A Christmas Tradition you Enjoyed as a Child
My father’s parents were married on December 24, 1921 so every Christmas Eve when I was little, we piled in the car and headed to their row home on Wildey Street in north Philadelphia to share in an Anniversary/Christmas celebration. We knew that my father’s 3 brothers, 2 sisters and all their children would be there as well. Apparently, my grandmother viewed this as a command performance, no excuses!
We didn’t find time to visit my dad’s family very often so this was a trip I always looked forward to especially because it was in the city. I was a child of suburbia, living in a ranch house with a lawn on a tree lined street so I found the the rows of tall narrow houses, packed up against each other quite fascinating! My Catholic Aunts referred this style house as “Father, Son and Holy Ghost” which meant three square rooms (living, dining, kitchen) lined up from front to back. There was a small back porch and two stories above for the bedrooms.
I loved the sound my heels made on the stone front stoop and the echos that bounced off the walls of the narrow alley way running between the houses. There was a tiny winding stairway leading to the upper floors and the biggest bathroom I had ever seen complete with a white claw foot tub. My sister told me that the reason it was so big was because it had started as a bedroom back before there was indoor plumbing! My grandfather and uncles had converted it themselves.
There was always lots of good food and drinks at the Christmas Eve parties. My dad, his brothers and his father all worked for Schmidts Brewery so of course the beer flowed freely and my grandmom Minnie was from Germany so her stews and desserts were always rich and hearty and more than enough to feed a small army! Excitement and noise filled the small rooms. The grownups would be shouting over each other, laughing and talking while the children raced around getting reacquainted, and of course there were gifts-lots and lots of gifts! It seemed like everytime I turned around there would be another Aunt or Uncle handing me a package to open!
Eventually, the food was eaten, the last gift was opened and goodbyes were said. We piled in the car and headed back to Jersey. My brother and sisters would chatter excitedly about Santa’s arrival the next morning but I was usually sound asleep before we even reached the bridge.
Sadly, both of my dad’s parents passed away by the time I was ten and the house on Wildey Street was sold. Christmas Eve became something different. We tried to get together with my father’s family during the holiday season but without Minnie’s driving force the visits became fewer and fewer. I’m glad she held strong while she could though because the memories of those Christmas Eve celebrations are something I cherish.