Before I went to school, and maybe even after in the early grades, choosing the toy to ask Santa to bring was a big deal. We usually got inspiration from the Sears Christmas catalog. I remember one year very much wanting a Thumbelina baby doll, and I did get it. There were usually not lots of toys, we might get some other nice things, but generally just the one special toy. It may be because we were not that well off, but I think it was less common to try to buy more toys in those days.Even the fabulous electric train set we got in early grade school was built up gradually over the years.
Economics also figured into maintaining the Santa myth. One year my sister and I had asked for some other kind of dolls, and we saw our mom making clothes for them before Christmas. She explained Santa was having a tough year and needed some help getting doll clothes. However, I remember one year we knew of a toy that was coming from her and not from Santa- she was making us teddy bears! She tried to not let us see them before Christmas, but Diane figured out where hers was, still unfinished, and got so excited she ran into a wall!
We did not grow out of our nosiness quickly. Packages under the tree were always picked up and shook to see what we could guess about them. One year we noticed we each had a small square box under the tree, It was after school time, we were old enough to look after ourselves, and our parents weren't home yet. We agreed to carefully unwrap them together for a sneak peek- they were they guitar straps we'd asked for! Then we even more carefully re-wrapped them so no one would know we had looked.
Christmas TV specials were important annual events to us. We never missed A Charlie Brown Christmas and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. I persisted in trying to see Rudolph every year well into adulthood because I identified with him- always felt like I didn't quite fit in. I probably started watching Miracle on 34th St as a young child too This is not just my favorite holiday movie; it's my favorite movie period. "Faith is believing when common sense tells you not to" There was no TCM or AMC then, I think I probably saw it on WGN- they showed many classic movies in those days.
In addition to sewing doll clothes and toys, my mother was into crafting ornaments. She made a whole set of clothespin people in different costumes like angels, witches and fairies. I hope those are still around somewhere.. She also made some stuffed felt ornaments with elaborate decorations; I do have a few of those.
When I was a teenager, she started making some really involved ornaments based on styrofoam balls and old Christmas cards. and showed us how, so I made some along with her and continued making them, sometimes for gifts, as a young adult. First we covered the ball with foil. Then we glued a kind of collage of small things taken from the cards, and we had to peel these from their backing so they could be glued on to the round surface. Next came the pantyhose layer! Old hose were treated with gold spray paint, then stretched over our creations and pinned in place.The pins had to be lined up so we could cover them next with a fat velvet ribbon. The ribbon was glued and also pinned, but these pins went through tiny pearl beads at regular intervals, A smaller piece of ribbon was pinned in a bow on top to make a loop to hang it. Finally gold ric rac or braid was glued on either side of the ribbon. I am trying to remember how we had time to do all this! Perhaps because we did not yet have social media or smartphones. there was more free time for crafts.
Despite her love of crafts, my mom was not that enthusiastic about actually setting up the tree. I always loved it though, and took the job over at some point. I even went in my own direction with felt one year and made a tree topper that looked like our cat, Muffin.
Muffin thoroughly enjoyed Christmas and would usually "help" decorate the tree. Besides the expected ornament bashing, he was a champion package molester. His favorite was gold elastic string that he could snap and make noise. He still had fun when we humans finally got to the official unwrapping- then he could attack the crumpled paper and sit in the boxes. There were probably more chances to beg or steal delicious food, too.
Once my dad became head of the Foreign Language Department at Hinsdale Central, we also had an annual holiday party for all the teachers in it and their guests. These were kind of posh affairs with me and Diane acting as servers of sorts. I think the guests brought all sorts of beverages, mostly alcoholic, and we did the food. A few menu items I recall were Cassoulet and Coq au Vin. I also got to assist with some incredibly putzy canapes, they involved bread cut-outs and flavored cream cheeses piped out of a tube. but I liked them well enough to make a batch of my own for a New Years party when I was old enough to be going out.
These parties were also the likely reason for my mother's numerous Buche de Noel experiments. We really did get tired of it after a while, but only a few years later, you would have found me doing the same to get Black Forest Cake just the way I wanted it!
So there are potentially 4 recipes I could edit into this post, might have to see if I can get at the Coq au Vin on the very old recipe cd my dad made.