And All Through the House

by Crane-Station

Old Barn  Oakland County MI

Image by Rodney Campbell on flickr

Letty Owings, age 88, recalls how a rural German Evangelical farming community in Missouri observed Christmas during the Great Depression.

And All Through the House

In the 1930s I lived in the rural Missouri countryside in a farming community of Evangelical Germans. The community was small and the people came over to this country quite a long time ago in the 19th century, but they hung onto their language and traditions. We spoke low German in the home, and there was a strict division of work, between the men and the women. This is how we observed Christmas.

The cutting of the tree was my mother’s task, but I went with her. We picked a scrub cedar in the woods, and my mother would get the ax on Christmas Eve, and cut the tree. The snow was deep on that day. The tree fit on top of the dining room table. We decorated the tree with the same decorations year after year that my mother saved in a closet: bells, icicles and tinsel. The tinsel was always a bit tarnished because it was metal. The decorations came from before I was born, and there was a star for the top of the tree.

My mother used the same cloth on the table each year, and she set the table with the same bluebird dinner plates. She and my dad put something on the plate, usually a few pieces of hard candy from the church, maybe a few nuts. Gifts were placed on top of the plates. Nothing was wrapped.

We burned wood in the stove. We had two wood stoves. Even though coal was cheap and plentiful, we didn’t use it for heating. Mom wouldn’t burn coal because it was dirty. Since coal burned hotter, they used it in the church and the school, so you saw the coal dust in those places. People kept talking about how the REA (Rural Electrification Administration) was going to come to us with electricity but they never did. It’s just as well because as it was we were blowing our lamps out early to preserve coal oil for the lamps, so you can imagine nobody had enough money to pay for electricity.

Impulse did not figure into our lives, things were the way they were. There were gradations of poverty with some better and some worse, but we never saw things in comparison, because we had nothing to compare ourselves to. We didn’t have money to subscribe to a newspaper, for example, but we were careful to save the occasional issue of Arthur Capper’s newspaper that made its way into the house, because we could stuff it around the cracks of the doors and windows, and it made lovely insulation.

On Christmas morning my dad got up very early and milked the cow, fed the animals, and put hay in the manger. Then, he came in and started the fire in the kitchen and made cornbread. When he and my mother had put the gifts on the plates and the cornbread was ready, he would call. We raced downstairs. There were three kids, and my parents carefully hid things ahead of time. They pretended not to know what the gifts were, even though they did, and they always showed great anticipation and excitement. We prayed, ate, and talked. On this particular year my sister got a scarf, my brother got socks (the men always got socks), and I got a doll. Her name was Pearly, and since my mom wouldn’t let me take her to the hay loft, I rocked her all day, inside. I still have Pearly, to this day.

On Christmas night, we went to church. The church had a Christmas program. We sang songs in English- Silent Night, and Joy to the World– and we got a sack of candy to take home. The men sat on one side, and the women on the other, although when I was little I sat with my dad on the mens’ side. The women covered their heads. My mother made our clothes out of feed sacks on a treadle sewing machine; she had a dress for church and my dad wore overalls.

The Germans celebrated a second Christmas day on the 26th. That was also a holiday. We lived three miles to the nearest kin by road, but the walk through the field was a mile. My uncle and aunt had three little boys, and on this day Uncle Jake took to the snowy field and made his way to our house. He brought me a Christmas present, wrapped in paper, from the three boys. The gift was a nickel. That may sound silly today, but it was a great sacrifice for them.

Loreena Mckennitt – Dickens Dublin


Also, from Rome this morning:

Christmas Message and Urbi et Orbi Blessing

CHRISTMAS 2013 Wednesday, 25 December 2013

Pope Francis states in part:

Too many lives have been shattered in recent times by the conflict in Syria, fueling hatred and vengeance. Let us continue to ask the Lord to spare the beloved Syrian people further suffering, and to enable the parties in conflict to put an end to all violence and guarantee access to humanitarian aid.


Grant peace, dear Child, to the Central African Republic, often forgotten and overlooked. Yet you, Lord, forget no one! And you also want to bring peace to that land, torn apart by a spiral of violence and poverty, where so many people are homeless, lacking water, food and the bare necessities of life. Foster social harmony in South Sudan, where current tensions have already caused too many victims and are threatening peaceful coexistence in that young state.

Prince of Peace, in every place turn hearts aside from violence and inspire them to lay down arms and undertake the path of dialogue. Look upon Nigeria, rent by constant attacks which do not spare the innocent and defenseless. Bless the land where you chose to come into the world, and grant a favourable outcome to the peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians. Heal the wounds of the beloved country of Iraq, once more struck by frequent acts of violence.

cross-posted at Firedoglake/MyFDL

18 Responses to And All Through the House

  1. Two sides to a story says:

    My folks were both Midwestern farm kids and they tell very similar stories about childhood Christmases.

  2. aussie says:

    oops, bad time to have been away.

    Merry Christmas everybody and Happy New Year. Let’s pray it’s a more peaceful, more loving and more just one for everyone.

  3. mgs710 says:

    Merry Christmas everybody.

  4. colin black says:

    Santa an Christmas Trees where imported from Germany when Queen Victoria Married Albert he being German an the love of Victorias life.

    She adopted the Tree an decorations an what Queen Victoria was seen to do.

    Victorian England followed suit .
    Original Santa was clothed not In Red an White though.
    But huntsman green an white.

    The red an white santas we see todat is thanks to.

    Coca Cola.

    They used Santa in an early bill board magazine adds .

    Changed his livery to red an white to match there logos colours.

  5. lady2soothe says:

    Merry Christmas Crane, Professor and Everyone

    Why We Put Angels On Top Of Christmas Trees

    One Christmas, a long time ago, Santa Claus was getting ready for his annual trip; but there were problems …… everywhere. Four of his elves were away sick and the trainee elves did not produce the toys as fast as the regular ones. So, Santa was beginning to feel the pressure of being behind schedule. Then, Mrs. Claus popped in to tell Santa that her mother was coming to stay for Christmas; which stressed him even more. After a while, he went to harness the reindeer, he found that three of them were about to give birth and two had jumped the fence and run away, heaven knows where to

    Then, when he began to load the sleigh one of the boards broke and several large toy- bags fell to the ground, scattering their contents all over the place. Needless to say, Santa was not in the best of moods. Suddenly, the doorbell rang and he went to the door expecting another problem. But when he opened it, there was a little angel with a great big Christmas tree that she had brought especially to cheer him up. The angel greeted him very cheerfully, “Merry Christmas Santa Claus. Isn’t it just a wonderful day? I have a beautiful tree for you. See, isn’t it just the loveliest Christmas tree you’ve ever seen? Where would you like me to put it?”

    Thus began the tradition of the little angel on top of the Christmas tree.

  6. Rachael says:

    Thank you for your post Crane – I love that kind of stuff. Have a safe, warm and very Merry Christmas and may we ALL have an even better New Year!

  7. Sophia33 says:

    Merry Christmas to every one!

    Crane and Professor, I hope your days are filled with joy and I wish you much happiness throughout the coming year.

  8. bettykath says:

    Thanks for the story.

  9. colin black says:

    Just out of my traditional Christmas morning bath lots of bubble bath unused since many Yuletides past.
    I insist on bathing once a year wether I need to or not.

    Have a Safe an Happy Festive Season.

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