Question On the 6th Day of Christmas Past: Why did Marjorie Pay Hinckley’s family consider Christmas time her holiday?
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If the grandchildren had to pinpoint one time of year that reminds them of Grandma Hinckley, it would have to be Christmas. This is her holiday. Everything she does with it is magical. Around the beginning of December, little cards arrive every four or five days in the mail to her grandchildren. Each child remembers the excitement of getting a card with just his or her own name on it. If you lived out of town, it was added reassurance that Grandma always thought about you even if you didn’t see her very often.
And these aren’t ordinary cards. They pop out or stand up or play a Christmas carol. Lizzie even remembers one that her brother received that unfolded into a Santa mask. The cards usually contain one or two sentences at most, things like: “Good things happen at Christmastime” or “From your secret elf” or “Start counting the days” or just a simple “XOXO.” She usually didn’t sign her name, but the small, cursive penmanship was very familiar. Somewhere in between all of the cards was an invitation to the Grandchildren’s Christmas Party: “Attendance mandatory” or “Only the chicken pox will qualify as an excuse.” Christmas anticipation for her grandchildren didn’t get any better than receiving:
Sunday, December 18, 5:30 p.m.
Christmas dinner and fish pond.
Walk through Temple Square.
Try, try, try to be there!
Thursday, December 22, 7:00 p.m.
Walk through Temple Square if we didn’t make it on the 18th.
“Annie” at Promised Valley Playhouse.
4:00 p.m. Straight home!
Marjorie Hinckley’s granchildren write the following accounts –
Michael Hinckley, a grandson, remembers these extraordinary parties:
My earliest and clearest memories of Grandma are the “Cousins’ Christmas Parties,” which were an essential part of each Christmas season. The magic of the Christmas season is already prevalent in the lives of children, yet this annual gala put on by Grandma added even more excitement. First of all, the simple fact that Grandma would invite only the grandchildren to come to the party was something significant in itself. While at family dinners we kids were always at the “children’s tables,” such was not the case on this occasion. There were no adults—only Grandma. We children all sat together at the “adults’ table.” We were the important people.
The tables were festively decorated with linens of green and red, plates portraying Christmas scenes and symbols, and other articles ornamenting each dining place. Perhaps the most exciting feature of the dinner table was the shiny Christmas-tree ornament decorating the place of each grandchild. (I still have all of these, and I will pass them on to my children.) Inevitably, these were the most beautiful ornaments we would place on our trees each year. Usually Grandma had purchased them earlier in the year in some foreign country.
Before we ate, Grandpa gave us a little manners lesson. Apparently our manners, or rather our lack of manners, were the reason Grandma began having the parties! I’m not sure our manners improved, but some of my cousins remember specific rules: no elbows on the table, don’t reach across someone to get food, say “I’m finished, thank you,” rather than “I’m all done!”
The dinner itself was an event to be remembered. Fruit cocktail in stemmed sherbet glasses, ham, potatoes, corn, rolls (with raspberry jam), and an array of other vegetables, meat, and delicious foods. The desserts would vary from ice cream to cakes, pies, cookies, and so on. Yes, the food was spectacular, but the real fun was after dinner.
We started with several games of Bingo. Grandma would call the numbers as we placed our pieces down on the appropriate squares, each child hoping he or she would be next to yell “Bingo!” There were prizes for those who won. And for those who didn’t win, there were still prizes. Everyone’s a winner with Grandma.
Next was the “fish pond.” Grandpa had already wired an elaborate “fishing pole” together and strung a blanket across a door opening. Grandma sat on the other side of the blanket. Each child cast, waited for Grandma to secure the gift (each suited to the individual child), and then “reeled in.” The fishing was always good!
As evening wore on and we had all prepared for bed, we would lie down in our sleeping bags behind doors, under the piano, on the sofa, or in any other creative spot we could find with a cousin or two. Then Grandma would read to us, the same wonderful Christmas stories every year. They made us feel warm inside. After she finished reading, she would sit absolutely still in a chair until every one of us was sound asleep. One time when she started to tiptoe through us to get back upstairs, my sister said, “I’m still awake!” So she sat down and read her favorite story, The Little Match Girl, all the way through again.
The next morning it was breakfast, and then sometimes she had tickets to a Christmas play for all of us. By the time our parents picked us up, we were finished with the best part of December.
The Christmas parties still go on now, but they’re no longer sleepovers. Every grandchild, including spouses and great-grandchildren, comes to the festive dinner and enjoys Bingo and the fish pond. We love being together.
Of course, every year Grandpa says: “Now, you kids know that this is the last Christmas party. There are too many of you, you’re too noisy, and it’s just too much work for your grandma!”
We just laugh and wait eleven months for the invitations to come in the mail.
Ada Hinckley remembers that Grandma found a way of including even the out-of-town grandchildren in the Christmas parties:
I remember when we were little and lived away from Salt Lake City, we would anticipate the fish-pond box in the mail with our wrapped presents, and we would open them as a family the same night that all of our cousins did at Grandma’s house. Although we lived away from our cousins and grandparents for a time, we never felt left out of the festivities, because we would always get to be a part of the fish pond. Many times we received a doll or an ornament from an exotic part of the world she and Grandpa had been to earlier in the year. We all have a great collection of ornaments from Grandma, and every year when we put them on the Christmas tree we remember the year we got each of them and the different countries they are from.
Granddaughter Elizabeth Hinckley has similar memories:
Even when we lived in Arizona, Grandma always thought of us and included us. At Christmastime, when all the cousins did fish pond, she would send us our fish-pond presents in the mail. She would send us Christmas cards throughout the whole Christmas season. We always loved to get her cards and presents.