|“Christmas: the Evolution of an American Holiday” by Heather Looney
In Local History/Technology class, we have done extensive research in our database for Christmas stories. We have many memories that have been shared in our database. After reading and studying them, I have come to realize how much Christmas has changed. Years ago, ideal Christmas gifts were fruits, nuts, and maybe a wooden toy if you were lucky.
“Santa Clause would leave us an orange and an apple and a candy bar and a few nuts, and that was our treat for Christmas.” - Edna Sarver
The Christmas tree was often an old pine that was found in the woods near the house, decorated with strung popcorn. Although the gifts have become more extravagant, much of the joy and the meaning of the season has been lost.
In reading these transcripts, I was amazed to know just how much Christmas was enjoyed by everyone, the old and young alike.
“For Christmas, we always had our tree. The children always wanted to help decorate. Even the tiny ones. We would let them put tinsel or a decoration on so that they had a part in it and then come the happy time. It was lit up and all the decoration the big star at the top and the lights on it really showed up. Christmas Morning you could hear the children say lets go see what Santa brought. They always wanted Santa to have a treat when he got there. Always plenty of candy, nuts, and cookies. We usually had a lot of people in for Christmas dinner. It was a jolly time around our house. We always tried to get each of the children, 5 girls and 1 boy, something new. For the meal we always had a big turkey with all the trimmings. My family always loved the dressing. We always had plenty of everything to eat; pies, cakes, popcorn. We would get around and sing Christmas songs. Some of the time Santa would come in with a big bag of toys and give each a nice present. They were always happy.” - Martha Hoosier
The family would get together and decorate the Christmas tree as a family, with popcorn, paper, cotton, just about anything that they could find.
“We decorated…..sometimes we would make our own decorations, we would pop popcorn, string it and we’d get the crepe paper and make our own decorations sometimes, then we’d buy some tinsels….so that was basically all……..sometimes we’d get cones out of the woods and paint them and spray them with crystals…sparkles….” - Minnie Harris.
Often times the tree wouldn’t have many gifts underneath it, but it was enough just to spend time with the family and enjoy the season.
“Our parents would usually try to give us something. Sometimes it might have just been fruit.... I might have got the song book and my sister got the book of poems that we really got to enjoy, but we didn’t get a lot of gifts. But my father always made the point to get apples and oranges and nuts and candy. So we appreciated that because we didn’t have things like that other times of the year .” - Nancy Smith
They would exchange gifts, that weren’t always very expensive, but very thoughtful, nonetheless. A lot of times, families couldn’t afford much, and anything that they could get was appreciated. Finally the family would sit down and enjoy a meal together, something that was obviously as much of a treat as opening the gifts, to some.
“We usually had a lot of people in for Christmas dinner. It was a jolly time around our house.... For the meal we always had a big turkey with all the trimmings. My family always loved the dressing. We always had plenty of everything to eat; pies, cakes, popcorn. We would get around and sing Christmas songs.” - Martha Hoosier
Also, Santa Clause apparently had different methods of delivering gifts in those days. The gifts weren’t always found underneath the tree.
“Well, we'd get us a tree, sometimes though there were times when there for a long time we didn't get a tree for the holiday, it's just in our kitchen we'd have big plates we'd put around on the table, and whatever Santa Clause was going to bring us, he'd put in each of our little plates. But we got to get a Christmas tree, we got big enough to get them ourselves, you know. We would string popcorn, and decorate the tree, and then put little pieces of cotton all the way aroundit. That's how we celebrated Christmas.” - Pearl Shawver
A few of our transcripts have memories of going to church and celebrating with their church family. “They had a beautiful tree and we used to always a live tree cut out on the farm somewhere and bring in. I think they have a artificial tree now, but they trim and decorate it up and all the alter railing and all of the whole church and everybody praised the birth of Jesus Christ that’s what Christmas is all about . It was wonderful to be there.” - Flora Lee Beckner
It seems we’re always trying to improve upon it by buying more and better things, but reading these precious stories only reaffirms what I know to be true about Christmas. It’s about being together, enjoying each other and being thankful for the blessings God has given us.