Historically Speaking: An old fashioned country Christmas
By Lily Kongslien
Special to the Star Journal
Anticipating the Christmas holidays has always been a time of great activity especially for youngsters in rural areas. Back in the 30s we made a lot of our own gifts and decorations and had our own ideas for a special time for the family, instead of buying downtown in the stores.
A week or so before the holidays a special trip was made to town to get several “special” gifts. One was for our teacher and one for the friend whose name we drew in school, and maybe a special gift for our parents. Most of our gifts for each other were homemade, and started early in the fall. One Christmas my father made me a cradle for my doll. I still have it and it has gone through my childhood, my daughter’s and granddaughter’s childhood. My mother usually “dressed” my favorite doll in a new outfit! One Christmas stands out special; my doll got new hair, and it took a few years before I really understood it was my mother’s hair. She had gotten her hair cut for a more stylish hairdo (she had braids around her head) and then gave the hair to my doll! My father also made us snowshoes which we used very often!
We would spend days looking through Wards and Sears catalogs picking out books and games we wanted. Over the years my brother and I had collections of; Nancy Drews, Merriweather Girls, and Tom Swift series books. Games we had were, Old Maid, checkers, dominoes, Sorry, Chinese checkers and many puzzles.
Early in December a box always arrived from our grandmother in Denmark. It contained a small toy for each of us, knitted mittens, caps and scarves. One year we got two stocking caps, one completely red and the other red and white. We wore them to school before Christmas vacation and the kids teased us and called us “red-headed woodpeckers” – but we were proud of our finery.
Getting the house ready for Christmas meant making some paper decorations and hanging them in all the windows. Before we got the tree we prepared strings of popcorn and cranberries, and also strings of red and green paper rings making a chain for around the tree. My Brother and I also went to the old McNaughton store to buy bags of peanuts in the shell, “boughten” animal cookies with frosting and sugars, and a dozen each of “cherries on a wire” and “strawberries” for our tree. Other decorations we saved were, walnut shells coved in tinfoil for shinny balls along with baskets of woven paper filled with candy, and we made gingerbread men and decorated them and put them on the tree along with purchased cookies. The Christmas tree was cut several days before Christmas. Usually our acreage had an abundance of balsam and spruce trees. (After the Holidays the tree was put in the yard to put suet and bread on for our feathered friends.)
Our Christmas dinner consisted of venison, rabbit or wild duck, depending on our father’s luck at hunting. Mother made her own mince meat, with actual venison and we had mince pie and pumpkin pie made from our own pumpkins.
Cranberry sausage was made from the cranberries gathered in the fall. Each Christmas Eve we had Ebleskiever (round balls made of rich pancake batter) and served with applesauce or jelly or just plain sugar. (This is a Dutch tradition.)
Our Christmas customs are flavored by the Danish traditions which my parents brought with them when they came to America. Kris Kringle was Santa Clause, although my parents didn’t stress this as the religious meaning of Christmas was always first. We had lighted candles on our tree but never let them burn very long. In Denmark, after the candles were lit and the tree decorated with heart-shaped baskets of candies and colored paper rings, the children and adults dance around the tree and sing “First We Look at the Tree, Later We’ll Eat”/ Many Danish families had a special holiday candle, divided into 24 days, each representing one day before Christmas. The candle just burned for one hour each evening, and is then blown out by the youngest child in the family. The “Jul Nisse”, they believe, is the benevolent little man of the house. On Christmas Eve before going to bed the Danish children ascend the stairs to place a bowl of porridge and a pitcher of milk at the attic entrance. Next morning they will rush to see if it has been eaten and it always has!
In our home, gifts were always opened on Christmas Eve, which was different from other families who opened Christmas morning. Reading the Christmas Story from the Bible and Hans Christian Anderson’s “The Fir Tree” and “Thy Little Match Girl” was a tradition on Christmas Eve.
I am sure that you have special Christmas memories and each is precious to you. My Christmas holidays have changed over the years but still the anticipation and happiness and joy is foremost at this time of year. As we get older we come to appreciate our family and friends more each year. May you have a Merry Christmas and may 2016 be a good year for us all!