This morning I’ve been reminiscing about Christmas over my sixty some years on this earth. Here it is the day before the day before Christmas and you might be thinking that it is quite odd that I have the time to reminisce. It’s Vee’s fault, she got me going this morning with a simple question, “What makes Christmas feel like Christmas to you?”
Growing up in Southern California we never had a white Christmas. We would be happy if it was at least cold! My parents were fresh immigrants not off the boat but off a Red Cross Plane. I doubt there was a Christmas tree the first few years here. I’m going to call my Pop later this morning and ask him. He might not remember since he’s getting close to being 93! …That was a fun phone call. My parents did not start getting Christmas trees until they bought their first home in Montebello Gardens now called Pico Rivera and after my maternal babushka and Uncle’s family arrived in the United States. I had to give my Pop a lot of prompts so that he could remember.
The picture below might be the very first Christmas tree we had growing up. This is the living room of our home with my mom, oldest sister Kathy, me, my brother Fred and sister Vera. This was a bonanza Christmas for us with a couple presents each. I remember a year when I woke up to find no presents under the tree. That was sad. When I went to church and my friends were bragging about what they got, I made up stuff that I got. Pride starts early on…
Before my mom’s mother and brother’s family arrived from Persia my parents were mostly influenced by their Molokan friends and my Pop’s side of the family who were all Molokans. Molokans are a small Russian sect. They did not celebrate holidays like Christmas and Easter or Mother’s Day or Father’s Day. Before I step on any toes here there are Molokans today who do celebrate some of these holidays. My mom’s side of the family were Russian Baptists. They did celebrate Christmas and Easter and my parents starting attending their services on those holidays and soon we started adding a Christmas tree and Christmas celebrations in our home. Although Christmas was celebrated, Santa was never part of our festivities.
The above photo was taken in San Francisco at some friends of my parents. I’m adding this one because I think these outfits are our Christmas outfits that my mom made us. I’m the one with the Buster Brown hairdo sitting in the chair. My sisters are on the right side of the photo and my brother is kneeling on the floor. Every Christmas and Easter we had a fresh set of clothes to wear to church.
In January of 1958 we had a new little brother, Tim. Since he was very mobile by Christmas we had to watch him closely as he managed to pull the tree down.
We ended up putting a table in front of the tree to keep it a little more out of reach for him. This was also a year that I did not go to church on Christmas and that’s why I’m still in my pajamas. I was ill with what I understand was a kidney infection. I was in the hospital for several days and then out of school for several months and had to have an in home teacher come to the house to give me lessons.
In December of 1959 our brother Steve was born. This photo was taken at my Uncle Paul’s home in 1960. My babushka lived with them and we would go and visit on Christmas. My dad has his Molokan shirt on (think Dr. Zhivago) but I’m not sure if this is before church or after church. We would have two more siblings added to our family in 1963.
Christmas a few years after we had two more siblings, the twins, Lana and Leonard.
This is probably Easter not Christmas but I had to show the whole family minus my brother Fred. We were still living in Montebello.
We moved from Montebello to La Mirada and this was the Christmas before Kathy and I were married. Fred and Vera were married already.
There came a time that my little Babushka decided she wanted an apartment of her own next to a few of her Russian widowed friends. This apartment was just doors down from the Russian Baptist church we all attended. Breakfast at Babushka’s became a tradition every Christmas before our Christmas service at Bethany Russian Baptist church. It was a feast which my one handed babushka prepared for us until she died. She lost one of her arms up to her elbow when she was a child. You should notice that my father is wearing a suit and tie this Christmas and his countenance is merrier. No more Molokan Shirts for my Pop as he accepted Christ at a Billy Graham Crusade and subsequently left the Molokan church and was baptized at Bethany Baptist. Hallelujah and amen! He was ostracized by his own family for this decision but had reconciliation with them a few years after.
Another breakfast at Babushkas after Dear and I were married with some of my family and cousins.
Our first home in Huntington Beach.
Our second home in Huntington Beach where Josh was born and celebrated his first Christmas. All of our children were born shortly after Christmas in their respective years so they were almost a year old when they enjoyed their first Christmas.
Josh and Dan in 1981 or 1982.
Our family of four still in Huntington Beach. When our kids were little we didn’t go overboard on Christmas gifts. Some years a few more, some years a few less. We were never fans of gift opening going on and on and on.
One of the years that the Christmas celebrations were at our home for my extended family. We are reading the Christmas story from Luke chapter two. I think this was 1983.
Christmas with Dear’s side of the family was always nice and quiet compared to getting together with my side of the family. In the two bottom photos of the collage I’m pregnant with Josh (Christmas 1978). Each of our families added a little girl to our numbers later. We would read Luke chapter 2 together before we opened gifts. We also would enjoy a nice meal together.
Christmas in Ventura 1985, and 1986 and Christmas in Washington 1988. When we first moved to Washington we tried to drive down to California for Christmas each year. That got old fast as the roads over the Siskiyou pass in Oregon state could be treacherous and it was hard being away from home during Christmas. We decided summer visits to California were more beneficial for all.
We had a surprise White Christmas in Washington in I believe 1990.
On a rare Christmas in 2008 family from Dallas, Washington and California all got together for a Bagdanov family Christmas in Huntington Beach at my sister Vera’s home. This was Christmas Eve 2008. Our immediate family flew home to Washington on Christmas morning and were met with several inches of snow at this old house and a power outage! I’m skipping a few years now…
Christmas 2012 we were missing a few of our family at Christmas. Katie was in North Carolina waiting for Andrew to arrive home from a 6 month deployment to Afghanistan. Dan was in eastern Washington and didn’t have Christmas off.
Andrew arrived home on Christmas day. The very best of gifts!
We all were together after Christmas that year.
In 2013 Andrew was in Afghanistan again and Katie spent Christmas with us.
2014 we were all together with the newly engaged couple Dan and Jamie arriving later on Christmas day.
We decided early after our kids got married not to hold on tightly to having to celebrate together on a given day but to be flexible choosing joy in what worked out for the year.
This Christmas we are grateful that all eight of us will be together on Christmas Day.
So, what makes Christmas feel like Christmas to me? It’s not the weather but it is the people. Loved ones sitting at a table filled with good food. Loved ones singing together in church or caroling. Music is a big part of Christmas for me. We enjoy going to a Christmas Eve service to sing about our Savior. I’m glad when traditional carols are part of the service. Our youth group in junior high and high school would go Christmas caroling every Christmas Eve. We would go to convalescent homes where some of our Russian church members were being cared for. We’d sing in Russian and English. We’d always stop at the widows (babushkas) apartments a few doors down from the church to sing for them in Russian. Before I was married my family went to church twice on Christmas day. Once for the morning service and then in the evening there was usually a cantata that my sister’s and I would be part of and that we practiced for weeks ahead. In between services we’d have a meal at our home where a few extra people would be added at the table. Growing up my mom always sewed a new dress for me to wear on Christmas. Wearing something new on Christmas makes it feel like Christmas to me, too.
Ever since our kids were little we have woken them up to Christmas music playing on the stereo on Christmas morning. Even these years they wait to hear the music so they know it’s time for stockings!
This post is mostly for me to see my Christmas history. If you made it through thank you. Is there something that makes Christmas feel like Christmas to you?