Advent Calendar Day 16: A Collage of Christmas Memories by S.D. Gates

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A Collage of Christmas Memories by SD Gates

The Holiday season for me is a like a collage of memories, all with different traditions. When asked to write this post by my friend Solveig, I had to dig deep into the recesses of my mind uncover the memories of my Christmases past. I suspect if I had lived in the same country, surrounded by family all my life the memories would be more concrete and vivid. Instead I have flashes of scenes, things that stand out in my mind about Christmas.

My first memory of Christmas is so hazy. I was a small child in Canberra, I think, and my parents brought a pillowcase of presents into my room. I don’t remember a tree, and I can’t tell you anything else about it. I do remember another Christmas in Australia, when I lived with my grandparents in Nowra. I remember receiving a parasol for Christmas, and I remember going to the beach with my grandparents, having a picnic and displaying my brand new parasol for all the world to see. My Grandparents were experts on having picnics on the beach. My Grandmother would pack sandwiches, my favorite were cheese and watercress. They had a little stove they brought with them, for boiling water for tea. I would swim as my Grandparents sat in their fold-up chairs, reading the newspaper and relaxing. My Grandfather always wore a linen blazer and I distinctly recall it being covered in black flies on the back. The flies didn’t seem to bother them at all.

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My next memory of Christmas was when I lived in England. Again I was living with my Grandparents in Essex.   It seems most of my Mother’s family lived in Essex and so that Christmas was filled with visiting relatives. I loved that. It seemed to be a constant round of going to various relative’s houses, having tea and biscuits. Of course, my Auntie Hilda knew how to do tea right, she went all out, with crumpets and scones, and little sausage rolls and mincemeat pies lightly coated in powdered sugar. We would play charades and eat Marzipan (not one of my favorites) and pull on Christmas crackers, spending the rest of the evening wearing silly little paper hats. I remember the warmth of the fire in the fireplace made everyone’s cheeks rosy red and their smiles and laughs originated from the cheer of being with family. The one thing I recall NOT liking about Christmas in England was the Christmas pudding, topped with warm lumpy custard. It’s a texture thing.

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My next memory of Christmas was in Chicago. I fondly recall going downtown with my best friend to see the display in the Marshall Field’s windows. We lived on the South Side, in Hyde Park. We would take the train downtown, to see the displays. Marshall Field’s was known for their amazing Christmas displays with moving Santas and Snowmen, trains that ran the whole length of the windows on State Street. I remember it being so cold and blustery standing outside, the wind seemed to whistle down through the streets, off of Lake Michigan. But the beauty of the displays, with the sparkling lights and decorations seemed to protect us from the cold lake wind.

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Then things become blurry. I don’t really recall much about Christmas for quite an extended period of time, until I had my own children. The Christmas that stands out most in my mind, is my oldest son’s first Christmas. This is not a fond memory for me. He was four months old and we were living in Japan. We had managed to find the most pathetic, anemic looking Christmas tree, a real Charlie Brown Christmas tree. But my son became ill right before Christmas, and I still have the memory of him sitting in his little swing, in front of the Christmas tree. He loved the lights, the sparkling of the ornaments. But he became ill, at first it was the runny nose, which developed into a horrible cough. I took him back and forth to the Emergency Room, for three days straight over that Christmas. Each night, his breathing became more labored, and his eyes were filled with fear, he looked at me begging for help, for air. The final night, the day after Christmas, I told the Emergency Room physician, I was not leaving the Emergency Room, until my son was admitted. He was admitted with RSV, and pneumonia and spent the week in the hospital. That will be a Christmas I never forget because I really believe if I hadn’t been so forceful and adamant about him being admitted, we would have lost him.


But my oldest son has grown big and strong, as has my youngest. We have had many magic-filled Christmases with them. I think my favorite Christmas was the year I left the majority of the shopping to the very last minute. I am sure it was December 23rd when I finally decided to go tackle the malls and the lines. We were living in Georgia at the time. I made up a story about how I had to go visit Santa, and they believed me. I think they were 3 and 5 years old at the time. I was gone for at least 12 hours. When I arrived home the boys were quite curious as to why it had taken me so long just to go talk to Santa. I think I told them a story about how Santa was having labor issues with the elves. They were angry at him for working them so hard, they felt they were not being treated with fairness, and they were demanding more breaks, more leave. They had talked the reindeers into striking, refusing to fly. It was a real mess, and with only 2 days until Christmas Santa could no longer ignore the issues brewing up at the North Pole. He had left his Santa chair at the mall to fly back to the North Pole and have a talk with the elves. I told the boys we had waited patiently for Santa to return. The line had become so long, with people wanting to speak to Santa, it had trailed out of the mall courtyard into the parking lot and around the building. The thing the boys were most curious about, was whether I had actually spoken with Santa, whether or not I had told him what they wanted. I said I had and Santa had announced to the throngs of people waiting for him that the elves demands had been met, and Santa had even sprung for pizza. That turned out to be a wonderful Christmas.

Christmas time is a mellow time around our house. Now living in California, separated from our families by the thousands of miles, who live on the other side of the country, it is not a big event anymore. No more sneaking around, making up stories to explain my lengthy absences while frantically shopping for presents.   I have found, the earlier the retailers start advertising for Christmas, the less interested I become in the season. It doesn’t hold the magic, or the warmth it used to hold. It seems to be all about standing in lines on a cold Thanksgiving evening, waiting for the Black Friday sales and money, money, money. I don’t feel the same cheer I used to feel, that has all slipped away.

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We have a Christmas tree. It is a beautiful tree, but it is naked. It has not been decorated. It stands forlornly in front of the living room window. I kind of wish it was still in the forest, with potential for future growth. I apologize in my mind to the tree, for having brought it into our living room.   I keep promising myself I will decorate it, that maybe WE will decorate it, but that hasn’t happened. I need to get back the magic, the cheer, make this another special Christmas, like the ones I so fondly think back on.


Author Biography:

I was born in Australia and probably travelled around the world several times by the time I was 10 years of age. I have spent my Christmases in Australia, in England, in the United States and Japan. I now live in the Central Valley of California with my husband, my two boys, a Great Dane, a Golden Retriever and Shirley, the turtle.

I served in the United States military for 18 years. I am employed as a Pediatric Nurse Practitioner, but dream of someday being a full-time writer. I published my first book titled “From Cornflakes to Eternity” this year which my friend Solveig so kindly reviewed. I am working on my second book, with a working title, “The Gardeners of the Earth”.

19 thoughts on “Advent Calendar Day 16: A Collage of Christmas Memories by S.D. Gates

  1. Hello! We are fellow globe trotters, I think with memories from several countries and several Christmases spent in various countries. Father is not in the military service but the diplomatic service. I recognise some of the places you describe so well. Do not feel sad for the tree and go on, decorate it: it will make the magic come back! Merry Christmas 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. After reading your comment, I did actually decorate the tree a little bit. It seems happier. Found some sparkly seahorse decorations, which make me happy, and a pleasantly plump mermaid in a bathtub – we have really random decorations on our tree.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. I like your collage of memories and can relate to your feelings about this special time of the year. It’s quite something different for people who have moved often and live far from their families and homeland. Great post. Thank you again, Solveig, for this Advent calendar.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It is an odd time of year for me. I hear people speaking of their family traditions, but my Christmases have been so different and varied, I really have to sit and think about where I was. But now having children, although they are teenagers – there seems to be a bit more consistency in the holiday traditions. We do have a tradition of buying a few unusual Christmas decorations every year. Last night I found their Power Puff girl decorations from about 12 years ago, brought back memories of when they were little watching Dexter’s Laboratory and Power Puff girls on TV (they were so cute back then).

      Liked by 1 person

  3. What an amazing story! Sweet memories, and bitter-sweetness of being away from loved ones. I can relate. Although we didn’t celebrate Christmas, we had a big spring festival. I haven’t managed to create the magic and atmosphere away from my family and country of origin. Somehow, there are so many ingredients to that magic from our childhoods… It was lovely to read this post, it made me think of how I could make this festive season more special and memorable.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank-you so much. I am glad you enjoyed the post. It was really quite therapeutic to write, it made me think about all the really interesting Christmases I have had over the years and how we have gone from playing charades and eating Marzipan to blogging Christmas wishes across the world via the Internet. How things have changed. I actually have started decorating the tree, did some last night. Bought some new decorations to add to the crazy assortment we have collected over the years. Things are starting to look quite cheery around here!!!!

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  4. It’s odd, how Christmas echoes across families. We did charades as children with a bundle of relatives which disappeared until my children grew a bit and are now firmly re established as a tradition. I did a house quiz – a sort of what do you know about the home you live in – which started when they were around 7 or 8 and still continues now they are in their 20s. Indeed I think I’d better go and start planning because these days they need to be a cross between a cryptic crossword and advance level Mensa to satisfy the little darlings.

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    1. It is crazy how smart kids are these days. I see 18 month old kids whipping through their parents cell phones – knowing exactly what they are looking for. I spent a whole clinic visit with one little tyke listening to a song about fingers (some kind of weird finger people) and the song got stuck in my head for the rest of the day. Good luck on designing a challenging quiz!!!!!

      Liked by 2 people

      1. I am always impressed by how well my daughter can use an iPad or iPhone… they seem to be born with magic fingers… I try to confiscate everything all the time, but she does know how to put on youtube and play her favourite song and she’s just 22 months and a half old now…

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          1. They watch and learn. I did learn a lot of things through observing (I have clear memories of seeing things in school, but that’s worth a blogpost …)


  5. Reblogged this on S.D. Gates and commented:
    My friend Solveig very graciously asked to me to participate in her Advent Calendar posts. I had the honor of guest posting on Day 16. Thank-you Solveig, it was a wonderful skippety-skip down the lane of Christmas memories!!!!!!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I love Christmas. My parents made a huge deal of it. When I met my other half he struggled with my Christmas as it was not a major event in his house. Now twenty five years later he joins in and loves it.
    I think it’s a time of year for family, tradition and a suspension of normal living. Here in Ireland we party. A lot of people get almost two weeks off work, family travel home and old friends meet up.
    And everyone decorates their Christmas tree!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. In my family the tree gets decorated on the 23 or 24th and stays that way till epiphany. So don’t worry about starting late, you’ll enjoy it even more on Christmas that way.

    And the book written by SD Gates, “From Cornflakes to Eternity” is absolutely lovely.


  8. Our Christmas is so different to yours. I’ve spent all but 2-3 Christmases with my Dad’s family. My Dad is one of 7 and so we have big Christmases where even though you talk underwater, you still come home knowing you barely said hello to everyone. Most of my aunts have signature dishes they bring every year plus a few new things turn up. My grandparents have now passed away but the traditions live on. We also have a hot Australian Christmas where much of the family ends up in my aunt’s pool. Hope your Christmas went well and Happy New Year xx Rowena


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