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Sunday, July 14, 2024

Memories of Christmas Past

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The Christmas season was approaching and preparation was a necessity.  In the days before plastic trees or nice purchased fir trees, people actually went out into the nearby woods and fields and harvested their own.

My grandmother loved Christmas and started early.  About two weeks prior to Christmas, the grandkids began our search for the perfect tree.  Armed with a two-edged axe, we searched along the edge of pastures and open places where the cedar’s grow best.  In Arkansas, there are plenty of choices of cedar trees- it’s just that most of the choices little resembled the perfect cone shaped and green trees we envisioned.  Try as you might, even the best tree had skimpy and spindly branches with patches of dried needles. The group of us also had problems with dimensions. The consensus was always to select a big tree that would touch the ceiling but our concept of height was slightly askew with the resulting twelve-foot-high tree far exceeding the height of the ceiling.  

After dragging the tree home, we inserted it into the green holder, rotated it so the flat spindly side was toward the wall, and stood it upright.  Thereafter, we lowered it, cut-off a couple of feet at the bottom of the tree, and repeated the process until it fit the corner of the room.  The most enjoyable decorations were those we made ourselves.  Few kids of today know the joys of popping pop-corn, coloring it with food coloring, and stringing it on thread to make chains.  We also made chains of green and red construction paper; cutting the paper into narrow six-inch strips and connecting them to encircle the tree.  None of those little twinkling lights for use; we had those big momma, inch-and-a-half tall colored bulbs that you could see from a mile away.  We shrouded our tree with silver ice-cicles and tossed on what-ever ornaments we had and the tree was ready.  With us kids doing the job, it didn’t look like those trees found in our sears catalog but it sure pleased my grandmother.

Kids drew names at church and school and bought gifts to exchange.  Usually there was a price limit of fifty cents or a dollar but Ben Franklin and Sterling’s offered plenty of choices in that price range.  In addition, they would even wrap the gift for you.  Try that at today’s superstores!!

Mrs. Allen, our music teacher, was busy teaching us Christmas songs and preparing for the school play presented to the student body in the auditorium.  At church, we were preparing the Christmas program.  The plays always had the familiar regularity of the birth of Christ but they were exciting because no-one could ever foretell what antics and actions the youngsters would add to the story on the night of the presentation.  In our community, funerals and Christmas plays always brought out the crowds never seen at church the rest of the year.

Christmas Day might not bring the large gifts envisioned as we prepared for the holiday but we could be assured that noon would bring the entire Varnell family together for dinner.  My grandmother cooked for days, preparing every cake, candy, and dessert imaginable and we had to sample all of them.  The house was toasty from the heat of the fireplace, the rooms were filled with laughter and talk, and we kid’s ran wild through the house playing games and trying out our gifts. 

The greatest gifts are not those that are wrapped but are those of love, family, and faith. As the holidays approach, may you and yours have the Christmas of my memories.  


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