Movin' On with Nellie: Construction paper chains, popcorn garland, gifts and candle light

One grade-school year, we cut and glued construction paper into Christmas chains for the classroom tree. I thought it was such a good idea, I dug out whatever paper I could find and colored then glued glitter before I cut and pasted into chains for the Christmas tree. I’m not sure Mom and Dad appreciated it, but the artistic whimsey stayed there all of the holidays.

On a Christmas variety TV show, I noticed a happy couple stringing popcorn; so, I did that for the Christmas tree that year. I remember one year that my son and I sat together after I popped huge bowls of popcorn. I had a needle and thread; and by golly, we strung a good portion of the four-foot tree with fresh popcorn garland! Another year, I added cranberries to the festive decor. We ate as much popcorn and cranberries as we looped around the fresh cut fir.

During my son’s elementary years, Christmas meant getting a special gift from Wayne that he created at school.  Some of them had his picture in a frame for a necklace or a Christmas tree ornament; other times it was a clay design. One year I remember that he created a clay portrait of himself stuck on a board and approximating his sunbathing at the beach. I still have it on the wall! There were hand prints in plaster and on cards. Shell and macaroni mosaics on paper plates also graced table decorations.

As a kid, I liked to draw and color pictures of snowy panoramas, or cozy fireplace scenes with Santa Claus. Often these would be my presents to family and friends.

I, as a 10-year-old, remember writing poetry for my mother or making a special plaster sculpture. Likewise, inspired cards that my son made always milked my smile and lumped up my throat. Dressed in a velvet black dress and having what I called butterflies in my stomach, I sang with the high school choir for our family and friends. Thankfully I was in the back row where no one could see my knees shaking.

Then in third grade, the most memorable time was playing a WHO in the play: How the Grinch Stole Christmas.  We practiced and practiced. We were choreographed and barked at during weekly practices on the way to the performance night. The play was a hit with all of our parents that evening; and we brought home paper bags of candy and fruit. 

We read Christmas Bible stories, or tales of Martin Luther’s first Christmas tree, or sang Away in a Manager, and of course ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas. A few years back, I started a tradition of watching The Nightmare Before Christmas and there’s been White Christmas, Holiday Inn, Christmas in Connecticut or “All I Want for Christmas,” too. I’ve since added Star Wars and Star Trek to the movie lists for the holidays.

Every season’s high point wasn’t only the presents under the tree or the shredded wrappings around the room, but the candlelight service at Christmas Eve Service. I remember Daddy would exclaim, “Oh, I forgot my wallet,” as we opened car doors for the ride to church. Swiftly as he could, he reentered the house, secretly moved presents around, climbed back in to the driver’s seat and drove us to church. When we returned, Santa Claus had left a pile of presents: Barbie dolls, Barbie houses and cars, sewing machines, tinker toys, log cabin logs, art supplies, weaving looms, baby dolls and candy canes. The cookies and milk arranged before church were also gone—crumbs and an empty milk glass remained.

—Nelda Curtiss is a retired college professor who enjoys writing and fine arts. Contact her at [email protected]