Christmas Program Memory

‘Tis the season for Christmas programs! My nieces and nephews had theirs last week, ours is this Sunday, and one Facebook friend had three on consecutive nights recently. So, in honor of nervous children, Christmas carols, and frazzled directors everywhere, here is a true Christmas Program memory to put a smile on your face!

Young PoppaThe year was 1940.

Jan’s dad, or Poppa as the kids call him, was ten years old and growing up in tiny Kensington, Minnesota.

The school children were in state of great excitement as Christmas approached. Poppa was no exception.

Part of their excitement was the upcoming Christmas pageant. This was back in the days when shepherds,  angels and baby Jesus were an integral part of the school program, and Poppa had been chosen to read the Christmas story from the Gospel of Luke.

It was quite an honor.

To add to the excitement, the pageant was to be held downtown at Kensington Hall. The hall was large and boasted a real stage and two sets of curtains – the plush red velvet and an inner curtain of mesh that the angel choir stood behind – all adding to the drama.

For weeks the students practiced and prepared during school hours, as the excitement mounted for the big event!

Finally the evening had come for the performance.

The students all came dressed in their Christmas finery. Poppa was wearing his best suit and his hair was slicked back just right.

The program began on time and seemed to go without a hitch. The angel choir looked angelic behind their mesh curtain as one by one the students performed, building up to the climax – the reading of Luke 2.

Poppa stood in the wings nervously waiting his turn. He opened his Bible to look at the passage one more time and suddenly realized that it was pitch black!

They had only practiced during  school hours – when the sunlight streamed in the large auditorium windows.  With all the house lights off, he couldn’t read a word!

He frantically told the nearby teacher, who frantically told the next one, who frantically wrung her hands in panic.

Finally, the primary teacher, Miss Bovem,  suggested a flashlight. She said she would stand on the other side of the curtain and hold it through the crack so that Poppa could read.

A flashlight was found.

Poppa nervously stepped between the velvet curtains, cleared his voice, opened his Bible and waited for Miss Bovem to turn the flashlight on, reach her arm through the curtains and illuminate the passage.

The light appeared and he started to read the familiar words, growing more confident with each verse.

Meanwhile, behind that heavy velvet curtain, Miss Bovem’s arm was getting tired. She supported it with her other arm and leaned slightly into the curtain.

Still Poppa read.

Then suddenly – without warning – the flashlight flew across the stage as a very startled Miss Bovem crashed through the curtain, landing in a heap on the floor!

The startled audience gasped – and then a few seconds later – a titter of laughter was heard. Soon, the entire hall was doubled over in laughter!

Poppa’s big part was a smashing success!

By the way – Miss Bovem was uninjured in the fall, and later married Corkie Windell and lived a long and happy life. But I’m sure she never again volunteered for the Christmas program!


Gone Fishin’ For Christmas

Christmas is such a wonderful time of the year! To celebrate the season, each Friday during the month of December I’ll be sharing a special Christmas story. We begin this week with a true story from Jan’s mom.

The year was 1936.

Jan’s mom, or Damie as the kids call her, was just five years old.

For the little girl growing up in Minnesota during the Great Depression, it will always be remembered as the year that Grandma died.

Grandma had eleven children, some married with families of their own, others still living at home when she died.

She had been the matriarch of the family and her absence was most keenly felt as Christmas approached.

She did the baking, the decorating,  and – most importantly to a five year old – the gift buying.

The family would gather at the traditional Swedish Christmas Eve Service at midnight, followed by a trip to Grandpa and Grandma’s house for thick black coffee and the Swedish treats that Grandma had spent weeks making.

What would Christmas be like without Grandma?

Grandpa felt the loss most of all, but despite his pain, he knew that he didn’t want his grandchildren to remember this Christmas with sadness. He wanted to make it a special time.

As the cold December days passed, he made a plan. After a trip to the local dime store and then to the barn for the needed supplies, he was ready.

Finally the big day arrived and the family gathered.

The aunts had done the decorating and pulled together hot coffee and a feast of goodies, but grandma’s absence was keenly felt.

Grandpa slipped out of the room and quietly hung a sheet in the doorway.

He came back in holding a fishing pole with a bag attached to the end and called the grandchildren to gather around.

He explained that each one would get a turn to fish in “Grandpa’s Fish Pond” and see what they could catch. Then he quietly slipped behind the sheet.

Their eyes grew large as one by one each grandchild grabbed the pole and lowered the bag over the side of the sheet and pulled it back.

They had each caught a gift!

It wasn’t anything fancy or expensive, it was just a little something from the dime store. But the fun they had “catching” their gift made it extra wonderful!

With shining eyes they held that gift tightly while tucking the memory of that special Christmas into their hearts.

Damie has included a fish pond in our own family Christmas celebration for several years now.

And every year as we watch the shining eyes of the grandchildren “fish” for their gifts, we are reminded of that first Christmas Fish Pond, when Great-Grandpa looked beyond his own grief to make a special Christmas for those he loved.

And the Stockings Were Hung…

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas around here!

The kids spent a good part of last weekend cleaning and putting up Christmas decorations. Even the guys helped – although I think they weren’t as excited about the decorating as they were about eating our traditional chocolate fondue while they did it!

To me, decorating for Christmas is a special time when we share the memories of Christmas’s past and pass on traditions.

Traditions like our red Christmas stockings.

When we were born, my siblings and I each received a handmade red Christmas stocking from Grandma Griner.

Since we never had a fireplace mantle to hang them, every year Mom would hang those 5 stockings on the wall until Christmas Eve.

(Okay – something I’ve wondered for years – how in the world did Mom get them to stay on the wall all month?)

Then – just before bed on Christmas Eve – we would take our stockings and safety pin them to the couch – most of the time using diaper pins (you know the ones with little pastel duckies and bunnies on them!)

Little Mom

And we would sit, in order of age, in our handmade jammies, with excited faces, and take a picture.

Every year.

Even the year we had mumps.

Trust me – some of those pictures are really embarrassing! Especially when we got into our teens.

When each of us got married and started our own families, my sister Teresa continued the tradition. She presented each of our children with their very own red Christmas stocking, just like the ones Grandma made.

Since I also don’t have a fireplace to hang them, our stockings get hung on our open staircase until Christmas Eve, when – you guessed it – we take them down and hang them on the couch!

And I bet you’ve figured out what we do next!

Christmas stockingsThat’s right – we sit the kids down in birth order and take a picture of them  – in their jammies with excited faces just before they go to bed.

Every year.

Even the year they all had the head colds and bright red chapped noses.

Trust me – some of these pictures are really embarrassing, too!

crazy Christmas stockings

Especially now that they are in their teens!

But what a special memory!

It’s a tradition that ties us together, past and present.

A special bond we share together as a family.

And as my kids start leaving the nests to set up their own households, their red Christmas stocking will go with them.

Then, in December when they pull out the Christmas decorations, they will see their bright red Christmas stocking and remember.

On Rudolph and Other Christmas Memories

christmas memories

Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer was on last night.

I watched it with the kids – all five of them – even the teenagers. We sang right along with the songs; jumped in fright when the Bumble prepared to eat Clarisse; and cheered when Herbie removed all his teeth.

It’s a classic. An event. A tradition that we enjoy once a year.

As I sat there last night I remembering sitting at home with my siblings doing the very same thing – only the TV was black and white.

Just hearing Burl Ives singing “Silver and Gold” brought back a flood of memories. I could almost smell the Christmas tree and taste Dad’s caramel corn.

I remembered visiting Santa at the firehouse and getting a brown paper sack of goodies (salted peanuts at the bottom, a candy cane, and apple and orange.)

I remembered Christmas Eve – dressing up and saying our “pieces” in the Church Christmas program, then hurrying home to hang our stockings on the couch (we had no fireplace) and taking the traditional pajama picture before going to bed to wait for sleep to come.

I remembered slipping out of bed, tiptoeing to my sister’s room with my other siblings to wait for Santa. We would giggle and talk and send out an occasional spy until we got caught.

I remembered waking up at dawn and running to the Christmas tree to see if Santa had come, before running to Mom and Dad’s room and literally pulling them out of bed.

I remembered the chocolate Santa and animal crackers in my stocking, the happy confusion of unwrapping gifts, and the special breakfast of little smokies sausages and Pillsbury pastries from a tube (rare treats from my “make-everything homemade” mom).

I remember Christmas dinner at grandpa and grandma’s house, opening more presents, and playing with cousins before heading to the other grandma’s house for an oyster soup supper on Christmas night.

Such rich memories.

As the credits rolled last night I couldn’t help but wonder just what my kids will remember.

What sights and sounds of Christmas will trigger their memories?

I only hope they are as rich and wonderful as mine are.

Thanks Mom and Dad.

Going Home for Christmas

Snowman For the first time in 10 years, I went home for Christmas.

For the last decade we have heated with a wood stove and were unable to leave the house in the winter for long periods of time.

Most of my children had no memories of what Christmas at Grandpa and Grandma’s looked like. They couldn’t imagine the prairie covered with snow. They had never gone sledding down the hill.

Until this year. Since we no longer heat with wood and our wonderful ground source heat pump keeps the house toasty warm whether we are here or not, we were able to pack up our bags and head north the day after Christmas!

We had a wonderful weekend sharing memories of Christmas’s past and making new ones together.

I enjoyed seeing all the Christmas decorations that were a part of my childhood (including my snowman -shown in the picture- that I made clear back in kindergarten and still hung!), reading all the cards from family friends, and sharing our chocolate goodies with each other.

There’s something about the holidays that makes us want to touch family and revisit the past.

I’m so thankful that I had this chance. There’s nothing like going home for Christmas.