Discover Vintage America - DECEMBER 2019

Thinking back on family holiday traditions

As the holiday season is here, I have spent a great deal of time reminiscing about Christmases that have gone by. This is probably due in large part to the upcoming 10-year anniversary of the passing of my Mom and the fact that my Daddy is aging and my grandchild moved to Chicago for her freshman year of college.

Like most families, our holiday season has quite a few traditions. Some we practice still and a few have been retired for one reason or another. Starting on Thanksgiving morning we start work on a 1,000-piece jigsaw puzzle which is supposed to be completed on New Year’s Day.

The day after Thanksgiving the house was transformed into a Christmas wonderland. There were so many lights on the outside of the house that I am certain it could be seen from space. Wreaths were on every door and there was so much tinsel on the live tree I don't know how it stood up to the weight. One of my uncles would put lights up on my Granny's house but she saved the tree decorating until we arrived.

Christmas has always been a HUGE celebration as far back as I can remember. I was the only child in the family for five years and Christmas revolved around me. We would go to my Granny's little house in Gladewater, TX. As Christmas Eve approached, more relatives would arrive. To this day I don't know where everyone slept because my spot was secure, I always slept with Granny.

Gladewater now boasts as having the most antique shops of any town in East Texas and is well worth a visit.

Beef stew with cornbread has always been the Christmas Eve meal. A double batch of cornbread is made because in the South, we eat cornbread dressing. After supper comes the opening of the Christmas Eve present, new pajamas. I still send my youngest a Christmas Eve present. 

One thing that I could always count on from Santa was a “box doll,” this is a doll that sits on the shelf in her box. My mom continued this tradition with me to the day she passed. The odd thing is it was the Baby First Step doll, Tubsy doll and other popular dolls from the 1960s that are desirable in today's market. One of my aunts was a children's clothing and toy buyer for a major department store in Dallas. I had every Barbie doll, every “friend” ever produced and almost every piece of clothing. I certainly wish that I still had that lot of toys.

The Elf on the Shelf is now a popular tradition but it was also popular back when I was young. We were told that elf had communication with Santa and let him know how we were behaving. That damn elf changed rooms every night and I found him to be pretty scary. I upheld this tradition until my youngest was about 3 and got to where she couldn't sleep at night because the elf was wandering around. She wasn't a fan of the tooth fairy either. My sister-in-law has taken the  Elf on the Shelf idea and has run with it. She posts daily pictures of the antics of “Hermie” the elf.

My Granny was Catholic so we also celebrated Epiphany which is 12 days after Christmas and in our family small gifts were given leading up to Epiphany. On the 12th day we consumed another large meal and the tree was taken down. My daddy's family is from Louisiana and on the 12th day, aka King's Day, the Christmas tree was decorated with purple, green and gold ornaments, it became a Mardi Gras tree. On the Friday before Lent a big party was held which included a “King Cake.” King cakes are easy to make but there is a bakery in Lafayette, LA that makes delicious King cakes and offers mail order.

When I was about eight years old we moved to Mexico City. One of my favorite cultural traditions is the “Posada Navideña,” which recall events leading up to the Nativity of Jesus. Posada is the Mexican word for inn. The area we lived in was primarily ex-pats from all over the world and a small village was behind our house. Every year the village would do a Posada complete with a burro. The mayor of the village would decide who was going to portray Mary and ride the burro. I campaigned for that position because I was the only girl with real cowboy boots but a friend of mine with long blond hair, who was terrified of the burro, got the part of Mary. If you care to read more about a Posada here is a page - The last Christmas we spent down there I finally got to play the role of Mary, boots and all. This is a tradition that mom refused to integrate into our holiday season once we moved back to the US.

We moved to Singapore when I was 13 and due to the large ex-pat community the only new Christmas tradition we were introduced to were the English “crackers.” Long, hollow cylinders that when the ends are pulled they make a snapping noise and all types of treasures fly out. There is also the paper crown, which under our tradition, must be worn throughout the meal.

When we all moved to Kansas, mom began buying the Department 56 village. I don't recall the series that she has, (which is now up for sale), but special tables had to be made to display the entire village and accessories which wrapped around her living room. When my youngest daughter got older the village became something that the two of them assembled together. My daughter would spend the weekend at my parent's home and mom and Mary would get the village set up. When I still had my storefront, mom wanted to sell some of the buildings so we set up the village at the store. My daughter took the day off of work because she didn't think that we would do the village justice.

The moral to this little tale is no matter what you celebrate or the traditions you have, in the end it is all about family and loved ones. Memories can be made sitting around a table playing poker as long as you are with the people who are near and dear to your heart.

Merry  Christmas and Happy New Year! See you next year.

Michelle Staley is a Lenexa, KS-based dealer and researcher with 35 years of experience in the antique trade. Send questions with photos to Michelle to Please keep queries to one question; questions without photos of the item may not be answered. Michelle is also available for consulting and extensive research work beyond this column. If you would like an appraisal on an antique or collectible please go to for a one-on-one appraisal.