Memories of Christmas Long Ago: Part One
Editor’s note: This article, written by the late Viola Mieser, was previously published in a single issue of The Concordian. This year, we have chosen to break it into two parts. Part Two will appear in the Dec. 26, 2018, edition of The Concordian.
Are you all set for Christmas? You always make such neat selections — but gifts are all so high this year. It’s a burden on a lot of people — and that’s not what Christmas is all about. I’m reminded of long ago. Even with all the glitter and lavish beauty of homes today, I think my most exciting and best Christmases were those when we were children.
After the first of December we would start doing some decorating. Our trimmings for the house were kept in a square box — the kind and size that a pair of boots would be in today. That box held a number of red bells, the kind that fold up and are made of tissue. They were faded, but still red. We hung them in doorways and then, with a long end of red and green roping (also of paper), we draped this over tops of window curtains and that double sliding door between the dining room and living room.
Closer to Christmas we would add to this decoration with some branches from the big cedar trees in the chicken yard. That’s when it began to smell like Christmas!
We also decorated the windows with Bon Ami pictures. Bon Ami was a cleaning powder that was moistened and spread over the windowpanes to dry. When it was dry, a soft cloth was used to rub it all off and that took all smudges and dust off with it, and the windowpanes glistened with pride!
For the Bon Ami pictures, the white coating of Bon Ami was left on in the shape of the pictures we wanted. Usually we would sketch on the shapes of candles, pine trees, or holly leaves and berries — and leave that on the window — but rub all the outside background away. Mama helped us. She was artistic.
By this time, there were many secrets. Large brown bundles would come to the mailbox. Papa would bring them in the house – they came from Sears. Mama would take them into the bedroom and lock the door.
We had many more snowfalls than we have now. When snowflakes fell we caught them on our mittens and marveled at the intricate shapes. Snowflakes meant Christmas would soon be here. That locked up bedroom door was visited by us far more often than Mama ever knew about.
Finally, just a few days before Christmas, we would start a sniffing and smelling routine, and the height of our joy was when we could smell the fresh scent of cedar through the keyhole or under the door between the door and the sill. Then we knew the tree was in there!
Mama always made several kinds of rolled out cookies, trimmed with red and green sugar. She had some cookie cutters in the shapes of stars and, I believe, a bell and a tree. She baked these rolled-out sugar cookies, oatmeal cookies, and molasses cookies. Then she got at her Christmas candy. She always made several big cake pan layers of caramel fudge, chocolate fudge, “pull” candy, and divinity. The divinity was white with hickory nut and walnut bits in it. Often she would shape the divinity candy into an egg shape and press a large nut piece on the top.
The other type of candy that she made was sea-foam candy. This was made with brown sugar and egg whites. Sugar and water were cooked into threadlike syrup and then the egg whites were beaten in the hot syrup. Crushed hickory nuts were added to this, and it was then dropped on waxed paper like peanut clusters.
Mama also made peanut brittle. I remember her making the candy part in her big iron skillet, and then she would pour that over a tray of peanuts.
All this candy was set-aside in the outside pantry until it was time to pass it around at Christmas.
On Christmas Eve, we all went to church. Before we had the car, we went either in the surrey (ours had no fringe on top) or, if there was snow on the ground, we went on the sled (not a fancy transportation sleigh with beautiful curved runners as you see in pictures — those kind were for city folks and the rich). Our sled was the low-to-the-ground fodder sled that pap hauled the corn shocks on to the barn for feeding the stock. Papa would place bales of straw on it for seats. Mama would warm bricks in the oven for our feet and we took several big comforter-like covers to wrap around us as we drove those three miles to church.
We went to church on Christmas Day, second Christmas Day, and, often, on third Christmas Day. Other country people came to church, too, on sleds just like that. Each family could recognize their own sled when it was time to leave – not only by the model or license number, but by their horses that pulled it. Our horses were two brown ones, Nancy and Bert, and we had an old black mare named Jane. I can vaguely remember another old black one, Tom.
In church, the tree was always the tallest and biggest tree they could find in the community. A farmer always donated it for free. There were a few very fancy tree trimmings owned by the church, but the rest of the trimming, besides the tinsel, was the trimming that fascinated us children.
There were boxes and boxes of bought candy. The colorful twists that looked like a girl’s striped hair ribbon twisted into a swirl, candy sticks, orange slices (candy), and many interesting shapes of marshmallow type candy in pink, yellow and orange.
The tree was so beautiful—sparkling with all this candy!—and it gave us something special to think about when the sermon got too long for us. After Christmas, when the elders took down the Christmas tree, the candy was all put into boxes and brought up to school and divided among the school children, and we were happy on that day when we could eat the Christmas tree trimmings!
NOTE: Read more Memories of Christmas Long Ago in next week’s edition of The Concordian.