"Memories of Christmas Past" by Diane Disney Miller

Posted on Sat, 12/25/2010 - 06:00



Christmas with Walt; courtesy of The Walt Disney Company, © Disney." Christmas is the most exciting time of the year, and not just because of Santa Claus. It is a wonderful time of celebration, of expectation, filled with glorious music. In our home, the excitement began with the Nativity set, which had been carefully packed away just after New Year's Day. It was brought out and all the figures carefully removed from the cotton in which they'd been wrapped... Mary and Joseph, two shepherds (one kneeling with a lamb in his arms), the Three Wise Men (or Kings, if you will), several sheep, a cow, a donkey, and the baby Jesus, placed last in his manger bed. 

We would drive down to Wilshire Boulevard to see the Christmas windows in the May Company department store. When I first saw the Christmas windows in the Emporium on Main Street in Disneyland, I was reminded of Dad's fascination with those other windows so long ago. 

Our living room in the home of Woking Way was two stories high. A balcony from the upstairs hall, just outside my bedroom, looked down on it. This was the site of my first view of Christmas mornings. Then I'd rush downstairs for a closer look.

On the first Christmas, the tree was enormously tall. It was hung with assorted glass ornaments, colored lights, and a liberal amount of tinsel icicles. Of course I don't recall this, but dad's camera recorded it, panning from the top of the tree down to one-year-old me at the bottom, a bit baffled by it all, but curious, sitting amidst an array of wind-up toys.

The trees became less tall over the years, probably to facilitate the decorating process, which was done primarily by our mother who was barely five feet tall. Her sister, our Aunt Hazel, was married to Bill Cottrell, and they, with her daughter Marjorie and her family, always came to our home for Christmas dinner. For several years, Dad would take Sharon and me for a Christmas morning visit to Uncle Robert and Aunt Charlotte, then on to visit his oldest brother, Herb, and his wife, Louise. 

My mother's sister, our Aunt Grace, lived with us for many years. She made the beautiful ballet tutus that hung on our tree one Christmas morning. When I spied them from above, I naturally thought that Santa had brought them, but Auntie Grace deserves all the credit for them. We put them on immediately, and wore them all day. 

On Christmas morning 1939, something really amazing appeared in our back yard... a beautiful playhouse that looked like it belonged in a Snow White background! While we were inside, the phone rang, and it was Santa, inquiring how we liked the house. I thanked him a lot and assured him that we couldn't be more pleased. 

The following Christmas, Santa brought the piano I'd asked for, and the velvet dress. The watch came from Dad, inscribed "To Diane from Daddy, 1940." It was a tiny watch, gold numbers on a black face. Years later, Mother had it mounted in a gold bracelet for my birthday. Sadly, it was among some other precious things taken in a burglary of our home in Encino. But I still have the piano, and Aunt Grace's gift from Christmas of 1942: A beautifully illustrated book of Christmas Carols. The music of Christmas has always been important to me. 

Christmas traditions change as the family changes, but the excitement, the beauty of the music, the glitter and glory, and the real feelings of Good Will to men of all faiths, all nations, always inspire and keep our spirits up while we get on with the challenge of... Christmas shopping. 


Happy Holidays!

Diane Disney Miller

Co-Founder, The Walt Disney Family Museum