My grandma’s Christmas tree

My Dad loved Christmas. Every year, he hung a giant wreath from our balcony, strung lights on the bushes outside, hauled a giant, fresh tree into the house and supervised the ornament placement.

He did his own Christmas shopping as well, mostly on Christmas Eve day, although one year he spent weeks building and painting a puppet theatre he presented to my son Charlie.

My dad’s sister, Aunt Martha, who has become the family historian, recently told me a story that shed some light on the roots of my dad’s love for the holiday and provided another example of my grandma’s legendary practicality.

It turns out my Dad, his brother George and his sister Martha enjoyed two Christmas celebrations throughout their childhood, one on Christmas Eve, because the Kostelnik family practiced the Roman Catholic faith, and one on January 7, because their maternal grandmother’s family identified as Greek Orthodox.

This split religious identification worked out beautifully for my frugal grandma, who bought a Christmas tree each Christmas from the general store that employed her.

“A week before Christmas Grandma would buy a tree at the company store,” Aunt Martha told me. “Pap brought the tree home and your Dad and Uncle George would go down to Baba’s and bring home the Christmas ornaments. The ornaments were stored in a wooden dynamite box (from the coal mine). Pap put the tree in the stand and the emptied dynamite box was turned upside down and the tree placed on the box. The box and surrounding area were covered with a white sheet.”

On New Year’s Day, Aunt Martha took the ornaments off the tree and packed them back up in the dynamite box. Then, my Dad and Uncle George took the box and the tree to Baba’s and set the tree up again for the Russian Christmas.
“We all went to Baba’s on her Christmas and had a huge dinner and she handed out presents,” Aunt Martha said. “Later in the day,  the men from Baba’s church came and sang Christmas Carols in Ukrainian.  They had a shot of whiskey and went on to the next house.  I would imagine they were pretty toasty by the end of the day.”

It all sounds pretty magical and I love the idea of a single Christmas tree spreading joy to two households.

In honor of my dad, his mom, his grandma and his love of Christmas, I’m going to keep our tree up until January 7 as well. In fact, I’m sitting at my dining room table, looking over at it right now.

Merry extended Christmas from all of my beloved Pennsylvania relatives and me. And, if you care to come caroling at my house in the coming days, I may have a shot of whiskey for you.


Baba Melnyk and the Kostelnik grandchildren 1964
This is my great-grandma, Baba Melnyk with my brother Mike, my cousins Wayne and Tracy Stephenson, my cousin Susan Kostelnik, and me. I think we can all agree that 1964, the year Tracy, Susan and I were born, was a very good year for the Kostelnik family ;).
Pap, Ronnie Martha, George
My Grandpa, Pap, with my dad, my Uncle George and my Aunt Martha on 20 Row in Colver, Pennsylvania. As I’ve written about before, my grandpa was a coal miner and my dad and his siblings grew up on the same street as both of their grandmas, several aunts and uncles and cousins. Back then, 20 Row was a pretty magical place for a kid.
The current view from my dining room table. I’m going to leave it up until January 7 to honor my great-grandma (and because I just love Christmas trees).
My tree received a pretty cool ornament this year, courtesy of my son Charlie’s girlfriend Tara.

7 thoughts on “My grandma’s Christmas tree

  1. Wonderful story! I married into a Greek Orthodox family, so I also have enjoyed two Christmas celebrations over the years. Or three if you count December 6, St. Nicholas Day, and leave your shoes out to be filled with goodies. (Not exactly traditional Christmas, but a part of it, I guess 😃) I love hearing holiday stories about how other folks celebrate. My daughters are grown, so Christmas has become a season of presence, not so much presents. It’s the little things in life. Enjoy your tree; it’s lovely. Cool ornament, too!

  2. It reminded me of my own childhood. On Jan. 7th., right after the Reyes Magos’ Day (Wise Men) my mon invited the kids in the neighborhood to take the tree apart. All decorations were chocolate ornaments and our friends kept and ate the ones they had removed. Those ornaments were Santa’s, deer, angels, tiny Christmas trees, bells and candles. All wrapped up. —from the factory— in beautiful, shiny and colorful aluminum foil. So, one had to peel them and not leave a mess. On that day the celebrations ended.
    Thanks, Laura. As always, great!

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