I participate in the Living History program at our High Desert Museum, playing a schoolteacher from 1885. At Christmas, I often share two of my favorite stories from The Santa Claus Book, which I had as a child. The first is a fun story called “Granny Glittens and her Amazing Mittens” that tells of an old lady who knits mittens with colorful pictures. Just before Christmas, she can only get white yarn, so she dyes it with candy to knit the mittens with pictures for the children, who find they are also good enough to eat! I bring jars of all the candies mentioned in the story: red peppermints, black licorice, green wintergreen, yellow lemon drops, and brown chocolate—they love it! The second story, “Susie’s Christmas Star,” to me, contains the true meaning of Christmas—that to give is better than to receive.
Some years, I wear my Swedish costume from my grandmother’s province of Bohuslän and tell the story of The Tomten by Astrid Lindgren. I talk about the Lucia celebration and a Swedish Christmas and bring my small tree laden with Swedish ornaments; my old brass angel chimes from my grandmother, lovingly polished; and a big plate of spritz cookies to share. Storytelling has always been a part of our family life, but especially at Christmas.
I love decorating for the Christmas holidays. This past year, I decided to go rummaging through my old decorations. I was on the hunt to find the delicate crystal ornaments I’d collected twenty-five years ago. Feeling confident that my boys were old enough to handle breakables, I scoured container after container until I found them all. But it was a small green container that I opened that stopped me in my tracks—inside was a brown cardboard box. It was the kind of box you ship to someone, nothing fancy. But it was who it was addressed to that caught my breath: Dorothy McBrine, my Grammie, who had passed away in 1999. Inside the box was a Christmas gift she had given me in 1994. However, it wasn’t the gift inside that made me pause; it was the box itself—old and tattered and addressed to her. I imagined her waiting for the box to arrive, her carefully opening it and inspecting the contents, then, when she was satisfied, sealing the box back up and covering it in wrapping paper to give to me on Christmas.
That simple box flooded me with memories of my late grandmother. I remembered how she loved poinsettias at Christmas and would care for them, their red vibrant colors so lush and full. She had them every year. I then decided to go to the store and bought the most beautiful, vibrant poinsettia I could find and placed it in that old cardboard box, where it remained the entire holiday season. This helped me to celebrate and remember the best part of Christmas. It felt as though she was sharing the season with me.