We were an extended family living with my grandparents in their large farmhouse until I was four-years-old. The large farm got to be too much for my grandfather to handle, so he decided to sell it. He sold it very quickly to an Amish family, and we had to move out before the new house could be built.
We were living in the basement of our soon to be built new home. Our basement consisted of four large rooms. There was a large eat-in kitchen, a large living room with a fireplace (our future game room), a large bedroom with a sink, medicine cabinet, and claw foot tub. The smaller bedroom was for my grandparents' use. Until our upstairs bathroom was built, we used an outhouse (that's another story).
It was Christmas Eve day, and there was a bustle of activity in our little abode. My mother managed to put up and decorate a large Christmas tree in the living room, along with candles in the windows and a wreath on the door. My grandmother was busy preparing the traditional Christmas Eve supper. My grandparents emigrated from Austria-Hungary and carried on the Old World traditions. It was a tradition to have a meatless meal on Christmas Eve, so our meal always consisted of homemade mushroom soup (we gathered the mushrooms from the nearby fields), fish (my father caught the fish), and bobalky. Bobalky are small round balls of baked dough tossed with poppy seeds or sauerkraut. My brothers and I hated bobalky because we thought it tasted like soggy bread, but we were encouraged to eat at least one. To this day we won't eat bread pudding.
As we gathered around the large oak table in the kitchen, my grandmother proceeded to bless the food. Then she broke the oplatky in large pieces and passed them around with honey for a spread. Oplatky is a thin wafer embossed with nativity scenes and blessed by our priest (the thin wafer is similar to the texture of the host received at communion in the Catholic Church).
It was also a custom to have a bit of straw on the table as a reminder of the nativity. After our meal was finished, the dishes would be washed without soap. The dishwater was then taken to the barn for the cows and horses to drink on this special occasion.
After supper, my brothers and I began to anxiously await the arrival of Santa Claus. We were excited and also scared because this was a first for us, and we didn't know what to expect. Finally we heard jingle bells outside, and Santa appeared in the window with a large white canvas sack over his shoulder. When Santa was ushered into our house, we screamed and ran to hide behind furniture. Santa was given a seat of honor in the middle of the living room and began handing out presents. We had to be pushed to go to Santa when he called each of us by name to receive our presents. It was a scary ordeal, and we were glad when Santa finally left.
My brothers and I stayed home with my grandparents while my parents went to midnight mass. We were very content, as my brothers played with their Lincoln logs and I played with my Bonnie braids doll (Bonnie braids was the baby daughter of Dick Tracy and his wife, Tess Truhart, from the comics). She was a rubber doll with movable arms and legs and had blond hair with little braids sticking out of the top of her head.
There were two or three more visits form Santa until we became suspicious of who our Santa really was. The watch and shoes looked familiar, and the voice was getting hard to disguise.
Around the holidays I often think back to the warmth and excitement of Santa's first visit in our basement abode, and I miss with sadness the family that is no longer with us. I miss my father and uncles who played Santa, my grandparents whose traditions I will always remember, my loving mother busily decorating the house, and my dear aunt who lived next door and was my second mother.