”Christmas in Old Virginia
I remember growing up listening to my parents and grandparents talk about what Christmas like when they were children, how they only saw oranges at Christmas and of the practice of ‘shooting in’ Christmas day at daybreak on December 25th as the inhabitants of every farm and town fired pistols, rifles, shotguns and even cannon if they had any. Lately, I’ve done some research and given a few talks on Christmas in Olde Virginia as celebrated by our Ware ancestors.
Homes were decorated with greenery, holly, mistletoe, candles and ribbons. There were no Christmas trees until about 1830 and no Santa Claus until even later but children were given presents. Carols we sing today were popular including Come All Ye Faithful, Joy to the World, Twelve Days of Christmas, and (music only) Deck the Halls.
Some of our family were gentry and celebrated with balls, hunts and extended house parties. These were occasions for feasting, dancing, games and courting. Did you know that in Colonial times a great many engagements and marriages took place during the Christmas season? And the parties were a great forum for the exchange of ideas. Thomas Jefferson, seventeen when he attended a Christmas house party in Hanover County, was so impressed with the worldly conversation that he decided he needed college after all. That party may have changed our history.
Most early Virginians, including many of our ancestors, were Yeomen farmers who farmed their own land. How did they celebrate Christmas? From a contemporary account we learn that farm families took turns hosting their neighbors. The typical day began about three a.m. as the families gathered, drank egg nog and talked. After a hearty breakfast they dispersed to their homes to do the necessary chores and then re-convened around nine a.m.
The men then held a shooting contest while the women talked and prepared the feast. The children played games including one called ‘snapdragon’ where they retrieved fruit floating in burning spirits! These were hardy people!
The grand feast followed at mid-day with hams, game, puddings, pies and all the rest. The afternoon began with a service sometimes including a sermon and usually including hymns and carols. This was followed by more conversation and more games for the children.
When night came, some might stay over, others departed for home. No unnecessary work would be done until January twelfth except on New Years Day to insure good luck for the coming year.
To all of you I give an old Virginia Christmas toast:
DRINK GOOD WINE AND EAT GOOD CHEER
AND KEEP YOUR CHRISTMAS ALL THE YEAR!”
”The Christmas I Will Never Forget
Roger Ware, Jr.
”A Christmas Story
What Christmas do I remember……It is a conglomeration of Christmas celebrations in the 1950’s at my grandparents farm in Burgin, Kentucky. It was the home that my mother and her siblings grew up in, a huge home built in the mid 1800’s, on 100 acres, where my brother and I spent our summer vacations, where my grandfather farmed tobacco, hay, cattle, and hogs and my grandmother did the household work of cooking, canning, etc.
We left our home in Somerset early Christmas eve morning. We stopped in Danville at the Hub for my parents to pick up some last minute gifts. To my delight, I got a thick coloring book with pictures of Santa, Christmas trees, reindeer, and sleighs to color with my new box of crayons.
Then on to the country house near Burgin. When we got there, the outside trees were already covered with lights of all colors. Inside the house was a tree, reaching all the way to the tall ceiling, covered with lights and colorful balls. A roaring fire was in the fireplace, and greenery all over, on the mantle, on the upright piano, along the stair bannister, Christmas music playing in the living room.
Everyone came to my grandparents home at Christmas—my parents, Jean, a competent, strict mother; Randy, easygoing, intellectual; my brother, David, a brat (or so I thought); me; my uncle Preston, a boisterous large man who loved to tease; his wife, Hazel, a prim and proper lady; my cousin, Bill, who never sat still; my aunt, Martha, a ‘spinster’ who would not put up with any nonsense, and had a fit when we kissed our dog; my aunt Sophia, the ‘fun one’ who let us get away with everything; her husband, Frank, reserved and kind; my cousin, Fran, shy and quiet; and my aunt Betsy, who stayed stone cold drunk for the entire visit. Then there were my grandparents, my grandfather that I had for some reason dubbed ‘Doll-Baby’, aged too soon, his body wracked with cancer, and my grandmother, ‘Mommy Burgin’ who grew up in Tennessee and was a true ‘southern lady’.
I was six years older than my cousins, two years older than my brother, the self proclaimed ‘boss’ of the younger clan. In those days the oldest cousin was to corral the younger ones and keep them out of the adults’ way, and keep them away from the huge pile of presents under the tree, while the women cooked in the kitchen and the men watched tv.
What do I remember? The smell of turkey and dressing didn’t entice me then as it would in later years. We were all so excited that Santa Claus would be coming that night, that none of us could keep still. My aunt Betsy finally got my grandmother into the bathroom, as she cried and told her tales of woe. If we had to ‘pee’ we were out of luck, as there was only one bathroom in the house. The rest of the family went on with their business, pretending to ignore my aunt’s screaming and my grandmother’s absence from the kitchen.
None of us children wanted to eat our dinner, and it was the one day of the year that we were allowed to just pick at our food. The adults gorged on food, and got caught up on whatever was going on with each other, at times talking politics, but never loudly, as they all had the same beliefs. In those days the children did not enter into the conversation–it was just never done.
We were allowed to leave the table early, again a one day occurrence for the year.
Then came the worst part of the day. For you see, after everyone was finished eating and the dishes were washed and put away, we would go to bed and wait for Santa to come. He always came early there in central Kentucky, and once he had come, we could get up and see what he had brought us. So it was miserable waiting for the adults to get up from their meal. They would talk long after the ham, turkey, dressing, mashed potatoes, casseroles of broccoli and oysters, rolls, pies, and pecan cake were devoured. We tried to play in the living room, but kept peaking in the dining room to see if they had finally finished their coffee and cigarettes, and started clearing the table.
Finally! My grandfather would slowly push himself up, and someone would help him back into the living room in his rocking chair right by the Franklin stove that kept him warm. My uncles made their way to the couch where they watched tv or fell asleep. My father gathered the children, and read them the Christmas Story, then ‘The Night Before Christmas’. My grandmother, my mother, and aunts slowly cleared the table, washed, dried, and put away all the dishes.
Then it was time for us children to go to bed. We weren’t required to go to sleep, but we had to be in bed before Santa would come. We all gathered in one bedroom and tried to stay still, in the three beds in there. Then, oh so magical! We heard bells ringing and a loud ‘HO! HO! HO!’ I ran to the window, where I saw my uncle Preston walking through the yard, a bell in each hand. The younger ones tried to get to the window, but I held them back, fussing at them to stay in bed.
Then we hear yells from downstairs that ‘Santa had come!’. We flew down the stairs, and even though it seemed there had been a lot of presents before, the pile had doubled, all wrapped in bright red and green paper.
The adults let us open our gifts first. OH!! So many new Nancy Drew books for me, beautiful dolls, games. And my brother David getting his Lincoln Logs. Toys for the younger ones. Oh, Christmas had come! And none of us were ever disappointed.
A lazy Christmas day, leftovers for dinner. I sat on the steps leading upstairs reading one of my new books. All the adults would step over me to go upstairs.
That night, we drove home. David and I looked at each other and decided to confess our transgression. We had gone into Aunt Betsy’s room, looked in her suitcase and found her gin, poured it out and filled it with water. Mother and Daddy predictably fussed at us, but we didn’t cringe, as they could not stop laughing.”
”AN UNFORGETTABLE CHRISTMAS
It was rapidly approaching Christmas Day, 1970. I was an over-the-road trucker at the time living in Ft. Wayne, Indiana, driving for a refrigerated transportation company based in Waterloo, Iowa. This companies business was transporting meat products from the large meat packing plants located throughout the Midwest from Colorado to Iowa. My wife and I had decided a couple of years earlier, to move to Ft. Wayne so that I would be home more often, but with less time each visit. My route East to West and back again, was primarily on U.S. Route 30, which went through Ft. Wayne both directions.
A few months earlier, my wife had expressed her unhappiness with me being gone so much. At the time, we had two young daughters, ages 2 ½ years and the youngest, 4 months old. I adored my family and had looked around Ft. Wayne several times to get a local job and be home every night, but to no avail at this time.
One trip home in the fall of that year, my wife and two daughters had left and I was served divorce papers a short time later. I was unable to locate them during my short periods of time home, but soon took a 30 day unpaid leave of absence to salvage my family. I will not get into the rest of this now, but get on with my Christmas story.
I had informed my company that I would work over Christmas and was on my way to Boston, MA with a load of meat to deliver on Christmas Eve Day. I made the delivery early that morning, called in for my dispatch and was told to deadhead (drive with an empty trailer) to Presque Isle, ME to our New England agent for reloading back to the Midwest.
As I was quite tired from the trip to Boston, I drove as far as Bangor, ME, pulled into the large truck stop there, refueled, ate something and then went out to my truck to take a nap in the sleeper with the engine and heater running. Sometime during that night, I woke up, went in the truck stop to take a shower, eat again, then head on up to Presque Isle through what was known as the North Woods. It was early Christmas morning now and through the trees, I could see lights coming on in the houses. It was with sadness, I could imagine pajama clad children getting up, running to the Christmas tree to see what Santa had left for them. It was a time of great sadness for me as I was thinking of my two children, their whereabouts still unknown.
When I arrived at our Agent’s place of business, a driver friend of mine who lived in Presque Isle, who knew I was arriving, left me an invitation to join him and his family for Christmas dinner. I called him and accepted. A short time later, he drove his car out to pick me up. There were a couple of other drivers there also and it turned out to be one of the nicest Christmas’ I have ever had. It was a Christmas of great joy, family love and as an invitation had also been sent to Jesus, He was at our table too. It was complete.
God bless you all and Merry Christmas,”
”Entirely Dad’s Fault
As one of 8 children, Christmases at our house were always big fun. Right after Thanksgiving (or sometimes on Thanksgiving), we would begin harassing dad for a tree. He would load us up and drive out to the tree farm where we would eventually find the one we had to have. The tree would go up on the “shaker” and all the extra pine needles would shake out onto the ground. Strapped on top of the van, it was ferried home to mom for lights and decorations.
One year, we had gotten our tree so early that nearly all the needles were on the ground by Christmas morning. So, after the presents were opened and while mom was cooking the big lunch, dad thought he would be useful and drag the tree outside. Somehow that just wasn’t very satisfying, I guess, so then he decided to drag it across the street to the retention ‘pond’ (which was completely dry and essentially a large ditch). Still not satisfied, he decided to light it on fire. Now, recall that this was about 10am on Christmas morning. And recall that the ditch was bone dry and full of weeds/grass. Within minutes there was a rapidly spreading fire all over that ditch. Neighbors came running with buckets of water (hoses weren’t long enough) and after considerable effort, the fire was extinguished. My mom’s wrath was another story. She can’t turn her back for 5 minutes.
She was in the kitchen slaving away over the requisite 37 dishes that she was burdened with making thanks to my two grandmothers’ examples. Amid all the hubbub with the tree, she couldn’t remember whether she had salted some of those dishes, so she salted them again. Not good. Not good at all.
To this day, when someone tells the story of that Christmas with the fire in the ditch, my mom’s main lament is not the neighborhood-wide embarrassment of my dad setting our Christmas tree on fire on Christmas day. It’s the over-salted casseroles. Entirely dad’s fault.”
Rebekah Ranew Trinh
”GRANNY MACK’S CHRISTMAS COOKIES
Anna Louise Beck Mcknight
Granny McKnight was my maternal grandmother. She was such a sweet person. She of German decent, Granddad Isaiah of Irish persuasion. A man of unusual patience.
Granddad Ike was harness/saddle maker from his earliest years. He worked for years in the Covington, Ky. area making harness for draft horses. When gas powered trucks came about, they moved to the bluegrass country in Lexington, Ky., and started making saddles and leather goods for the horse racing community.
I am told his work was much sought after. Anyway, I move on.
Granny Mack kept the house going with that famous German efficiency.
When my family fell apart, my grandparents took us in to live with them ’till we could do better. Such was the way of the times, I’m talking middle thirties, early forties.
Mother went to work at a dry cleaning plant to help as much as she could with family expenses. All the kids were in school, so cash was hard to come by. So when Christmas came, the tree was rather anemic as far as presents were concerned. Decorations were in three dimensions; meager, scarce and non-existent.
However, there was Granny Mack’s Christmas cookies!
A week or so before Christmas there suddenly appeared, in her large kitchen pantry, a large crockery tub. It looked like an oversize moonshine jug, but with an open top. Off hand I suppose the thing would hold fifteen gallons of water, as to its size. A wooden cover was made to fit over it.
The kitchen became a beehive of activity, and you stayed out of the way or get stepped on.
By Christmas eve, the crock was filled with such goodies as, what us kids called peppermooses. I found in later years it was a delicious little thing called pfeffernusse. They tasted much better than the spelling would indicate. There were several other cookies and crackers that I don’t recall the names of, but were scrumptious nonetheless. One I liked best was one that was soft, and a bit chewy, made with honey, maple syrup, and a bit of ginger. Another good one was a little stiffer than the ginger cookie, and filled with bits of candied fruit. There were others, and if I behaved myself for one whole hour, I could have a fresh one from the oven.
Christmas day was much like any other, except we might each get a little something to call a present.
The last Christmas before I left for service, I received a book entitled, ‘Hardy Boys Join the Circus!’ and a bag of those wonderful cookies. I still have the book in a trunk in the loft. The cookies, long gone but not forgotten!
Times have changed now. Who would give their kids ONLY a book and a bag of cookies for a Christmas gift? It wasn’t much, granted. But I did, and have, enjoyed reading that book. I treasure it, not for what it is, but for what it meant.
And just think! No batteries!”
”My Christmas Memories
I am such an old sentimentalist that I still hang ornaments that date back from our very first married years together (almost 40 years now!) and even a few that my mom passed down to me from when I was a child. My favorite is a tiny plastic angel sitting on an equally tiny plastic shooting star. It is so cheap looking and simple compared to the beautiful ornaments that are available today. It wasn’t crafted very well, the colors were smeared, and the little angel’s facial expression is actually quite odd if you look at her too closely, BUT I still feel that breath of magic and anticipation when I see her hanging from the limb of my tree. It instantly transports me back to a time when, as a little girl, I would gaze at this ornament and think that surely there was never anything so beautiful in all the world!
Everything seemed to take on such a magical glow at Christmas. I think back now to how excited I would get over finding walnuts and an orange in my stocking. No expensive gifts, no big “stocking stuffers,” – just a plain old orange and a few nuts. They were ‘magic’ though and the fact that Santa brought them made me feel like I had been handed the crown jewels.
Oh, to feel that wonder and innocence again!!!”
Judy C. Ware
“My Favorite Christmas
A few years ago, before I was divorced, and we were still a family, I decided to take my oldest son, his wife and three step-sons to Disneyland for Christmas. It was a last minute decision, but made in time to still get a hotel and flights. My son’s family lived in New Mexico at the time and I was to fly to the John Wayne Airport in Orange County, meet their flight and go on to Disneyland.
Plans were in the works, my son and daughter-in-law had been notified, and kept it a secret from the boys. Christmas Day they opened their gifts from their grandparents, but there was a small flat box, they were told had to wait until last. The looks on their faces (I have photos) was priceless. They had never been to Disneyland and had never dreamed it was possible to go.
But, there was a glitch! My oldest son often suffered back troubles and the day before Christmas he had ‘thrown his back out’ again. What to do? My daughter-in-law had informed me that he didn’t really want to go and spoil everyone’s Christmas, but she managed to get him to see the doctor for muscle-relaxers and pain medication. Reluctantly he agreed to go, knowing it would greatly disappoint me if he didn’t. The real story is my son is a afraid to fly.
When we met at the airport, and after hugs and kisses all around, I really took a look at my son and realized he was feeling no pain, however, his speech was slow and a bit slurred. My daughter-in-law gave a nod to her open purse and inside were two very large bottles of medication. I immediately understood.
When we had stowed everything in our rooms at the hotel, we took the little red bus to the Park. I was beginning to wonder if my son would be able to do the walking and standing in line, required. After we went through the turn-stills, I noticed a booth where you could rent wheelchairs. Perfect, I thought, we can push him through the Park.
Being the week after Christmas, the Park was very crowded and I initially worried that we wouldn’t be able to negotiate the crowds and the narrow ques with the wheelchair. People moved aside for us and Disney Cast Members would let us enter the rides through the exits. At some rides, we were allowed an extra turn if the ride was not too busy.
Three days went by in a flash, but I have many memories and photos of the fun and laughter we had.
A few months after the trip, I was talking with my daughter-in-law about the trip and how we would like to do it again. I casually asked her how my son enjoyed the trip. She began to laugh and could hardly control herself. I thought perhaps, my son had told her he really enjoyed it, but when she finally spit it out, she told me he didn’t even remember going. He was so heavily medicated the whole time, he had little to no memory of being there. In an evil way that explained, why my sometimes stoic child, seemed to be really enjoying himself and how we often played practical jokes at his expense.
There have been many more trips to Disneyland since then with members of that family, minus my son, but there has never been a trip to equal that one.”
”Our Family Tradition.
The Christmas Cake
My wife, Sandria, who was born in London has the most amazing Christmas story I’ve ever heard.
It was during WWII and Grandma had always made her famous “Christmas Cake” for everyone to enjoy at the big family meal at her house on Christmas Day. Since so many things were rationed Grandma had saved the sugar and other ingredients, but sadly there were no spices to be found anywhere.
“Why not write Cousin Joe who is serving in North Africa. Let him know what you want and tell him to mix everything together, not label anything, and mail it to you” said her sister.
Sure enough the package arrived in a plain box from North Africa and Grandma happily assembled the cake. Too bad the spices didn’t seem too fresh.
The cake was served and every bite devoured (though truth be told it wasn’t nearly as good as in previous years).
Then mysteriously, another box of spices arrived, and this one smelled great Good old Joe everyone thought. Just making doubly sure the box got through! Unfortunately, a letter that arrived later had the the sad news of Cousin Joe’s death in a bomb attack. Due to the type of death only a little was found so his remains had been cremated and the ashes had been sent to the family!