Saturday, April 20, 2013


My family developed our own Christmas traditions.  Like all couples my parents must have had to compromise and give in to each other's ways.  What evolved is what I remember in Shamokin in the 30's.

First of all, Christmas decorations did not appear in stores or on the city streets in October or early November.  Thanksgiving was very safely past before the first imitation snowflake or Santa Claus or piece of holly was hung. There was no television to numb us with special programs or ads and I don't really remember being overwhelmed with radio except for carols. At home there was a feeling for me of suspense and excitement.  After all, Santa Claus was coming to visit me.

The Christmas of the big baby doll seems to be a distillation of all the many Pennsylvania Christmases.

I was seven or eight.  There were just my parents and me in the double house on Walnut Street.  I still believed in Santa Claus and best of all it had snowed enough to cover the ground and rooftops just like all the Christmas cards we had received.

Our house was decorated with my mother's understated good taste:  a wreath of living greens tied with red ribbons hung on the door and containers of holly or greens in the living room.  The amount of baking was also modest.  We always made brownies at Christmas, not universally traditional, but something I looked forward to as well as sugar cookies cut with a star cutter.  We had wafer-thin ribbon candies and dates stuffed with walnuts and rolled in sugar.

That year I remember wanting a doll and listing it on my letter to Santa Claus.  I got through Christmas Eve supper somehow and afterward the tree was brought in from the back porch and put in the corner of the dining room.  First, each light on all the strings of lights had to be tested.  This accomplished, they were strung on the tree and we three hung the ornaments, always finishing with a star at the top.  Glittery tinsel was hung last.  A few houses, trees and a little church formed the village placed at the base of the tree and we were finished.

The lights were turned on and it was an almost perfect moment.  My father then took his own childhood copy of The Night before Christmas and read it aloud.

Because we had no fireplace in this house, my stocking was hung up on the sideboard.

On the street a group of Welsh singers from the evangelical church gathered to sing carols.  One of our neighbors, Paul Stokes, was among them with his extraordinarily clear and joyous voice.

Up to bed was difficult.  I was too wound up to sleep but sleep I must or no morning.  One year I heard a noise on the roof and I knew.

Christmas morning my mother woke me early for 7 o'clock mass and I had to walk past the glorious display around the tree.  The  year of the large baby doll stayed with me all through the service.  Mass always seemed extra long on Christmas morning.  I was sleepy, excited and impatient.

Finally we were home again.  My father had breakfast started.  This was his specialty:  cornbread or muffins, ham and fried eggs...............

(Ed note:  This is unfinished, but I couldn't resist including it.  ds)

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