Home | Mission & Goals | Meeting Schedule | Search | Contact Us | Submit A Story | Links

Reflections On Christmas Traditions of Old

Michael Hillman

Thanks to the Internet, I got all my Christmas shopping done already this year. A few weeks ago I received an e-mail advertising this exciting new web site called www.spendallyourcashhere.com that promised me a painless Christmas shopping season or my money back. 

After logging in, I was asked to provide some details about my wife - you know, the usual stuff - her height, her age, her sex, the color of her eyes, her astrology sign, social security number, etc. This information was then used to categorize her likes and dislikes (based upon some high tech research done in blind study focus groups in southern California) and before I knew it, my presents were chosen! I have to admit that I was impressed. I can’t wait till Christmas to see what I got her!

Needless to say, I’m kidding. But as I ready myself for the annual ritual of battling crowds in shopping malls, I can’t help but reflect upon the days of my father’s youth, when budgets were tight. Back then gift giving and the holidays had a different flavor to them.

Many in our community can still remember a time when the Christmas season was part of a larger holiday season, a season that began with the fall Apple harvest. With homes a little more spaced out then today, just about every family owned an apple tree, and those that didn’t, had friends that did. Everyone, from young children to old grandparents, participated in the apple harvest. Children retrieved the good apples that had fallen to the ground. Adults focused on the apples still on the tree, or at least the ones they could reach from a ladder. While young boys, eager to prove their manhood, risked life and limb to claim the solitary apple at the end of the tallest branch.

Returning home, the apples were separated in preparation for pressing, with those hosting worms set aside for the pairing knife. Next children would methodically remove every stem, lest they add tartness to the sweet juice they all savored for. Throughout the day, the pressing would continue. The juice which escaped the eager lips of children, was captured and stored in wood kegs, where with time, it would be transform into apple vinegar for canning vegetables, or hard cider for warmth in the cold months that were sure to follow.

Time being tough, nothing ever went to waste, and that included the remains of the apple pressings in the vats. Called ‘Pummies’, they were a favorite treat of farm animals of every shape and size. The smell of the wagon that bore ‘pummies’ was known to every animal in the valley, and its approach would generate a stampede to the fence line. And as farmers smiled, their animals liked their lips in anticipation of their favorite yearly treat.

No sooner was the cider safely stowed away, then attention was tuned to the next harvest, that of the pop corn. Planted in gardens early that spring, it had been tenderly cared, usually by the youngest of the children. No matter how small one’s property was, there always seemed to be room for a few rows of pop corn. Once dried, the corn was shucked, cleaned, sorted, and stowed away for those special weekend family nights in front of the fire.

The first frost of the season marked the beginning of the annual nut harvest. Lugging containers of every shape one could fathom, children descended upon every walnut and hickory tree they could imagine. After foraged about for all they could be plundered, they look madly for someone to render them asunder. If they were lucky, they would find someone obliging, who would make quick work by crush their catch with a car’s tire. For those that were unlucky, only a hammer would reveal their haul’s tasty treasure. No matter how hard the work might have been, tired arms and sour muscles were soon soothed by the taste, of nuts in warm cookies, and plates of them at that.

Where today Thanksgiving marks the ‘Official’ beginning of the gift buying season, by Thanksgiving in days gone by, mothers were putting the finishing touches on sweaters, mitts and hats, colorful dresses and plaid pants and shirts, that would be revealed to sparkling eyes for the first time under the Christmas tree. Fathers toiled late into the night on finely decorated rocky horses, nick knacks, and wooden wagons of every shape and size.

For those that had money, which were few, and well as those that didn’t, it was traditional to descend upon the old Fariley’s Store to do one’s Christmas shopping. A favorite gathering place to catch up on the days events, adults gave the store a wide birth in the afternoon, least they be overrun by the hoard of wide eyes children descending upon the store after school to ‘ou and ah’ the Christmas gifts laid out in its usually vacant second floor.

It was hard not to catch the Christmas spirit. Christmas decorations were every where. Store fronts were decorated with loving care, and households competed with each other with a zeal usually reserved for rival baseball teams. Streetlights were wrapped with silver, lace, and fir. Upon the electric wires hung bells and other signs of Christmas cheer.

Merry making and kinship were the order of the day. Neighborhood children descend upon friends, decked out in costumes that brought smiles and laughter to all that they passed. Children embarked upon ‘Chriskringling’, as it was called, at the start of their two-week Christmas. Sneaking up with care least they awake their prey, they would surround their victims house, and raising their voices in unison, try to wake the dead with streaks and sequels. The quarry of the night would rush to the door, and to silence the roar, would invite them all in. After guessing whom the culprits might be, they would indulge them with fresh cider, hot cookies, and candy.

Much to the merriment of children wide and far, Santa never failed to stop in our town. Arriving on a sled if conditions were correct, he would greet each child singularly, with a twinkle in his eye. After listening attentively to their list of desires, he would release them to helpers, who had baskets of plenty . From there they would run to the fire house nearby, where they could fill their bellies with hot soups and confectionary wonders. With stomach stretched full, they were headed down the street, to the cinema. There in the dark they marveled at the screen, and dreamed of futures that would be real one day.

Christmas eve activates began at first light. Fathers, on a rare holiday, sharpened their axes, and with their small charges in tow, set out for the perfect tree. After much careful studding and many second guesses, a cedar tree was selected and dragged back to town. Once safely inside, children quickly went to work. The fire was stoked, and a frying pan found, and soon popping of corn was all around. Needles which had grown dull thought years, once again favor in hand with little fingers. And while they could no longer stitch or darn yarn, they served their new master in their efforts to sting corn.

With socks securely hung, children were headed off to bed. When safety in bed, but not quite asleep, Fathers and older brothers’ would steal secretly outside, climbing carefully and slowly, ensuring not to make a sound. Positioning themselves near the windows of the young, hoof beats were made and slay bells would be rung, A hardy ‘Merry Christmas’ was all that it would take, to send wild-eyed children running in hopes of spying their Christmas take.

The run to the Christmas tree was always nipped in the bud, by mothers and big sisters, who grabbed them with hugs. Returned to their room, and sent back to bed, many prayed themselves asleep, begging God to hurry their night.

With the day’s excitement now mostly spent, parents got a chance to set back and rest. For those without children, visits to friends and family were the orders of the day. Cider, now hard, was retrieved from its keg, and with it callers were toasted, till late in the day.

Christmas is for everyone, and that included pets, who found treats of all sorts in their bowls and their beds. Those that were held special, everyone did know, for they were decked out in bows of silver, blue and gold.

Children arose early and tried to sneak peaks, at the bounty that had left while they slumbered through the night. With the word from sleepy parents, they descended in a fright. Presents of all sort were opened with zeal, with little head being paid to their attached notes of good will. When every gift was opened, and the thank-yous all done, everyone dressed in their finest and headed into town. Joining family and friends, and neighbors all around, they listened in awe, about a child born to save each and all.

While Christmas for most is a time of good cheer; it is not always so, especially if you have lost someone dear. So in this season of hustle and bustle, please pause to remember, that we are all own sisters and brothers. Turn not away when someone needs help, but do as the Christ child would; lend then hand and your heart.

As I reflect upon and future things that might be, I find myself reciting an old English poem. While it message is applicable any time of the year, it seems most fitting now, that winter is near.

Amidst the freezing sleet and snow,
The timid Titmouse comes;
In pity drive him not away,
But scatter out your crumbs.

And leave your door upon the latch,
For who so every comes;
The poorer they, more welcome give,
And scatter out your crumbs.

All have to spare, none are too poor,
when want with winter comes;
The loaf in never all your own,
So scatter out the crumbs.

Soon winter falls upon your life,
The day of reckoning comes;
Against your sins, by high decree,
are weighted those scattered crumbs.

Merry Christmas

Read more articles by Michael Hillman