Holidays often challenge blended families. My divorced parents worked it out by having two Christmases for my brother and me. One with my mother and stepfather at home on December 25th, and the other, which we called “Little Christmas,” with my father, stepmother, and paternal grandparents.
My beloved grandmother Mari made sure my brother and I felt adored. She prepared an extra Christmas meal just for us with my cousins. The highlight of the tradition was the money tree. Mari hid coins of different values in tin-foil ornaments. The luckiest kid found the quarter. Now I laugh at the message of Mari’s tradition—you mean money does grow on trees?
When I was a child, we had a World Book Encyclopedia. World Book sent out an annual Christmas package that included a book about how Christmas was celebrated in a different country, recipe cards with traditional cookies from that country and an ornament. I would sit by the Christmas tree and read those books over and over. I kept the recipe card from Christmas in Austria (1982) and still make the Lebkuchen (gingerbread cookies) every year without fail. It reminds me of how much I loved reading as a child.
Growing up in Pennsylvania, I knew that Santa Claus stopped in Florida first. Every Christmas morning, tucked deep in the toe of each of our stockings was a big, beautiful orange. The fragrance filled the room as my brother and sisters and I sat next to the crackling fireplace and peeled them open. I knew nobody could get oranges where I lived during winter. So I had Santa all figured out. He got them in Florida first! Santa still hides an orange in our stockings each year. It’s a tradition that we continue with our own children and grandchildren.
When I was growing up, sometimes the snow held off until after the weather got really, really cold. This was black ice season, and the best skating ever. We had a little pond in our back yard. On holiday nights, we put sand in the bottom of paper lunch bags and lit candles inside. We put the lanterns all around the edge of the pond, and built a bonfire nearby. We skated under the stars until our toes were cold and painful, and then warmed up by the fire with cups of cocoa, while the grownups drank something mysterious. And, of course, we toasted marshmallows.
The most unique holiday tradition in my beautiful seaside city (Portland, ME) is the Lobster Trap Christmas Tree. The tree stands over twenty feet tall, made from seventy-six real working lobster traps. The thing reeks of brine, salt water, and dead fish. (Now this is Super Schnoz’s kind of tree!)
The Lobster Trap Christmas Tree is a tradition in many Maine communities, from the tiniest island village to the big (by Maine standards) city of Portland. If you find yourself in Maine during the holiday season, take a good whiff and follow your nose to see this unique Maine holiday tradition!