When you're young you never really give much thought to family traditions. What you do in your family seems to be the "norm" since you're too young to know any better. Living on a 32 foot sailboat with a family of 4 forced my parents to get creative when trying to give my brother and I the traditional Christmas memories. Looking back I realize that some of the traditions were a little silly, some strange but all are OURS...they're those little nastalgic moments that belong to no one else but MY family and I'll treasure them forever.
Christmas Dinner****The traditional turkey, stuffing, casseroles & pies were out of the question. The kitchen (oops, galley) on the boat was way too small for any of that. Our Christmas dinner was always a favorite dish that my brother and I got to choose. Halibut Olympia, taco pie or manicotti was frequently what we requested and mom usually had a cherry cobbler in the oven for dessert.
The Christmas Tree****We definitely weren't the family that went out and chopped down a tree. There really wasn't room on the boat for a tree but every year my mom would clean off a small spot on one of the shelves to place a small (I'm talking "itsy bitsy teeny weeny" type tiny!!) fake Christmas tree. Looking back it makes me appreciate how important it was to her that my brother and I had a Christmas tree.
PRESENTS!****With such a small tree on the boat presents didn't go under the tree like they probably did in your house. My brother slept on the couch (oops, bunk) which was closest to the Christmas tree so we'd pile some of our presents right at the edge of his feet. There wasn't much room there and on Christmas morning my mom always seemed to be pulling Christmas presents out of some hiding place she had.
The Advent Calendar****I loved having an advent calendar to count down the days until Christmas. The one I remember best was a punch out calendar with a piece of chocolate in it. My brother and I got to take turns eating the chocolate pieces. Because there wasn't really a spot to "hang" the calendar we set it right above my bunk and it was the first thing I'd see when I woke up in the morning.
Christmas Lights****We never decorated the boat with Christmas lights but we'd always pile in the old gray soccer mom van and drive around Ketchikan looking at Christmas lights. Some years we'd watch the boat Christmas light parade cruise through the channel and I'd wonder why we never entered our sailboat in the parade. (It probably had something to do with the fact that our boat was packed with the everyday STUFF of two kids and would've been a nightmare to secure for sailing).
The "good China"....Most families have some type of fancy plates and silverware that they take out during the holidays. On most days we ate off paper plates because it made doing dishes easier and we really didn't have anywhere to store a bunch of dishes. However, we did have a set of 4 large plastic plates in the popular 70's orange and yellow color scheme that we would take out on special occassions such as Christmas and Thanksgiving. These days they'd be considered "retro" or "vintage" and I hope that my parents still have them so that I can someday add them to my kitchen.
Christmas day phone calls.....We didn't have a phone on our boat until I was 12 or 13 so when we needed to make a phone call we'd walk up the dock and use the payphone. Usually, after we opened presents we'd all head up the dock and call our friends and family to wish them Merry Christmas. We got pretty good at squeezing into that little phone booth on those wet, windy and cold Christmases.
My mom recently told me that years ago the pastor of our church asked her to talk to the congregation about Christmas on the boat during one of our church dinners. Thinking nothing of it she described our typical holiday experiences and said that afterwards she had so many people come up to her with wonder and amazement in their eyes asking, "how do you do it???!!!" and inviting us over to their house for Christmas dinner.
After that we seemed to have housesitting gigs every year and rarely spent another Christmas on the boat. I'm not sure if people just felt bad for us or really did need housesitters. Either way, our Christmas traditions morphed into a strange compilation of holidays spent in other people's homes....but really, that's for a different post.
Merry Christmas blog friends,