Saturday, July 9, 2011




                Until the year I was 17, Christmas in my family was synonymous with Grandma Beth.  Even to this day, more than another 17 years later, I can't put up a Christmas tree, unwrap a homemade gift or sing "Silent Night" without thinking of her.

                Signe Elizabeth Holmes Halverson was the daughter of Johannes Eric and Lisa Antbrams Holms, Finnish immigrants.  When the family came to America in 1902, they made their home in Frisco, Beaver County, Utah.  Frisco was a wild and unruly silver mining town.  Lisa hated Utah with it's dry, desert climate.  She longed to return to Finland and its greenery and lakes, thousands of them. Perhaps that is why the family clung so tightly to its traditions--with a particular love for Christmas. 
                Christmas for Grandma Beth meant giving!  Although she seldom had spending money for her own, there was always a gift for everyone under her small pinon tree.

                Delicately embroidered pillowcases or an intricate doily could be waiting or me there.  Sometimes, we were delighted by a favorite knickknack which she knew we had coveted.  I still remember the fashionable crocheted vests she made for me in the 1960's; I wore them until they literally fell apart.

                But the best part of a Grandma-Beth Christmas was the family dinner and program which preceded the gift-opening session!  Only now do I begin to comprehend what it must have take to prepare such an impeccable feast for at least 15 people.

                There was always a big country ham or a huge pot roast surrounded by succulent vegetables.  There were piles of mashed potatoes and gallons of gravy.  Don't forget the creamed peas and a candied yam or two.

                Then came the rolls---oh, those rolls.  Warm, soft, melt-in-your-mouth rolls!  When my Grandma was young, she was employed as a housekeeper and cook for well-to-do families and whenever she made doughnuts, her employer would give her a raise.  Imagine my luck to have such a cook in my very own family.  Grandma's rolls were to be eaten quickly or carefully guarded or they would mysteriously disappear if you happened to sit by Grandpa Harvey! 

                While the dishes were being washed and put away, the children would prepare for the Christmas program.  The planning was begun sometime in June where we would decide who would be what.  Actually, Janet was usually always "Mary", mostly because she would cry if she wasn't.  Wayne and David took turns being the Shepherd, Joseph or a Wise Man.  The costume was the same for any of the above!  Carolee and Bonnie would fill in the blanks wherever they wanted to be.  I was the reader--mostly because I was bossy enough to get my way.

                Grandma Beth was always an appreciative audience for our Nativity play.  She was never disappointed by our less-than-professional effort.

                After the Nativity play, it was time to sing Christmas Carols--as many as Grandma thought she could wrangle out of us.  Grandma Beth didn't really have much of a voice, but she loved to sing and carols were really her specialty.

                The Christmas Eve I remember best came when I was about 5 years old.  We had just begun singing Christmas Carols when we heard a soft thump on the roof.  Next there was the unmistakable sound of jingling bells on the porch!  Suddenly, the door flew open and in walked Santa, a bagful of gifts on his shoulder.

                The mere sight of Santa should be enough to thrill any 5 year old, but I was even more delighted by the response of Grandma Beth to this surprise visitor.

                She jumped out of her chair and frantically searched for her camera.  It had to be there somewhere!  She jabbered on and on about how happy she was to see Santa and I'm sure she would have sat on his lap if she could.  Her childlike wonder and pure joy made that day one of the happiest days I remember. 

                Grandma talked of that special Christmas for many years.  Even the revelation that Santa's helper was one of Uncle Lee's friends didn't dampen her enthusiasm.

                Our wonderful Christmas programs went on until her death in 1974.  Oh, how we miss her!

                The tradition now continues with my own 5 children.  Our dinners are usually a little simpler, but we always include a Nativity play, complete with Christmas Carols.  And if I listen very carefully, I can hear the soft sound of jingle bells on the porch, reminding me of a Christmas I'll never forget!

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