I am privileged to write another Christmas column on this ninth day of December, 2011. It makes about 1,560 of them, but there is always something to write about because every year is a little different than the one before. Nevertheless, for me one thing never changes because it is a celebration of my Savior’s birth. Without that, it would be just another winter holiday.
Although it’s still two weeks until Christmas Day arrives, my thoughts this week were about yesteryear Christmases. The weather on that day varies and thus far this year we have had very little snow. Weather forecasts indicate we will have lake effect snow tonight, but it sounds like it will warm up over the weekend.
When our children were young they always hoped we’d have enough snow for Christmas so they could try out the new sleds or toboggan they found under the Christmas tree when they got up at daybreak.
Thinking about those days reminded me that, for my grandparents and other older folks in those days, the way many people celebrate Christmas was vastly different than today. Thus, I got out the diaries of my mom and my maternal grandpa and read their accounts of their celebration of it.
Although they didn’t write much about the preparation of Christmas in their diaries, they described the weather and what they did on that day. On Christmas Day 1963, according to my Grandfather Wright, it was a, “Snow bound day, 5 degrees above zero. The wind blew hard all night long and heavy snow showers came and went. Nando and Lillian and Marjorie — my parent’s and sister — were here for ten o’clock breakfast. They had to walk down the hill as their car got hung up in the snow. They brought us a lovely poinsettia, a box of mixed nuts and a fruit cake for our Christmas. Ivan, Alma, Gary and Bonnie went to Grandma May’s for Christmas dinner and the rest of the day. Mother and I cracked butternuts for her Christmas cake”
Dec. 25, 1960 grandpa began with, “Beautiful sunrise and up to 36 degrees later. It is a Holy Day. One of rest and gladness, it’s the day the world honors the birthday of Christ Jesus our Lord and we behold this day is for Him who died for our sins on Calvary. Perilous are the days in which we are all living and tragedy fills the air. We were home all day. Mother and I did not try to go out. Wayne has been here some of the time. It has been a beautiful day. A young doe came up the toad and walked through the garden and through the woods. She looked like dogs had been chasing her. Night and rest again.”
I remember that grandma never had many decorations in their home at Christmas, but she did have her rail lamp, which I have now, on the living room table and usually some red and green colors around it. It was an oil lamp and still is. I always light it on Christmas along with other oil lamps that were my mom’s.
Another source about old-fashioned Christmases relates that, back then, it was more on the simple side. No one had heard of “shop early” even in October. Mother however began to knit things, we knew what they were .
Grandmother got busy ahead of time doing the same thing. My mom mostly made new clothes. Often grandfather also made things for his grandchildren. Mine once made we kids a bench and chairs just right for young children.
Kids were happy to get even a few homemade gifts, even rag dolls and maybe some fruit. If money were available, perhaps they had one toy for each purchased at the local general store or maybe in a Sears catalogue
Often the tree was decorated by the parents the night before Christmas and the children hurried down stairs in the morning excited to see the tree was decorated with popcorn strings, cranberries and, if fortunate, perhaps a few ornaments. It had been cut in their woods the day before with the whole family traveling there via a horse-drawn bobsled.
Of course their were all kinds of wonderful homemade goodies and, if the family stayed at home that day, there were many relatives who came to enjoy for the delicious dinner with all the trimmings. If they went to a grandparent’s house for the day, the dinner was equally great with lots of pie and other deserts. At my grandparent’s, there was sure to be a wonderful dinner with all the trimmings. Usually my grandparent’s had some home gifts for the children like mittens, scarves and such.
One of things that almost every family did was go to church to hear the message of Christmas and the birth of baby Jesus. I don’t know all that they did there that day, but I’m sure the service was all about the original day of Christmas.
Today Christmas customs are for the most part very different than yesteryear, but many people do include some of the old traditions especially the reason for that special day, and I’m thankful for that.