The Ghost of Christmas Past

One of the more famous works of fiction (novels or stories) written in English about Christmas is Charles Dicken’s A Christmas Carol. In the story, the main character (person), Ebenezer Scrooge, is taken by a ghost (the spirit of a dead person who comes back to Earth) to recall (remember) his own childhood. There are both good memories and bad memories for Scrooge, as I suppose there are for all of us when it comes to (as it relates to) recalling our days as children. Allow me to share some of mine with you as many of us prepare to celebrate Christmas this week.

Like many children, I have happy memories of Christmas as a child. Being the youngest of 11 children, I was born into a family that already had many of its own Christmas customs (practices; traditions) established by the time I arrived. As with many families, we had a Christmas tree, but since real trees were expensive to buy every year, my parents had an artificial (not real) tree. The first one I remember wasn’t even green – it was made of metal! But it didn’t matter to me or my family – Christmas was a special time of year with or without an actual tree.

We would spend time during the first week of Advent (the four weeks before Christmas) putting the tree together and decorating it. My mother made lots of ornaments (small decorations that hang on a Christmas tree) by hand (by herself, without a machine) which we put on the tree. The tree was put in the corner of our living room, and underneath (below) it, you would put the wrapped (placed in color paper) gifts you were giving to other members of the family. Since our family was so big, we actually picked names out of a hat – that is, we put everyone’s name on a piece of paper, then into a small hat, and then selected the person we would buy a gift for.  This was also how my mother chose my first name, Jeffrey, when I was born, but that’s another story (a different story I won’t tell now)!

All of my siblings (brothers and sisters) and I had a Christmas stocking (a large red and white sock with your name on it).  The stockings were hung from the stairs leading to (going up to) the second floor. On Christmas morning, Santa Claus (well, I now think it was probably my parents) would put a small gift in the stocking, in addition to a wrapped gift under the Christmas tree.

The entire house was decorated for Christmas. On the outside door hung a Christmas wreath, a round, green circle made from parts of a (real!) tree. In one of the windows, my father had a large plastic Santa Claus that had a light inside of it so you could see it at night.

Most importantly, in our dining room, there was a manger or Nativity scene.  A manger is technically a small box used to put food in for animals, but it has come to represent the place of the “first Christmas,” where Jesus, the founder of the Christian religion, was born. (Nativity comes from the Latin word natus, meaning born.) Tradition has it (it is said or thought) that Saint Francis of Assisi created the first Nativity scene back in the thirteenth century. A manger or Nativity scene usually includes small statues (objects that look like people) of Jesus’s mother, Mary, of Mary’s husband, Joseph, and of Jesus, along with some animals (see photo above for an example). Nativity scenes are now found in churches and, as was the case for my family, in many homes.  Amidst (in the middle of) all of the buying and gift giving and celebrating of Christmas, the manger scene was supposed to help my siblings and I remember what the holiday was really all about.

To those who will celebrate it this weekend, I wish you a very merry Christmas – and a happy Hanukkah to those who begin the Jewish “festival of lights” celebrations tonight.  As we enter this holiday season, I invite you to share some of your memories or current customs in celebrating this time of year.


 Photo credit: Nativity Scene, Wikipedia




This entry was posted in Life in the United States. Bookmark the permalink.

25 Responses to The Ghost of Christmas Past

  1. emiliano says:

    As a child we were living in isolated country that was Spain, the dictator had done all the possible to be so for long.
    My two sisters and me were not conscious about this situation, so Christmas was a nice happy time
    because we could eat more expensive and exquisite food.
    Food that usually we do not eat normally, so sometimes my mother asked us about which kind of
    food we liked to eat in Christmas.
    The most exquisite food we used to eat was roasted lamb that was cooked by my father as he was
    a very good cooker.
    He also made some delicious drinks that have a little amount of alcohol. These drinks was made
    in the same way the monks make sweet liqueurs.

    How my father knew how to elaborated these liqueurs? I do not really know but they were really
    good and cheaper that the real that were sold at the stores.
    Lot of sweets were also on the table, like “turron” “polvorones” “mazapán” and similar nice things
    that in Spain are eaten always in Christmas.
    This is an heritage of the muslims who were living in Spain (Al-Andalus) along hundred of years
    and now the tradition is to eat these all nice sweets at Christmas.

    The presents or gifts were given to the children the sixth day of january that was the night
    of the Three Magical Kings who went to give their presents to Jesus baby at Belen.
    In Spain this was the days of the presets when I was a child, now customs are changing and
    lot of families give the presents just the nigh of “Noche Buena” the 24th of December.

    To me the sixth of january was a magical day, we use to go to the Circus at the morning
    after receiving the gifts.

    All was magic and wonderful as it is when one is a child.


    and all of you dear friends of the BLOG.

  2. Ana D says:

    Hi Jeff and all:

    I have read your comments about Christmas. Your family is very big, I´m sure that you have had a happy childhood with all your brothers and sister during all last Christmas.
    I like this festivity because are days to meet with my family, although my family is smaller than yours.

    This is the second year that I´m living with my boyfriend. As a consecuence, next saturday (24th) I will be with my boyfriend´s family, and sunday (25th) with my family. So, I will see two differents points of view to celebrate Christmas.

    The “artificial” tree and Nativity scene always have existed in house. When I was a child, in my parent´s house and now in mine. I like to buy these kind of things.

    But I have rarely received gifts in 24th/25th (December) days. In Spain is tipical receive them 6th january with “Reyes Magos” (I don´t know very well the english expression), perhaps “magic wizards”.


  3. YONGHO CHUN says:

    Thanks for sharing your childhood and the memories of your Christmas!

    I think Christmas is one of the biggest holiday in America, and must be a big deal for every person in the state.

    However, things are different here in S.Korea. I think most of Asian countries don’t take Christmas seriously. We maybe consider it another holiday of a year.

    Nevertheless, i have always enjoyed Christmas for myself watching many Christmas theme movies such as “Home Alone”, “The Santa Clause”, “Elf”, etc.

    I would make my own christmas tree decorating it with various ornaments i would purchase from the markets, and i also would put colorful light around the tree.

    I’m not sure why i always start to feel so excited every year when Christmas comes near, but i think it’s not a bad thing at all.

    Christmas in Korea seems like a great day for many couples to spend time together; however, people like me single, we don’t appreciate the fact we have to spend that day alone at home whether we want it or not.

    Anyway, HO HO HO HO Merry Christmas Jeff and all the member of ESL POD!!!

  4. Peter says:

    Eslpod team:
    “Thanks to each and every one of you.”

    Merry Christmas

    A tad upfront, but still valid.

  5. Betty says:

    Thank you very much indeed, Jeff, for this timely article about Christmas.

    This is the first time in my life that I wanted to write something about “Christmas and me” or “my experience of Christmas” or “how I feel about Christmas”.
    This great desire to write about Christmas has never happened before until now. I am sure it is due to the magical power of which is hosted by Dr. Jeff McQuillan.

    After reading Jeff’s article above and the three articles by our three friends: emiliano, Ana D and YONGHO CHUN, I feel I am ready to write something about Christmas this Christmas.

    I was born into a family which I believe do not have a serious religion. My mother worshipped my father’s ancestors and she told people the religion for our family was Buddhism. However, she did not send any of her children to a Buddhism school. I went to a Catholic school when I was little.

    I learned everything about God and Christmas etc in school, but they had no place in my home because my parents firmly believed that their religion was Buddhism.

    I remember my school gave us a bag of sweets to take home at the end of the autumn term. They said it was a Christmas present for us. I was very happy, the school was so kind to us, I thought.

    Anyway, Catholic people are very rich people, Buddhism people are very poor people, that’s my image of people when I was little.

    My mother has passed away for many years; I do not have to feel guilty about wanting to be rich people – to appear as Catholic people – but I do not want to be part of the church at all. I feel very free to be an agnostic.

    I really, really like listening to Jeff’s talk about Christmas in the ESLPodcast 112 – Christmas, Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa dated 22 Dec 2005.

    Jeff said: Most of my in-laws observe Christmas purely as a secular holiday, with the focus on exchanging gifts, stockings, a Christmas tree, and other traditional customs. There is a lot of listening to Christmas music‚ my favorites are the carols sung by Nat King Cole ‚ and sometimes even some eggnog. My nieces and nephews enjoy the day the most, especially when they get to open the gifts under the tree from Santa Claus””.

    The above podcast is a Christmas present from Jeff to me, and to you, my friends.

    What are you going to give Jeff as a Christmas present? Will you consider becoming a member if you can afford it? Or, simply make a donation or buy a course which will be a gift to yourself as well?

    I love Christmas because we observe Christmas purely as a secular holiday.

    Thanks again, Jeff, I love Christmas Holiday!

    A Merry Christmas Holiday to you all.

  6. Myo ko ko says:

    A delightful and pleasant story of your childhood,
    In fact, there are ton of things I want to write about your post here,
    But you know?
    Thanks for sharing it with us.

  7. Dan says:


    I wanted to ask you something about the New Years’ concert.
    When they play the Radetzky march, do you clap your hands?

  8. Ferdie says:

    I never knew that my father and mother splitted until I entered elementary school. Because of this, I lived with my very kind grandmother and father, together with my elder sister and two cousins. As a kid, I always looked forward to Chrismas day. My two cousins were very kind to make sure that we always had a Chrstmas tree every Christmas. I think, in our province, it is not nice not to have at least a Christmas tree when everyone else has. Or maybe it one of the customs there. I don’t remember receiving many gifts or having a stocking on Christmas. Maybe being without our mother and father showing this kind of stuff, I did not really care. Despite this situation, I was always happy during Christmas just knowing that I was with my grandmother, grandfather, my supportive sister and two wonderful cousins. And of course, having some meals to eat on Christmas Eve and having surrounded with many extended relatives.

    Thanks, Jeff, for sharing your Christmas memories. I wish you, Lucy and the ESL team, a very merry Christmas. And to all of the people here on the blog.

  9. Hermann Lanter says:

    Dear Lucy, dear Jeff,
    ESL Podcast 749 – Getting Standard Medical Test Results = very good.
    The story is like a review article from a good medical journal.
    Finally, no panic: Jeff, you’re only 48 years old..
    I wish you a Happy and Blessed Christmas.

  10. Øyvor says:

    Hi everyone!
    Jeff..Thank you so much for sharing.. in fact I wished you would do just that=) We were 5 siblings and have so many wonderful memories about Christmas celebration, so I`m very curious about your big family, how you celebrated and now we were lucky to know a little..
    Advent and Christmas were so exiting when I was a child, in the 1950th and 60th- We didn`t have hot water indoors then, we had to carry water from a brook in buckets, what a job, to heat all the water and then fill this wooden “bathtub”, and can you imagine, we all had our Christmas bath in the same water, my dad was the last one=) We dressed up in our best clothes(which was made by my grandma) and then we walked the two kilometers to church (this was on Christmas Eve). Which was exiting too, listening to the words about the birth of Jesus and of course, singing the Christmas hymns.
    Usually it was very cold weather, but everything was fun then.. Later that evening, after having milked the cows and given them extra good food, we had our dinner, I can remember “lutefisk”(made from airdried whitefish and lye!!, I know a lot of American people know what this is, and other years we had reindeer steak.
    Then we got our Christmas gifts, they were pencils, books and other cheap things, and we loved them. Later on, we all went around the Christmas tree singing Christmas carols. Wonderful memories!
    Happy holidays to all of you! Thanks a lot for sharing your memories.

  11. emiliano says:

    sincerely I can´t say yes or not, may be sometimes I had because it is really nice to see all people doing
    that, and I have watched to the concerts for more than ……? twenty or even more years? Yes, possibly.
    It is like a tradition for me to watch the concert and have the opportunity of watching and listening
    some of the best directors and music players of the world along such a long time.

    But as I said you above may be I could clap my hands too following the instructions if I had a good disposition
    or had a good sense of music at that moment but not as sure as if I were in the concert hall, what has to
    be absolutely difficult and very very expensive.

    Next first of january I´ll be thinking in you Dan, and I am going to clap my hands too just to remember
    your question and thinking also it could be a good nice way of being happy feeling good music and
    hoping a good new year to come.

    So nice and curious question, thank you Dan please have a good new year, and if you clap hands we´ll be in mind
    contact just at that moment, the same with other friends of the Blog if they clap with us simultaneously too.

    I think it could be some how a way of being together doing the same thing all the ESL friends.

    My best, emiliano

  12. Tania says:

    “Merry Christmas! What right have you to be merry? What reason have you to be merry?
    You ‘re poor enough.”

  13. Tania says:

    “What right have you to be dismal? What reason have you to be morose?
    You ‘re rich enough.”

  14. Tania says:

    “What Christmas’ time to you but a time for paying bills without money; a time for finding yourself a year older, but not an hour richer.”

  15. Tania says:

    “My clerk, with fifteen shillings a week, and a wife and family, talking about a merry Christmas…”

  16. Marcos says:

    Hi Jeff, I laughed a lot with the last podcast (#749). Mainly the description about the DRE. You’re very funny. However, just between us (and all the podcast listeners), are you anxious to go through this exam?

    Merry Christmas

  17. Tania says:

    Hi! Maybe a book is the nicest present. Thank you for your Christmas gift: Charles Dicken’s A Christmas Carol.

  18. Tania says:

    Hi! May we sing Nat King Cole’s Christmas carols?

    “We know that Santa’s on his way
    He’s loaded lots of toys and goodies on his sleigh
    And ev’ry mother’s child is gonna spy,
    To see if reindeer know to fly.”

  19. Tania says:

    “And so I’m offering this simple phrase,
    To kids from one to ninety-two,
    Although it’s been said
    Many times, Many ways
    Merry Christmas to you.”

  20. Tania says:

    Merry Christmas to all ESLPOD team and to all our blog friends.


  21. Betty says:

    Hi Tania

    I am very happy to see that you are enjoying reading Charles Dickens’s book: A Christmas Carol.

    I have been reading it these few days and I find it quite difficult to understand Charles Dickens, might be because the English language has changed a lot from the old days. I shall continue reading it until the end of the story.

    My younger daughter was so surprised that I had not read the book before. She said it was the most famous story about Christmas. Apparently all my children said they had watched the film made from the book when they were little. They watched the film in the house and I could not remember watching it at all. What was I doing?

    Have you finished the whole book already? I think I will certainly watch the film if I have a chance next time – much easier, quicker! 😉

    Nat King Cole’s The Christmas Song is very good. Thanks for writing some of the lyrics for us.

    I am glad we both are enjoying Christmas more this year because the Christmas Gift from Jeff. Thank you again, Jeff. 🙂

    A Merry Christmas to you, Tania, enjoy every moment of it.

    Betty 🙂

  22. tania says:

    A little branch of mistletoe, a smile, a snowflake…

  23. tania says:

    The first snow this year at Christmas night…

  24. tania says:

    Hi! Dear Betty, you are so good and kind.
    Thank you and all my best wishes to you and to your family.


  25. emiliano says:

    Happy nice Christmas for you and for your family also have
    a good New Year.

    I hope that lot of your best wishes could be reality along
    the next year that is coming soon.
    It seems hard but we have to do the necessary to have
    as good moments as possible.

    My best for you dear friend.

Comments are closed.