Many years ago, Monday after Thanksgiving was traditionally the day we began rehearsing the Christmas program we pupils in my one-room schoolhouse, supervised by our teacher, presented on Christmas Eve in our church. Our teacher had no computer or typewriter and laboriously wrote each Bible verse and presented to us what we were to memorize and recite in church, telling the story of the birth of Jesus. On Christmas Eve we arose and turned to face the congregation, with one hand behind our back (to keep from fidgeting) and in a loud voice recite our piece.
The story always began: “And it came to pass…” Recitations were interspersed with singing Christmas hymns in front of the altar. We were told to sing loud even it we did not sing well. I tried very hard and screwed up my face as I sang. People laughed at the little girl in the front row as she sang her heart out! Later when I saw my first movie, I could not understand how a woman singing had such a pleasant look on her face! At the end of the hour-long program, ushers retrieved paper bags filled by the local merchants for each of us.
Each bag contained an assortment of unshelled nuts and peanuts, mixed hard Christmas candy, an apple and an orange, plus my favorite and best gift of all: a blue-lined writing tablet and No.2 pencil. I could hardly wait until after the holidays to write to a cousin or friend, telling them of my joy over this bounty. We had little in the way of gifts back then, but the less we had, the greater our appreciation.
We had no fireplace so upon arrival home, we found on our front porch a cardboard carton filled with our gifts from Santa Claus who always came while we were at church.
We didn’t always get what we wished for, and usually there were practical gifts like long underwear to fend off the wintry wind in our Minnesota climate. The warmth of flannel nightwear erased our disappointment in not receiving some frivolous items we thought we wanted. I have no regrets and we felt our parents did all they could during the Depression, unlike the little boy preparing to write thank you notes after Christmas asked his mother, “How do you spell disappointed?” We were grateful.
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.