There were certain things that marked all our Christmases when we were kids.

One was ribbon candy that came in a cardboard box wrapped with cellophane so you could see the ruffled strips of candy inside, sporting red, green and yellow stripes.

There were the hard Christmas candies in all different shapes, colors and flavors, some with soft insides.

Of course, there were mixed nuts, still in their shells, which we enjoyed opening with heavy metal crackers: walnuts, filberts, almonds, pecans, hazelnuts and Brazil nuts. Our grandmother taught us to identify which was which when we were very young.

I can’t see a bag of those nuts in the grocery store today without recalling holidays of my childhood.

And I don’t think Christmas would have been as special without the sweet and savory treats that were a huge deal for us when we were kids.

My mother liked peach blossoms, those pink, peanut butter-filled candies that came in a cylindrical cardboard container, so we made sure to have them on hand.

It was the little things that thrilled us during the holidays of the 1950s and ’60s.

We watched as my father, in his red and black plaid wool coat and armed with an ax, hauled the toboggan across the snow in the field to the woods, and later emerged with a tall fir tree lying across the sled, its branches scraping the snow’s surface.

One year when we were teenagers, my sister Jane and I decided we would get the tree ourselves. We took the toboggan to the woods and slogged through deep snow, scrutinizing every tree to find the perfect one.

We ultimately did: a tall fir that towered above the others, skimpy of branches around the trunk at the bottom but thick and full at the top.

We chopped it down, taking turns wielding the ax. After it fell, we lopped off the top 10 feet of the tree and hauled it home, proud of our catch.

It was probably the best tree we ever had, albeit we knew we had committed a cardinal sin by wasting and leaving the bulk of the evergreen in the woods.

Typically we had very big, bushy trees at Christmas. They stood in the corner of our living room, branches sticking way out into the room. We liked it that way.

We could decorate the tree to our hearts’ content, hanging new but mostly old ornaments, some very fragile.

My sister Laura liked to crawl into the overstuffed chair next to the tree, lean over its arm and snap those bulbs with her fingers until they’d ping, shattering slivers of colored glass beneath the tree.

My father would scold her, but later in life, loved to tell the story about how she would grin mischievously as she snapped and broke the Christmas bulbs.

That was not all she did. She delighted in telling us what we were getting for Christmas after she poked little holes in each gift to see what was inside.

Christmas was magical.

It didn’t have any resemblance to Christmas today, where shoppers crowd department stores stuffed with a mega variety of gifts, online shopping is the norm, choices of holiday treats are innumerable and people spend gobs of money buying the biggest and best gifts.

No one was rich in the old days, so we didn’t expect a lot, and what we did get was a windfall — a doll, a sweater, pajamas and a toy from the Sears, Roebuck and Co. catalog that we were allowed to select before Christmas and prayed they had in stock.

We felt very lucky on Christmas morning. Our hearts and hands were full. We had a turkey on the dining table for Christmas dinner, with vegetables from our garden, Dad’s special stuffing and small glass dishes of special things we had only on holidays, such as green and black olives, cranberry sauce and tiny boiled onions.

My mother baked banana cream, chocolate, mince meat and squash pies, some topped with homemade whipped cream. She made fruit cake and divinity fudge, sprinkled her vanilla cookies with green and red sugar and baked a delectable, almond paste-filled stollen bread, drizzled with confectioners sugar frosting, chopped walnuts and maraschino cherries.

The house was warm as it snowed continuously until it banked the foundation and crept up to the windows. Our big black dog, Sam, enjoyed the sweet treats we tossed his way when no one was looking. The cat, Theodore, lay contented by the stove, his black and white fur warm to the touch.

Christmas will never be the way it was then, but we’ll also never lose the memory.

May all your days be as happy and bright.

Amy Calder has been a Morning Sentinel reporter for 30 years. Her column appears here Mondays. She may be reached at [email protected]. For previous Reporting Aside columns, go to

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.