I Was Thinking... Christmas Memories
There is probably no other holiday that conjures up more memories than Christmas. But it isn’t just the day, it is the anticipation that accompanies it. In Advent we celebrate the four weeks leading up to Christmas. Stores start putting out Christmas displays even before Thanksgiving and keep reminding us how many shopping days we have left.
My childhood Christmas memories spanned the 1950s and into the 60s in rural NE Wisconsin. The earliest Christmas memories came from our small Norwegian Lutheran Church and the one room schoolhouse I attended.
Christmas meant a program for each one. This meant you needed to memorize some lines for your “piece.” Everyone had a “piece” to say during the program. In school, MERRY CHRISTMAS was spelled out with each child holding a big cut out green or red letter and saying what that letter meant. That was usually for the younger children. They also were responsible for making the red and green paper chains from slips of construction paper pasted together that would be hung around the room for decorations.
Older kids had larger lines to memorize for the Christmas play that was put on. The 7th & 8th grade boys were tasked with providing the greenery for the school. One morning, these boys set out to a local woods with hatchets, axes, and saws to get evergreens for the school. This was with no adult supervision and probably without the permission of the owner of the woods they would invade. While it took about 20 minutes to secure enough bows for the decorations, they made sure they stayed out until it was time for lunch.
A week before Christmas, a stage was constructed at the front of the school and curtains hung across half the room for the dressing room and staging area. Weeks before the grand performance, pieces were assigned, songs were practiced, and rehearsals were held. Regular academic schedules were modified to prepare for the big night. The evening of the performance was filled with anticipation and excitement.
The little school was packed with all the student’s families including grandparents. At the end, “We Wish You A Merry Christmas” was sung and somehow Santa always showed up at exactly the right time and had a brown bag of goodies for every child. These bags usually contained peanuts, an apple, an orange, a popcorn ball, some ribbon candy, chocolate mounds, and huge lumpy squares of angel candy. Of course, nothing was individually wrapped.
The weeks leading up to Christmas at church was much the same. The regular Sunday School routine was replaced with the preparation for the Children’s Christmas Program. You know it was getting close when a bright yellow star was strung high up in the front of the church with wires extending from wall to wall.
The Sunday School teachers distributed the pieces to be memorized by each child. They knew which kids could handle the longer parts. A member of a particular family almost always had the Christmas story narrative because they were good at memorizing. But everyone has something.
During our practices, one lady always sat at the very rear of the church with two signs. One said slower and one said louder. We even were required to come in on a Saturday for a final rehearsal.
Our small church had a tiny room behind the altar which also led to the church basement. On the day of the program, all the children and teachers were crowded into these confined quarters before we marched out from behind the alter into the church with our first song.
As with the school, it was standing room only for the program and every child again went home with some type of gift bag and maybe a bookmark with a Bible verse on it. While probably every kids still waited anxiously for Santa Claus, they also knew Christmas was about baby Jesus and the birth of the Christ Child.
It is amazing how vivid memories of well over 60 years can remain. It must be that Christmas magic.
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Photo: I was thinking Ron Albright