As long as I can remember, my grandmother and mom took great care in decorating the Christmas tree each year. Keeping Christmas traditions alive – no matter what the situation with health, work or family life – was something that was extremely important in my family. And it still is… but I get ahead of myself.
Each year we would pull out the meticulously packed fake Christmas tree, a multitude of ornaments, wreaths, accessories and all other memorable items that would set the atmosphere for the big night – Wigilia on December 24th, the traditional Polish family feast before heading to Midnight Mass. As I grew older, I got more involved in decorating the tree, struggling to get the lights strung and keeping an eye out for empty spots that needed ornaments.
In the background, Christmas tunes – always in English or languages other than Polish – would be playing. Boney M, Bing Crosby and Nana Mouskouri Christmas albums were always favourites, as if playing Polish carols was a huge faux pas.. like jumping ahead with impatience to Wigilia and Christmas Day during Advent.
At the end, Babcia (Bab-cha – a cute way of saying “grandmother” in Polish) would bring out the fake, feathered birds to clip on the tree boughs. She tried to find new ones each year to add to the growing collection that always had us kids, and other young Holiday guests in awe.
To put it in a nutshell, decorating the tree was always a memorable occasion, spent talking, reminiscing and anticipating the big night.
With marriage and our own home, I’ve desired to keep this important tradition alive. This year, I’ve taken some of the Antkowski Christmas traditions and decorations, and brought them with me to our Bourne family home.
A few months ago my mom gave me several boxes of huge Christmas ornaments, like the one you see in the photo above. Babcia had the foresight to purchase extra boxes of these ornaments about 10 years ago from our very close family friend – my brother’s godmother, who had imported them from Poland. There’s nothing like a hand-crafted Polish glass ornament.
Putting up our tree this year was extra special for me. It was like having my Babcia with me, making sure all empty spots on the tree were filled with these huge Polish ornaments. It’s been several years since she passed away, but these Christmas ornaments always remind me of her. I even purchased a few new stuffed bird ornaments to include on our tree, starting the tradition of adding new ones each year.
I’m sure that she’s smiling down on us as we build on the traditions we’ve incorporated over the years. Because, who knows? At some point you’ll see me posting about my attempts to make barszcz z uszkami (borscht with mushroom “ears” – aka tortellini) and kutja (a Ukrainian dish that my family adopted and made into a traditional Christmas Eve dessert). And I’ll need Babcia’s watchful eyes and perhaps a whispered bit of subconscious advice.
What are some of your Christmas traditions that you have kept alive over the years from your childhood?