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Family Time: Season’s Greetings

by Robin Rieger

Happy Easter! Just putting it out there. In case you aren’t aware ... it’s coming. Oh and Happy Valentine’s Day too, a little heads up there as well. Where would we be now if stores and advertisers hadn’t told us that Christmas is coming, by stocking shelves and decking the halls—before Halloween? Really? I need to be reminded before Oct. 31 that I only have almost TWO MONTHS to shop for Christmas? Thank goodness most stores will open early—and stay open late—until we get everything on our lists purchased and neatly wrapped.

I am a late bloomer, a “mid-monther,” when it comes to most Christmas decorations. I only put up a few outdoor items early if a warm day presents a good opportunity. Who wants to hook things up outside with frozen fingers? Tom laughs at some of the plans I come up with. He must wonder why I torture myself trying to make something like large Christmas trees out of shiny insulation board to put out front instead of just hanging a wreath on the door. I often wonder too, but I like to be creative and I love the way things look lit up at night. This year, I will use the same trees I made two years ago but poke holes in them for tiny lights and see how that looks.

When I was a kid we used to wrap our front door in shiny red paper and add a bow, as if it was a present. I liked to light it up with a spotlight despite being blinded by the glare every time we opened the door. I can still see the warm glow of lights from our Christmas tree reflecting up the stairwell to our rooms at night inside our childhood home. Red, blue, green and orange from the big old bulbs we strung on a tree that came out of the basement year after year. Some of our ornaments were the old, colored glass ones that shattered at the slightest drop. Each year the collection of them would be a little smaller, but they would be replaced by ones my mom picked up on a trip, or ones we made at school as gifts for our parents.

Deep in the tree my mom would hide popcorn balls that were wrapped in red, green, yellow or blue paper. I would eat most of them before a few days went by and search for more at the nearby Pathmark. Under the tree I was always rearranging a display of evergreen trees and little white houses and churches that had multicolored cellophane windows. You could put bulbs in the back of them and make it look like lights were on inside. There is a white church on Cinnaminson Avenue near Route 130 that reminds me of those little buildings. As a kid, our tree and decorations were always treasures to me; as a parent I hope it all feels the same for our children.

When our kids, 8 and 11 now, were much smaller I let them hang the soft ornaments they couldn’t break on low branches of our pre-lit tree. It replaced the real tree Tom and I got before they came along. We are debating going back to a real one this year. We now have our own collection of ornaments we’ve gotten from our very first trip together when we were dating to our 10-year wedding anniversary trip to Hawaii and trips or events in between. When I see all of these different ornaments from different places we’ve been at different times in our lives and even from our loved ones who send us ornaments with their kids’ pictures, I smile at memories that mean so much.

In one box filled with decorations for the tree I lug up from the basement, there are wooden ornaments I bought at a craft store and painted myself when I lived on my own years ago in Washington Township. I used to anchor a taped half hour news show on a local cable station there. My coworkers, I am happy to say, also got TV jobs in front of or behind the news camera, some in Philadelphia, and they were as funny as they are talented. I had them over for a holiday dinner back then and while we were having a great time I didn’t realize they were taking some of my newly painted ornaments off the Christmas tree and hiding them around my house. In the days following the dinner I started finding them in cups in a cabinet, on hangers in my closet, in the refrigerator and even in the oven I rarely used. As soon as I see one in the box now I laugh to myself and appreciate that our tree can take me back to plenty of special moments.

Tom and I enjoy sharing with the kids the stories or trips behind many of our ornaments. Of course, they each have a “Baby’s First Christmas” ornament; both have several tiny red or green sweaters crocheted by Tom’s mom who puts their initials on each one. They are high on the list of our favorites including about a dozen glass blown snowmen ornaments (my favorites), Winnie the Pooh and all of his friends, and wooden nutcrackers with a string at the bottom that when pulled lifts its arms and legs. Last year I finally found, in a box inside another box, three stuffed elves with arms and legs long enough to wrap around a branch so they look like they are climbing the tree.

We don’t have a fireplace, so down our banister we hang Christmas stockings. They are all the characters from Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer and they hang next to a musical Santa who smacks his long legs together and sings when you pinch his toe. When they were younger, the kids would pinch and pinch and pinch to hear it again and again. It would start in Santa’s voice “Oh Mama,” and “Jingle Bells” would play. It was cute the first hundred times only; and I can’t believe it still works. These items are a favorite of our kids in the stores. My mom gets a kick out of them too. Years ago in JC Penney, she and I pinched all the hands of dozens of stuffed frogs that sang “Jingle Bells.” The whole display table of them was croaking out the tune as we walked away laughing. The kids do it now to all of the displays of Christmas carol singing and dancing animals they see in stores.

I’m sure sometimes it annoys shoppers or employees but I figure if we have to put up with the seeing holiday decorations earlier and earlier each year, we might as well get a pinch and a kick out of it too!

Robin Rieger is a former anchor and reporter with CBS 3. A lifelong South Jersey resident, she lives with her husband, Philadelphia 76ers Radio play-by-play broadcaster Tom McGinnis, and their two children in Burlington County.

Published (and copyrighted) in South Jersey Magazine, Volume 11, Issue 9 (December, 2014).
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