Christmases Past

I hope to live long enough to have grandchildren who ask what Christmas was like when I was growing up in Madison, Tennessee in the 1950s.

  • When the Yule season neared, one of the first traditions was for my father to get his shotgun and go knock on Mrs. Silver’s door, who lived next to us. He got permission to shoot down mistletoe that grew in the top of the old oak tree near the property line. He hung the mistletoe over our front door using a red ribbon. Somehow the kisses he gave my mother were a bit different than the ones I got. Mine were quicker and on my cheek.
  • Each year my father went “somewhere” to cut down a cedar Christmas tree to bring home. Getting it straight and secure in the red metal stand required all three of us. He strung lights all around it, and it was always a chore to find which bulbs weren’t working and to replace them. Then my mother and I hung bubble lights, glass ornaments, and icicles (tinsel). Daddy had the honor of putting the star on top after the tree was decorated. The little red stand had to be kept full of water or the tree would dry out before the holidays ended. It didn’t help that the dog and cat had a new water supply, but the green, cedar smell outweighed the disadvantages.
  • My mother spent HOURS wrapping gifts. She usually used layers of white tissue paper for wrapping and she decorated the treasures with glue and glitter, making up her own designs. Sometimes she would carefully cut vignettes from old Christmas cards to glue onto the wrapped gifts, and the she would outline some of the shapes with glue and glitter. Obviously, glitter was a Christmas staple. Some years we’d still find some in the carpet in July.
  • Mother also sent over 100 Christmas cards. No, she didn’t just sign our names and slap them into envelopes. She wrote personal notes on most all of them!
  • I had to take a bath on Christmas Eve so I would be clean for Santa to come. I never saw the guy, so what difference did it make what I smelled like? But I went along with the plan to please my parents since they were so into it.
  • We had electric wall heaters and no fireplace, thus no hearth. Mama and Daddy tried to tell me that Santa would just come in the door, but I was having nothing to do with that theory. I’d heard the songs. I’d listened to the poem. I finally convinced them that Santa came through the wall heater in the living room. Santa only had to come in that way one year for my parents to believe what I’d been telling them. I was always right about things like that.
  • On Christmas Eve, I could open one gift. I hoped that it wouldn’t be my “big” one. And usually it wasn’t. Of course Santa left the big one next to that wall heater.
  • Christmas morning was the only day of the year that my parents didn’t complain about getting up when I wanted them to. I wasn’t allowed to peek before I woke them. And, believe it or not, I didn’t. After I saw what Santa had left beside the wall heater, we opened gifts. Daddy passed them out one at a time. We opened them carefully and saved the bows for the next year. Only one person opened a gift at a time and all had to exclaim over it before the next person could open one.
  • Oh! I almost forgot about the stockings. No, they weren’t hung above the wall heater. For some reason that was one battle I lost as a youngster. We had to drape them over the armchair next to the front door. Mama and Daddy filled the stockings; not Santa. And Daddy always put an orange in mine. I think I was in my 30s before he told me that when he was growing up in the Cumberland Mountains and later in Goodlettsville, Tennessee that he got an orange in his stocking at Christmas. Fruit wasn’t readily available back then, and when it could be found it was quite expensive. So an orange in his stocking was a delight. He wanted to carry on that tradition. And I’ve done so with my son – when I remember to. Maybe he will put oranges in the stockings of his children in the future.