Christmas Traditions of Old
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
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
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
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.
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.
falls upon your life,
The day of reckoning comes;
Against your sins, by high decree,
are weighted those scattered crumbs.
more articles by Michael Hillman