The ghosts of Christmas past.

December 13, 2012 § 7 Comments

As a child, I greeted each Christmas season with held breath, waiting, not for the gifts, but for a feeling. I could almost always pinpoint the moment when the ineffable tide of Christmas washed over me.

ake_jelving-christmas_in_swedenThe rituals we enacted were part of what made that feeling come.

Cookies in the apothecary jar.

Mildred’s pound cake.

The annual playing of  a scratchy LP, “Christmas in Sweden.”

No one but my father spoke any Swedish, and his grasp of the language was buried under the drift of years since Swedish was spoken at home.

It seemed that every song on the record contained these words, “Yoopa yoopa yoopa, yoopa yoopa yoopa!” Occasionally thrown in were words like,”Fura luska loota lisa!”

Each Swedish syllable contained an implied exclamation point. Although we had no clue what we were singing, we sang along joyously!!!

My family had an oddly assorted collection of holiday traditions. Anything done once on this propitious holiday had to be done every year. There is no other explanation for listening to Cyril Ritchard reading “Alice in Wonderland” while decorating the tree (followed, of course, by the “Yoopa, yoopa!” record).

Christmas was a high-stress time for my mother. She had a Catholic sense of guilt that ran deep, and if anyone was disappointed with their gifts, she accepted full responsibility for their ruined Christmas. My mother was the architect of Christmas in our house, the rest of us just hung the tinsel.

Far from those glittering Christmases, what I remember now is not the fourteen foot tree (our rather modest suburban house had a cathedral ceiling), or the candy cane cookies (my Dad’s’ could be picked out because they stubbornly hooked to the right), or the heap of presents my mother had worried over, or the pot of glogg warming on the stove, waiting for the sprinkle of sugar and the subsequent match that would make it burst into holiday flame.

Our pound cake recipe in my mother's handwriting.

Our pound cake recipe in my mother’s handwriting.

The feeling of Christmas came from everyone being together in a warm house at a cold (and if we were lucky) snowy time of year, when my father did not disappear into his job as a chemical engineer, and we kids did not go to school or need to be driven by our mother to “extracurricular activities.”

Our only job was to be together and eat, and enact traditions particular to our family.

My parent’s generation with its great cooks and determined upholders of our traditions has all but passed. We, the survivors have fallen into a casual relationship with Christmas—no presents, please. Even the tree is optional.

But Ray and I have a grandson now. This is the first Christmas he will remember. Time to unpack the family ornaments, bake the cookies, listen to “Alice” and toss around the exclamation points.

Yoopa! Yoopa! Yoopa!

Note: To make our family’s pound cake with lots of side comments, click here

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§ 7 Responses to The ghosts of Christmas past.

  • Do not for forget to bumparella.


  • Chritsmas Traditions at the Summers’ house:

    Teachers’ Bags containing homemade stuff: Norwegian Sugar Cookies (with milk instead of brandy – we’re Baptists, don’t you know, and no, we’re not Norwegian!); Frappe (sort of like divinity, but chocolate with pecans); pinwheel cookies with dates and pecans for filling.

    For friends: Dad’s fruit cake (we had to cut up all the candied fruit!), and Mom’s kolaches (Czechoslovakian sweet roll, sort of like Danish – and no, we’re neither Czechoslovakian nor Danish!)

    Christmas Eve – Church, then home to put up our stockings and listen to Dad read “A Christmas Carol” by Dickens.

    Christmas morning – presents then kolaches for breakfast (as we got older we did the kolaches first), then off to Grandmother’s house: Grandmother Hilger’s (Maternal) on the Odd year, and Grandmother Summers’ (paternal) for Even years. Which ever didn’t get us for Christmas Day, got us the following Sunday!

    Now we watch “A Christmas Carol” – ALL VERSIONS (a marathon, if you will), but that’s not quite the same!

    I think I’ll make kolaches this year. I can taste them just typing the word!

    Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!



  • craig reeder says:

    wow, did that take me back. one christmas our parents gave us a baby rabbit and on christmas morning it had peed on all the other presents. have no idea what happened to that rabbit. excuse me now, gotta go check Youtube for the “yoopa yoopa song.”


  • I think we should add the yoopa yoopa song to the Hot Tamale repertoire.


  • Gerald Dowling says:

    Thanks for the spark. I needed a spark. Usually the Christmas
    Spirit lights on me sooner in December, but dragging its feet this year. May be watching some Christmas Specials will help. I’ll get there. Merry Christmas to all and have a nice night. Play with the grand children even if you are too young to have them. Eat more ice-cream, suck on more pop, and drink more Dr. Pepper


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