Front Row Seat: Unique Christmas traditions remembered

by MIKE LESKO | REPORTER Published:

Although Christmas tree decorations seem to be pretty generic today, the ones we used in my childhood have a lot of sentimental value -- and were pretty unique.

I have plenty of childhood memories about Christmas.

Before starting to decorate the tree, my dad Mike Lesko II would set up a red cardboard fireplace in our living room with a Christmas tree light bulb illuminating a make-believe fire.

On top of the fireplace, my mom Bettie insisted on displaying a photo of me at about age 4 sitting on Santa's lap. In the picture, I was wearing an Elmer Fudd hat similar to the one worn by Floyd R. Turbo, the Johnny Carson character who always had on a plaid hunting coat. I thought it was a goofy photo, but Mom liked it, and I went along with it. There are worse things in life to be upset about.

On the fireplace hung three long Christmas stockings with our names on them. Mine was usually filled with oranges, walnuts and tiny gifts that were small enough to fit. A white, pudgy, smiling snowman candle about 4 inches tall sat on top of the fireplace.

While we purchased a live Christmas tree every year until I was about 12 or so, my parents used a 6-foot-tall fake tree every year after that. I used to assemble the tree, inserting more than 50 branches into slots in the vertical tree base.

My dad hung up outdoor lighting on our front porch, making our house extremely colorful. Mom and I did most of the tree decorating, and many of the decorations were special.

MY FAVORITES as a kid were plastic musical instruments about 1 1/2 inches long -- mostly trumpets, saxophones and French horns. They were purchased by my mom because my dad was an excellent trumpet player in his youth. I still have the decorations.

Others decorations included turkey wishbones wrapped in foil. The theory was that two people should hold the ends of the V-shaped wishbone, close their eyes, count to three, make a wish and pull it apart. Whoever had the larger part of the wishbone had won, and their wish would be granted. We never pulled the wishbones apart, but it was still fun to make secret wishes.

Growing up in the 1960s, I used to wish that the Cleveland Browns would capture the NFL championship. They won the crown in 1964, and reached the NFL title game in 1965, 1968 and 1969. Today, that wish seems as far-fetched as winning the lottery.

Still other decorations included 6-inch plastic icicles and colorful elves along with traditional round colored balls.

I had a friend who insisted on hanging a photo of former football star Johnny Unitas on their tree. Johnny Unitas? Oh, well.

Another friend's family displayed photos of their boys -- until one boy drew a moustache on his older brother's picture -- and the photo was discarded.

Many families decorate their tree while listening to traditional holiday songs. We did that when I was a kid, and my wife, Lori, has kept that tradition alive today.

A FRIEND told me his family decorated their tree while listening to songs sung by Engelbert Humperdinck. My neighbor once got into a pushing match with his sister and knocked over the tree, which didn't please their parents.

Through the years, some of our decorations were broken -- and our snowman candle partially melted one summer -- but other decorations came along to take their places.

Today, we have our own Christmas photo of our son, Michael, now 15, that we hang on our tree. Thankfully, there is no Floyd R. Turbo cap.

My wife and I use a 2-foot-tall fake tree that can be put together by simply connecting two vertical parts. We keep the tree assembled in our basement and simply carry it upstairs each year. My dad would have smiled at the simplicity of it all.

Even with a smaller tree, there is still lots of room for numerous decorations. The tree sits on a table in our dining room along with a manger scene.

Young Michael helps decorate the tree, just as I did as a youngster, and he assists in putting the manger scene together. It's fun to watch Michael in action, just as I'm sure it was for my parents when I was a kid.

Some things have changed. Other things have remained the same. Most importantly, though, the entire Christmas ritual remains a lot of fun.

Email: mlesko@recordpub.com

Phone: 330-541-9400 ext. 4187

Facebook: facebook.com/mike.lesko.378

Twitter: Mike Lesko@MikeLesko_RPC

Want to leave your comments?

Sign in or Register to comment.