SOUTH PORTLAND — The year was 1961. A year not forgotten! Christmas, back then, meant a stocking full of smaller items: pencils, candy and gum, hair barrettes and sometimes, if we were lucky, a crisp new $1 bill.

The tree was hand-cut, taken from my grandparents’ property in Scarborough. It was decorated with paper chains, fragile glass ornaments of assorted shapes and sizes, strung popcorn and cranberries, lots of tinsel, colored electric bulbs and one of the latest fads: bubble lights.

Under the tree, there was one “big” gift from Santa for each of us. No presents were ever placed under the tree until Christmas Eve, after all seven of us were in bed.

The first child to wake, of course, woke everyone else. We peeked at the tree but never opened or touched anything until our parents were up and awake, coffee in hand and the tree was plugged in and lit.

That year, when I sent my list to Santa, I asked for many things, but at the top of my list was a Patty Play Pal doll. She was 36 inches tall and wore a child’s size 3 clothing. When standing, holding her arm upright, she’d actually take steps and walk with you!

I was 12 years old and no longer played with dolls but had a small collection of them. The doll requested was, after all, the in thing that year. I kept telling my mother, “If there really is a Santa Claus, I will get a Patty Play Pal doll!” Never, in my memory, had I wanted anything so much!

On Christmas morning, there was no disappointment for me indeed! There she was! The tallest present near the tree. Her dress was a soft pink and white, with lace trim, black patent leather shoes — and long blonde hair with big blue eyes. She was the only present that my eyes saw under the tree that year. I immediately named her Rosemary Ann.

With such a large family, the tree looked like a store display with the many gifts. But, individually, gifts were minimal. There was always an “everyone” present — usually an assortment of board and card games. Individual presents ranged from new mittens and socks, jammies, crayons and coloring or reading books to a new hand-knitted sweater or complete outfit.

Then there were the gifts that we siblings exchanged with each other, but most important to all of us were the ones we had bought (at Woolworth’s Five & Dime) or hand-made for our parents. The whole crew was quiet. Eyes intent on each of them as they unwrapped — painfully slowly! — what we had gotten for them.

Looking back, comparing those memories to more recent Christmases with my children, grandchildren, and now great-grandchildren — from socks and mittens and rocket radios to sophisticated electronics of today — I’m struck by how simple and uncomplicated life seemed to be. With time, traditions change from one generation to the next. All of us have our own Christmases past.

Ollie LaChapelle resides in South Portland.