Christmas Memories of Nutcracker and Messiah
I was talking to my sister the other night about Christmas and we spoke of our favorite Christmas memories from our childhood. She is a few years younger, but coming from a large family, we had much the same memories and feelings about those times. The hustle and bustle leading up to Christmas Eve—our family’s pinnacle of the holidays—and Christmas Eve, itself, the most magical of days and our part in getting our family ready for it. She decorated the house and I wrapped gifts, which doesn’t seem like much, but living in a large Victorian house with six kids and many aunts and uncles and grandparents, those two jobs were HUGE!
We would sit in the kitchen, Christmas Eve morning, under the supervision of one of the grandmothers, and pick out the buckshot from the pheasants Dad got from Mrs. Cogswell. Or, we would be mixing and browning the Swedish meatballs that were another family tradition or cutting up oranges and apples to stuff in the pheasants. The cookies were already baked by Momma and some of us weeks ago.
My most clear memories concerned the music and dance that filled our house and family. Momma, a beautiful coloratura soprano, always had a Messiah to sing. She began to practice the “Rejoice” runs sometime in October to brush up and get them in her voice. She often would practice other Christmas music she was engaged to sing as well, and at certain times of the day, our house was filled with the sounds of her practicing. One of our little brothers, who had to have been about two at the time, followed her around when she practiced. He would pick out the melody lines of music she had practiced on the piano—after he begged to be put on the piano bench because he was, after all, only two.
Daddy always had a Nutcracker do, and was usually hired by Mrs. Cogswell in Park Ridge. His rehearsals in my memories began sometime in September. He taught his choreography and performed it, it is my recollection, and was often the Nutcracker Prince, never Drosslemyer I think, but always, always, always danced the Trepak divertimento. He had the most soft and beautiful leather dancing boots for the Trepak and I loved to look at them. One year, when I was about 15, I was given such a great responsibility; I felt the fate of the whole Nutcracker rested on my shoulders. I was studying ballet, myself, at the Stone and Camryn School of Ballet and was going downtown 5 and 6 times a week. Daddy needed his dancing boots resoled and there was only one place in the whole city which could do what needed to be done—Capezios in the Stevens building. Since I was going downtown so often, it was decided I would bring them to the dancing shoe cobbler. The boots were put in a shopping bag and I stuffed the bag in my dance bag. I breathed such a sigh of relief when I handed them to the cobbler and he said something about Charles Grass’s boots….I didn’t even have to tell him whose they were or what I needed!
Our Christmas Eve celebrations tended to be early……..dinner at four or five with birthday cake for our youngest, baby brother. Our big gifts were*dropped off* by Santa while we were eating and depending on the year and the ages of the children, we opened presents or some years we opened the gifts from our grandparents on Christmas morning. Those of us involved in choirs—Momma, another sister and I—would head off to church to sing the late service. When we got home, there would be our family’s holiday punch, cookies and Daddy and whoever could keep their eyes open, watching Alistair Sims version of “A Christmas Carol” on television. And I can still hear all of us, together, call out, “God Bless Us, Everyone!”