Thursday, December 24, 2020

Ghosts of Christmas Past

Best Christmas cookies? An email from Taste of Home had me clicking on the link, even if our Christmas gathering this year happened a fortnight ago.  I have a Pavlov-inspired response to cookies.

Surprisingly, when I clicked it open, nothing inspired me to hit the "print" button and further clutter my kitchen counter with maybe-I'll-try-this-later printouts. My kids should be proud of me for not falling back into the behavior that required multiple trips to the burn pit and Goodwill during a Covid cleaning frenzy.

Anyway ... then I saw another link on the bottom of the email: Vintage Christmas Pictures Through the Years:What Christmas Looked Like the Year You Were Born. (Click on the link to see 60 years worth of photos.)

Since I've been on my share of photo Christmas cards through the years, I couldn't resist.

1956 - From Vintage Christmas Photos (link above)

Even though it was a year early, I thought 1956 - with the rocking horse - looked more like my birthday year than my actual birth year. Well, maybe not quite. Our red rocking horse was wooden and bright red.

Lisa & me - Cowgirls

I wasn't the only one who rode miles on that horse. I evidently turned the reins over to my sister, Lisa, on occasion.

My actual birth year - 1957 - had this photo, a tree dripping with tinsel. Yes, there's a real tree underneath all that silver.

1957 - From Vintage Christmas Photos (link above)

But then I remembered putting tinsel on our trees at home. We were supposed to put the tinsel on, strand by stand. And when it was time to pack away the Christmas decorations for another year, we were to painstakingly remove the tinsel from the tree so it could be used the following year, too. I can't say that I'm sorry that tinsel is no longer the Gold Standard of Christmas trees.

1958 - My Aunt Merlene holding Lisa, Grandpa Neelly holding me, Grandma Neelly and my mom. (My dad must have been behind the camera.)  

1961 - me & Lisa and the tinseled tree

1963 - Lisa, Darci, Kim

I seem to remember more tinsel on our trees than these photos reveal. (It was probably all the individual placement that tricked my mind into believing the tree was covered with tinsel.)

I've been involved in Christmas photo cards for most of my life. It's a family tradition. I starred in my very first one in 1957, as a 6-month-old baby.

By the time 1958 rolled around, I was already sharing space with my sister, Lisa, on the annual missive from Bob and Janis.

Though my brother, Kent, was born in December 1966, he didn't make the Christmas card until 1967. This is the first photo card with all my siblings. I would have been 10, Lisa, 9, Darci, 6 and Kent was 1.

My parents included their children on the family Christmas card until we graduated from college. Since then, we make occasional appearances with a full-family photo, but most of the time these days, the great-grandchildren are the stars in my parents' annual letter. And this year, with Covid, my parents celebrated a little family history of another kind - a retrospective on John Deere tractors' evolution during their years of farming.

Image may contain: sky, cloud, outdoor and nature

Randy and I sent our first photo card in 1981, the year we were married.

We didn't send another photo card until 1985, the year that Jill was born. It was only natural, I suppose, that we continued the tradition with our own children.
Christmas Card Photo - Jill - 1985

We sent one with the three of us in 1986, when Jill was 15 months old. After that, I usually stayed on the other side of the camera and just included the kids. (When you're the one doing the work, you get the most votes.)

Christmas Card Photo - 1986

The first one with Brent was in 1988. Brent would have been about 7 months and Jill was 3.

Christmas Card Photo - 1988

Back when Jill and Brent were little, this annual attempt was captured on film. And you weren't sure what you'd gotten until the film was developed. I have rolls and rolls of film chronicling the misadventures of getting two little kids to look their best in the same frame. 

Here's another of our many attempts in 1988:

The move to digital photography makes the storage problem easier - though it can't help everyone look great in every frame. 

This year, we let a professional handle the front photo. (Thanks to Demiurge Photography, Manhattan, KS).

For the back of the card, Kinley's and Brooke's visits to the farm made the cut. The one with the calf was taken in February - pre-Covid. It seems so long ago. The other was taken during 2020 wheat harvest.

I know that Christmas card letters have their share of detractors. But, I love getting cards and letters from people at this time of year. Even in this electronic communication age, I send quite a few Christmas cards. It's been a way for me to keep in touch of childhood friends and college buddies, along with sending greetings to family members across the U.S. and seasoning's greetings to neighbors. It seems we've gotten a lot fewer this year. 
Today is my mom's birthday. We usually have a birthday/Christmas Eve celebration at my folks. In fact, in my 63 years, I've never done anything different on Christmas Eve.
But there are 32 of us now. We've outgrown the dining room table and expanded into a farm shed. But even then, it's probably not wise to mix multiple households together during a pandemic. 
December 24, 2019
You know, all the kids are having Zoom birthday parties this year. And, now, so is my Mom. Thanks to my brother for getting it set up.
No matter how you're celebrating this year, we wish you a Merry Christmas ... and a better New Year!

Peace on earth, good will toward all.


  1. Oh wow, those tinsel trees bring back memories. My mom was the tinsel queen. I remember stacks of the long skinny boxes of tinsel that she would by at Hall Drug store near our house in west Little Rock. It was my job to separate out all the strands and lay them on the floor. She would meticulously drape each strand starting inside near the tree trunk out to the tip of the branch. It took forever. And then as if the tree wasn’t totally hidden under tinsel, she’d spray the whole thing with canned snow. I have all her old ornaments and they’ve still got that snow on them.

    1. Yes, as I said, I'm not terribly sorry that tinsel is no longer the standard for Christmas trees. We had a few years where my Mom sprayed the tree, too. I'd kind of forgotten that! Hope you had a great Christmas!

  2. A lovely collection of memories. It was only last week that I was checking the mailbox and not a card to be found. I wondered when the tradion might finally pass away. It doesnt help that Australia post now only delivers every second day.

    1. I enjoyed getting your "card" by email. Maybe the delivery method has just changed. I did end up getting a few more before Christmas and I usually have a few trickle in afterwards.