will explain.
I was also interviewed by broadcaster Dennis Rimmer of Radisson, Saskatchewan, for his popular podcast titled “Talking Books and Stuff.” He has interviewed some well-known authors and entertainers. You may listen to my 30-minute interview here: Talking Books With Elinor Florence.
* * * * *
WARTIME WEDNESDAY FLASHBACK
My first Christmas blog post back in 2013 was a story told to me by my father Doug Florence when I asked him what was his best Christmas. Read his answer here: My Best Christmas: 1945.
The subject of my Christmas blog in 2014 was about the tremendous importance of mail, both to the people serving overseas and to the folks back home. Read it here: Morale Squadron Made Mail Their Mission.
Another wonderful Christmas story appeared in December 2014 after we visited Germany: Dresden Church Rose From the Ashes.
In 2015, I wrote about Christmas 1945 and how tremendously happy everyone was to get home and spend the holidays with their families at last. See some heartwarming images here: I’ll Be Home For Christmas.
In 2016, I displayed some charming wartime cards. View them here: Christmas Cards in Wartime.
* * * * *
STAR WEEKLY AT CHRISTMAS
The Star Weekly was a popular newsmagazine published by the Toronto Star. During the war, it hired illustrators to create lovely, patriotic works of art for its covers. In 1940, England was being brutally battered by German bombers. This image shows how a family, surrounded by bomb damage, is hanging a wreath in the window, determined never to surrender. To see my complete collection of covers here: Star Weekly at War.
Dear Friends, thank you for all your messages in 2019. I always love to hear from my readers — and please feel free to pass this along to friends who might also enjoy my Letters From Windermere.
In case you missed it, I’m looking forward to a very special book signing event in England in May 2020. Learn more by keeping an eye on my Events page here: Events.
Wherever in the world you are spending the holidays, I hope you have a very Merry Christmas, and the happiest of New Years!
With warmest wishes, Elinor