Times Past: The true meaning of Christmas

  • “I remember our letters to Santa. I wrote my first one when I was 6. In our home, each letter was then shown to Mom, who checked them for spelling. Then, the letters were carefully placed in the wood stove, so Santa Claus could read them in the smoke after they burned. Santa was magical,” says Janet Keyes. METRO CREATIVE COMMONS

  • KEYES

Published: 12/29/2017 11:23:32 AM

Having virtuously written my annual Christmas newsletter slightly early this year, I had the luxury of remembering Christmases past through the holiday.

My earliest memory of Christmas may have been when I was 4 years old. I was horrified to see my dad bringing an actual tree inside the house. That may have been the same year I disapproved of someone littering their floors with yellow autumn leaves for a golden wedding anniversary party. I must have been going through a neat-freak phase.

Once the tree was in the house, there were decorations — I think I recall ancient garlands of paper chains, but not much else. No lights, certainly. I don’t even remember any icicles or balls. We could not make new paper chains, because all paper had to be recycled for the war effort. None could be wasted for frivolous things.

Then came Christmas Eve with more surprises. Why did I have to hang a stocking on a hook in the kitchen? Everyone seemed to think I should remember the previous Christmas, but I didn’t. Only one stocking? That did not make sense. Our stockings were those ubiquitous ugly brown cotton stockings all girls had to wear in winter. Mom’s homemade garter harness held the garters that held up those hated stockings, which we wore under our homemade overalls to school and for playing.

In Guilford, Vt., we had no dress code for school, which was good. Overalls and ugly brown stockings helped keep us slightly warm for the mile-and-a-half walk to school. I think finally someone told me the stocking was hung on Christmas Eve so Santa Claus could put presents in it during the night. Santa who?

On Christmas morning, the stocking contained a few small gifts, and I started to like Christmas.

Back in the 1940s and ’50s, only young children got visits from Santa. I remember our letters to Santa. I wrote my first one when I was 6. In our home, each letter was then shown to Mom, who checked them for spelling. Then, the letters were carefully placed in the wood stove, so Santa Claus could read them in the smoke after they burned. Santa was magical. By then, the war was over and we could waste a little paper. Thank goodness.

My parents were frugal, so Christmas wish lists were just that — wishes. I never did get beaded moccasins. After Santa stopped coming to our house, I came to dread the inevitable questions at school.

“What did you get for Christmas?” My standard answer was, “Not much, just some clothes.” That seemed to satisfy most questioners. Of course, clothes never happened. I lived mostly in hand-me-downs and Mom’s homemade stuff. A girl’s wardrobe included one fairly nice dress for parties and church (never new, always someone’s castoffs), school clothes, and “play clothes,” which in my family were called “work clothes.”

Shoes were the same. We got one new pair of school shoes in August, and the previous year’s school shoes became our work shoes. By summertime, those shoes got very shabby and we spent much of the summer barefoot. After we came to Greenfield, I did have some slightly dressy flats for church and parties, but they were very inexpensive ones.

The wonderful exception to all this came one Christmas when I was in sixth or maybe seventh grade. When I opened a Christmas present from my aunts, there was this wonderful dress. It had a green top and a full skirt made of a brightly colored pattern of squares in many shades of red, orange, green and yellow. I loved bright colors, and I despised any colors that were muted or dull or pastel. I loved that dress, and when I had outgrown it, Mom removed the top and attached a wide green waistband so I could enjoy it as a skirt in the eighth grade. That dress was the best Christmas present of my whole childhood, and it came about the same time I came to love Christmas for its true meaning, when only the Christ-child got gifts.




Greenfield Recorder

14 Hope Street
Greenfield, MA 01302-1367
Phone: (413) 772-0261
Fax: (413) 772-2906

 

Copyright © 2019 by Newspapers of Massachusetts, Inc.
Terms & Conditions - Privacy Policy