A 30 Year Tradition — A Lifetime Of Memories

This year marks the 30th year that I have been building my Christmas decoration collection.  In December 1984 after my 16th birthday, my grandparents picked me up the morning after Christmas to head out to the after-Christmas sales.  My grandparents had been building their Christmas decoration collection since the mid-1940’s when they were married, and every year took advantage of the deep discounts the day after Christmas.  Thanksgiving was always my most favorite holiday because this was the day when my grandmother would first turn on her Christmas lights, inside and out.  It was a wonder to behold.  For weeks prior to Thanksgiving my grandparents worked night and day to make everything perfect. Their home was transformed into a winter wonderland, unlike anything anyone who came to visit had ever seen.  As a child, this was magical; as an adult, it has become my passion.

My mother, who grew up in this wondrous world of Christmas, never caught the decorating bug as her parents had. She put up a few decorations and a tree, but beyond that, the magic remained with my grandparent’s.  When I was in my early teens, my grandparent’s obsession spread to me and I began pulling out any decorations I could find that my mother had gotten from her mother and decorate our basement where I spent much of my time.  It was my own little Christmas that I could enjoy every day.

When I turned 16 and had a job (a source of income) I finally decided I wanted to begin building my very own collection of decorations that I could some day use in my own home.  I shared this with my grandmother, and she was elated.  We made plans to head out together the day after Christmas.

It was a bitter, cold December 26th, with snow falling fiercely.  At 4:30 in the morning my grandparents picked me up and we drove to their favorite Christmas store to wait for it to open at 9:00 a.m.  My grandmother had hot coco and cookies for us while we waited and being that it was so cold and snowy, we took turns waiting in line outside as more and more cars full of people made their way on the treacherous roads to be among the first in the store when it opened.

As we waited, we made our plan of attack.  My grandmother had several things that she just had to have and knew right where they were in the store, so she was going to head to that area first.  There were several things I wanted, one of which was a large nativity.  The original price on this piece was $300.  With the 50% discount it would be only $150.  I’d been saving for this for weeks.  My grandmother gave the job of securing that to my grandfather.  She told him to go immediately to the nativity, and tell the owner he wanted it packed for purchase.

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The other items I wanted were near where my grandmother was going to be going, so she told me to stick close to her and she’d make sure I got there quickly and got exactly what I wanted.

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It was all so exciting.  The anticipation, the thrill, and especially sharing this experience and time with my grandparents.

At 8:30, there were so many people huddled by the door regardless of the snow whipping around, that we all got out of the car and stood in the cold.  Funny how it didn’t seem to feel cold at all.  The three of us huddled together in a circle and we jumped up and down to keep ourselves warm.

The minute the clock struck 9:00 the owner of the store opened the door and greeted my grandparents.  They spent many a day in the store prior to Christmas, buying “must have” things, making of list of things that would have to wait till after Christmas, and many times just stopping by to chit-chat with the staff.  Over the years they had established a friendship with the owners and even had them over to their home to show off their Christmas display.  This particular morning however, the chit-chat was kept to a minimum, as we had a mission.

My grandfather held the door for us as we rushed into the warm store and that was the last I saw of him until much later.  My grandmother took my hand and guided me to a tree where two of the items I wanted were hung.  I’m not really sure when my grandmother began her collection of Annalee’s, but 1984 is the year I started mine.  I bought two pieces that year and have added to my collection nearly every year since.  The two pieces I bought that first year were both boy dolls, one on a sled and the second much smaller piece of a boy holding a snowball.

My grandmother was in the same corner as I, picking up the things she wanted.  Once we had everything that we’d come for safely in our hands, it was time to shop.  Although there were “must have” items that we’d come for, having already secured those, we then had time to just walk around and pick up little things here and there that we hadn’t known we really wanted.

It was nearly an hour before we met up with my grandfather, who had safely boxed up my nativity and bought one very special item for their Annalee collection.  Hanging in the store all through the holidays was a huge 10-piece set of Annalee’s — a Santa in his sleigh with eight reindeer. I actually did not get to see it until the following year when they suspended it from their kitchen ceiling, but it was and is a definite show stopper.

We lost my grandmother in 1999.  With her died the portion of my grandfather’s heart for decorating.  He tried for a year or two without her, but without his lifelong partner to share in the joy of decorating and age making it more difficult and dangerous to get on the ladder to hang much of their collection, he realized it was time to pass the torch.  My grandparents had decided many years prior to my grandmother’s death that they wanted to pass their collection down to me.  Even before that fateful day in 1999, my grandmother had been gifting me with special pieces from her collection each year.  I was so happy that she could part with them.  She told me this way she would be able to see me enjoy them.

In December of 2002, 16 years after purchasing my first Annalee, my grandfather called me over to his house and told me it was time to pass on my grandmother and his most prized Annalee — the Santa, sled and 8 reindeer.  Many tears were shed that day.  Some for the loss we were both still trying to come to terms with and some for the joy I felt in being given such a special gift, a gift that I cherish to this day.

For 12 years now this Annalee has been proudly displayed in our great room.  I’d love to be able to suspend it from the ceiling as my grandparent’s had, but alas, Hubby wasn’t as stoked by the idea.  In fact, dare I say he’s forbidden me from suspending this from the ceiling fans.  Oh well, I doubt the fans would have been able to hold the weight of the 30 pound sled.  Still, on top of the stereo cabinet, it is quite a show stopper.

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So begins the holiday season, so begins another season of finding special pieces to add to my collection, so continues the tradition of decorating unlike most have ever seen.  Although I’ve been absent for several weeks, it has been with good reason — I’ve been decorating.  It takes more than a month to get my home ready for the holidays and with a deadline date set for Thanksgiving, my time has been spoken for.  Much of the main decorating is done, but now all the new additions and changes need tweaking.

My posts for the next month will no doubt consist of sharing traditions, recipes, and decorating ideas that I have been working on for 30 years and have been part of our family my entire life.  The holidays for me are a time to embrace what many have come to find over commercialized and tedious.  The holidays are what you make them.  If people allow the hustle and bustle of outside factors ruin the spirit of the season, they have no one to blame but themselves.  See the forest and the trees, it’s the combination of it all that makes this time of year so wonderful, and for this I am — Simply Grateful.

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