I was reading a book that my mom gave me last summer – a collection of Christmas memories from people all over the nation. Many of the stories were set around the depression era, when nobody had much to give.
And just last week when I climbed onto the elliptical to try to begin making less of myself after a harvest season sitting in the grain cart tractor, I popped in a movie that I hadn’t watched in ages. It was about a family in the Blue Ridge Mountains in 1933, who also didn’t have much to offer each other for Christmas except their love.
Between the book and that movie, it got me thinking about the way Christmas has changed over the years, even for my generation growing up in the ’60s and ’70s. Our children have not experienced Christmas the way I did while growing up, and I didn’t experience Christmas the way my parents did.
They were born directly after the Great Depression struck.
I remember Dad saying he got sticks for Christmas one year. A budget issue, or his behavior choices as a child that year? You decide.
As I reflect on my childhood Christmas memories, I think about the big drawing we had in our hometown every year, the weekend before Christmas.
Kids from all over town and country gathered around a hayrack sprinkled with toys at the town’s main intersection.
In rural America, Santa arrives on a hayrack.
All kids received a small paper bag that held some fruit, a pack of gum or a small candy bar, and a candy cane. The bag had a number on it. If the people on the hayrack drew the number that was on your bag, you won the prize. It was almost too exciting to imagine.
Our eyes gazed upon those toys with wonderment. There were basketballs, footballs, trucks, toy dishes, dolls and doll accessories, model cars and airplanes, jewelry boxes, matchbox cars, games and things like that. The big prize, given away at the end of the drawing, was a brand new bike or sled. It was always cold outside, but when a kid could get a chance to win prizes like those, it was well worth the shivering.
We gathered for that drawing every Christmas, and- out of a family with seven children- I don’t remember any of us ever bringing toys home with us. But then, there was pretty stiff competition; everyone had large families back then.
Still, it was fun to have that bag of fruit and candy, and I don’t think any of us were emotionally scarred from not winning any of the toys. There was always next year.
Looking back now after I’ve had children of my own, and helped provide for Christmases during our own tough times in agriculture, I have wondered how my parents did it.
We all received three things each year – something we needed, something we wanted, and a surprise.
And it was plenty. Christmas was so much simpler than it seems now.
They say the best gifts of Christmas are the memories, and I would have to agree. Money helps at Christmas time, but the heart is what gives the holiday its true meaning.
My parents did a great job of stretching their budget to include Christmas. But what they really gave us all year was a family large enough to have two teams for baseball, siblings to be our life-long friends, and discipline, common sense and a work ethic for the next generation.
Some of the best Christmas memories I have with our children involve picking out a tree. The experience changed so much as the children grew.
One photo I have shows my husband and our (then) elementary-aged daughter carrying the tree we had just cut. It shows them at opposite ends of the tree, facing opposite directions, appearing to be walking.
Poor Christmas tree.
It should have been a sign of what was to come raising this group of kiddies.
Schwaller is a Farm News correspondent from Milford. Reach her by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org and at www.karenschwaller.com.
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