By Jill Engelman

Lake County Historical Society

Every Christmas Eve my Mom, Dad and I would travel to my Auntie Jo’s house for the holidays. She and her family lived in an old two-story, four-square house on a farm at the edge of the flint hills in Kansas. A place where you could see far across the land and at night it was so dark that it seemed like the world was endless.

We drove for miles and every one of them found me watching intently across the wheat fields. Then at last I could see them — red Christmas candles piercing the night, one in every window of that big old farmhouse. They were a bright light in the darkness. They heralded the imminent reunion, the warmth, fun, and the laughter of sharing the joys of the season with extended family. The warm red glow surrounded all of us while we celebrated in that house, exuding the sense of safety and love. Nothing bad was to ever come within that circle of light. Some 60 years later, I continue to place red candles in my windows every Christmas to remember those special times spent with family. Where being with loved ones was the best gift of all.

One of those Christmas Eve’s during the 1950s, my Gram passed down a tradition that had begun in her family when she was a child in the 1880s. She had received an English style cracker ornament — a paper wrapped tube tied at both ends concealing a small toy or candy inside. During a time when the family didn’t have money for grand presents, it was a simple gift. Such a small thing, but one that meant so much to her. I don’t know if she made them for my Mom and her brother and sisters, but she did pass down the tradition to my cousins and me. I remember one Christmas morning Kris and I found crackers among the braches of the Christmas tree. Each ornament was wrapped in white tissue paper, tied with a bit of ribbon and held closed in the middle with a holiday sticker. Inside was a piece of candy. Gram explained how in a world which pushed the latest craze, the most advanced game, and the biggest and most expensive toys, the real meaning of Christmas could still be found in simple gifts, handmade and given with love.

I still have that cracker. Each year, it sits proudly within the branches of my Christmas tree as a reminder of her wisdom. I shared this tradition with the children of Lake County three years ago. The Lake County Historical Society now hosts an old fashioned Christmas ornament workshop each December during the Baldwin holiday celebration. Each of the old-style ornaments can be made with materials found around the house. It is with the creating of the ornament or gift that the true meaning of giving of yourself is found. The children have embraced the experience and many return each year to make ornaments to share with their families.

May this holiday season at your house be just a little bit brighter as you, too, reflect back on your family traditions.