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    Home Columns

    Capturing Holiday Memories

    The holiday seasons of November and December, however one celebrates them, provide a wealth of opportunities to create memories and discover the practices of your ancestors. Many types of celebrations may have evolved in your family and come from an accumulation of ancestors.

    Sometimes we don't record the memories because we don't know where to start or the project seems overwhelming. However, there are various ways to capture holiday memories past and present.

    You can utilize pictures, cards, journal entries, newspaper articles, family round robin stories, and scrapbooking. Once you begin, other ways of saving these holiday memories will come to mind.

    Start With the Present

    If you don't have any idea where to start, begin writing down current celebrations and record them for future generations. Take a look at the cards you receive and decide if you want to add them to a scrapbook or expand on memories involving the people who sent them.

    We live in a multi-generational household with grandchildren adding excitement to the holiday celebrations. If I don't record these events, some of these memories may be lost forever, especially the humorous and poignant ones we think we'll always remember, but quickly forget.

    When my daughter was growing up, we had customs carried over from my husband's and my families...and we made some of our own. We also got together with family who lived in the same town and enjoyed holiday celebrations with them.

    I often write about getting the Christmas tree from the woods of my childhood. In my earliest memories, we children, Mother and Father rode on a horse drawn sleigh to the woods on our farm to find the tree Father had marked several weeks before. We also dug through the snow to find greens for making wreaths. This was a festive occasion, a fun family time that has lived long in my memory.

    My mom related stories about growing up on their farm and the simple, yet joyous holiday celebrations they had. I must write them down so they will be preserved for future generations.

    As I've gone through my paternal grandmother's collections of letters and cards and found many from the 1920s and 30s. In addition to being attractive, and now rather unique and old-fashioned, they give me tidbits of family news and insight into holiday celebrations.

    Sometimes you may find photographs of these celebrations, occasions when family gathered. Background scenery may give you clues to their lives.

    My mom often took photos of our Christmas gatherings, from the time I was a child through the era of grandchildren, until she succumbed to Alzheimer's. Then I snapped photos of my grandchildren enjoying holidays with their great grandmother during parties at the nursing home. These almost tell a story in themselves as we celebrated through the generations.

    Customs of Other Cultures & Eras

    If you know that your family has ties to other countries and cultures, you might want to research those holiday customs. This will help give you a picture of what life was like for your ancestors in different countries and eras.

    Some of this research might be done through historical reading. You might accomplish other research by reading novels of a particular era. Since I've traced some of my ancestors to medieval times in England, I've found it interesting to read mysteries set in those times.

    The description of the characters' lives, the type of homes they lived in, the food they ate, their mode of transportation all give me a better picture of where my ancestors came from. If you find stories set during the holidays, you'll have additional information.

    Compile a Recipe Book

    Find out about the foods served during family celebrations and compile a recipe booklet. Some of these might be hand-me-down recipes you use today or your mother or grandmother did.

    Other recipes could be ones you research from an era or culture where your ancestors lived. For instance, my mother-in-law has German heritage as well as Scotch/Irish. Looking into the holiday customs of those countries, especially during the years then her ancestors migrated would provide additional recipes for a collection.

    These are just a few ideas to get you started on recording your family holiday history. Once you begin brainstorming, what you can do is almost limitless.

    Copyright © 2003 Mary Emma Allen

    Mary Emma Allen is the author of books for children and adults. Her Tales of Adventure & Discovery is an anthology of children's stories, which she also illustrated. When You Become the Parent to Your Parent chronicles her mother's journey through Alzheimer's. She also has information about scrapbooking if you enjoy this type of memory collecting. Visit her web site for more information about her books:

    The Authentic Self: Journaling Your Joys, Griefs and Everything in Between by Shery Russ

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