GratiTuesday: Memories of Christmases Past

One of the holiday traditions in our family was the scrapbook my mother kept of Christmas cards. Beginning in 1945 – the second year my parents were married and the year my father returned from the war – she glued a sample of the card they sent out each year. She faithfully added cards up to 1998, just two years before she passed away. The following year, her health started to deteriorate, and by the next Christmas, there would be no more cards sent.

A few years later, as my brothers and I were clearing out the family home for its eventual sale, I came across the scrapbook and scooped it up. Although the anti-clutter side of me said not to, I knew that I couldn’t throw the book out. I am so grateful that I decided to keep it.

As a little girl, I remember looking through the scrapbook and marveling at all the pretty cards. Now as I look at the pages, I can see a clear timeline of my parents’ lives.

The first card in the scrapbook, dated 1945
The first card in the scrapbook, dated 1945

The early cards were small and simple and had their names engraved under the greeting. Several years later, when my oldest brother was born, his name was added alongside theirs.

The next three years, including the year my other brother was added to the mix, my father was trying his hand at photography and printed the Christmas cards in his darkroom. The black and white cards are somewhat unusual, but his creativity shines through.

A beautiful desert landscape one year, three silly mice the next
A beautiful desert landscape one year, three silly mice the next

Over the years, the cards they chose to send reflected different aspects of my parents’ personalities and interests. Their sense of humor, as well as their love of animals and travel was apparent in many of the cards. Several of the cards, instead of a traditional winter scene, depicted the desert or coastline more reminiscent of their Southern California home. And, because they supported many environmental and social causes, they often purchased their cards through such organizations as UNICEF, the Sierra Club, and the National Wildlife Federation.

The last card in the scrapbook is my favorite one of all. Its joyful message resonates with me, as it must have with my mother:

Sing the song to earth and sky. Sing of love, of peace, and joy!
Sing the song to earth and sky. Sing of love, of peace, and joy!


And, written on the inside:

May all that brings you joy,

may all that sustains you and gives you peace,

be yours this holiday season.


I can’t imagine a better wish for us all.

Author: Janis @

My blog is about travel, relationships, photography, and whatever else pops into my head (even, sometimes, issues surrounding retirement and aging).

43 thoughts on “GratiTuesday: Memories of Christmases Past”

  1. Such wonderful memories and what a keepsake to treasure, Janis. I am gad you kept the book as well, since it represents so much more than “clutter”. 🙂 The last card and its message is my favorite as well!

  2. Nice message and remembrance. And this is why I continue to write an annual Christmas letter, if for no one else, for me and my children to have a record of some of the highlights of our family life.

    1. I love getting Christmas letters! We get one every year that is so well-written and funny… I look forward to the update, and the laugh. I’m sure your children will treasure your letters as much as I do my mother’s scrapbook.

  3. I’m so glad you kept the scrapbook. It’s a lovely way to remember your Mom. I enjoyed looking at the cards.

  4. That was a stroke of genius on your mother’s part. My mother collected cards that she received in a box. The box was too full and they went out during the cleanout after her death. It would have been nice to look at cards sent by my aunts and uncles because they are all gone.

    1. It’s funny because my mother wasn’t overly sentimental nor was she really a collector, but, for some reason, this history was important to her. I wish I had asked her more about them when she was still here. I’m sure my brothers and I dumped stuff that we should have kept too.

  5. I’ve never heard of anyone keeping a scrapbook like this one and I love the idea. Such a wonderful way to get to re-know your parents as an adult. The last card with its message is timeless.

  6. What a beautiful keepsake…and what a wise mother to have created and maintained this for you!

    1. I’m not sure why she kept them (unfortunately, I never thought to ask her), whether for her own record keeping or as something to pass on, but I’m glad she did. It just amazes me that she maintained it for 53 years.

  7. I used to keep a card for each year. Then in a cleaning frenzy, I threw them all out. I do still have the first card my husband and I sent after we got married. It is framed and is usually in my office, but this year I put it out in the living room. So nice that you have them.

  8. Janis, I too have found myself wondering, after a loved one is gone, why I never asked more about aspects of our family history. Or maybe asked but didn’t listen carefully enough. My dad, who is now gone, loved to tell about the pioneer history of our family. There are so many things I now wish I could ask him.

    After your comment on my blog, I went looking for your post on life passions and went on to read many of your early posts. They speak to me as the topic of the transition to retirement fits the stage of life I currently am in – trying to decide the when and where of retirement, and wondering about making a successful transition.


    1. Before my mother passed away, I tried to ask a lot of questions, but I missed so many. My father slipped into dementia and wasn’t able to recall much so I lost that opportunity too. I think we assume that we’ll have them forever.

      Thank you for visiting my past posts. I’ve enjoyed looking through yours too, and will very much enjoy following your blog – and your journey into retirement.

  9. So much to like about this post and even the comments! 😀
    My fav is of course the one featuring kokopelli and his admonition to sing/play music in honor of the season.
    Kind of a weird question, but: does the smell of the paper in your scrapbook evoke any old memories? Sometimes pages in books do that for me…like I said kind of a strange thought, but well, there it is!

    1. I’m not sure about the smell… it’s obviously an old book so it’s a little musty. I have heard that smell is the most powerful sense as far as memories go. And, there are sure a lot of wonderful smells associated with this time of year… making my mother’s after-Thanksgiving soup, family-favorite cookie recipes, etc.

  10. My MIL kept a couple of her Christmas cards every year from the year of her first born until the year I married into the family. 75% of them are handmade with pictures of the family…often in unique aspects like in the ornaments on the tree! When we were cleaning out, I kept them. Just last year, one SIL mentioned she wished we still had them….and I said I did. I gave her a full set. I never found out why my marriage year was the last one! That was year #38. She used the “family picture” from my wedding as that last one…all 27 of us that year.

    I love getting the yearly notes from friends. I’ve said many times I should do one, but never do. I think it’s so cool for families to have it later on….like my MIL cards. Such a wonderful family history.

    1. How wonderful that you were able to grant your SIL’s wish by giving her the collection!

      I also love getting Christmas letters. Some can be quite over-the-top brag-fests, but most of them are newsy and some even are funny. I’d much rather get a letter with family updates than a simple card with just the senders’ signatures at the bottom. I had never thought about them being a good way to record the history of the family. I’ve written one now and then, but mostly I’m just lucky to get a few cards out… like this year.

  11. This history book of your parent’s Christmas cards is almost beyond a treasure – I am so glad you have one more keepsake that keeps the memories of your parents close ! I love the message in the last one. It transcends time, and is as relevant today as it was then.

    1. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve looked at the scrapbook and considered getting rid of it… after all, you can only keep so much. I’m so glad I didn’t though because it always gives me such pleasure to page through it and be filled with wonderful memories.

  12. These are beautiful! I’m glad you saved them too. We used to take family pictures every year and there’s a scrapbook of all of them somewhere in my parents’ home. I started writing a end of the year holiday letter 11 years ago, with pictures, and I have them all on my computer. I should probably print them out and make a book out of them. Maybe on their 25th anniversary!

    1. You reminded me of the family photo my husband’s family took every year for at least 20 years. They all (mom, dad, and six kids) all sat in the same positions around the fireplace. My MIL has all the pictures framed and hanging in her hallway. It’s so funny to see how everyone changed over the years… especially my very stylish MIL’s hair style and skirt length. I would definitely print out those letters. They would make a wonderful keepsake.

  13. Your parents really knew how to keep traditions/ These cards are beautiful and obviously meaningful to your Mother. This is truly a forever seek sake. And not getting into all the glitz and glitter is very wise, both then and now. No wonder you are so sane!

    1. I think many people are trying to get off the Christmas glitz wagon and find more peace and meaning in the season. I was so relieved to find that my brothers and sister-in-laws felt the same way about presents. I know it’s harder in some families to come to an agreement.

      1. My sister and I meet for lunch and share some time together doing a bit of shopping just before Christmas. Then in January, we get together for dinner with our husbands when the restaurants are in a calmer mode. We don’t feel pressure to do a big family thing as in the past and to me, that’s a big relief.

    1. We received so few cards this year and sent fewer too. The cards we received were often just photo montages… nice to see the pictures, but I would prefer more words (I actually like those newsy Christmas letters). I hope you had a fabulous holiday season!

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