The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

I Remember Christmas

By Frances T. Craig © 1986

Issue: December, 1986

As you grow older you are inclined to dread Christmas. When you contrast the way most of us observe it, with our credit cards and charge accounts, and the drawing of names to give gifts to people whom we scarcely know, with the old way of handmade gifts given to those most dear to you, you feel as out of place as you would on Mars.

I often wonder what a child of today would think of a real green tree that you had selected on one of your autumn walks. Sometimes they would have an abandoned bird nest in it. This was always kept in the tree. The tree would be entirely decorated with handmade things.

My father, being an expert carpenter, made for us little wooden shoes, sleighs, Santa Claus, cows, sheep and of course a tiny manger to hang on the tree. We saved the tin foil from his cigarette packs and wrapped balls from the sycamore trees to hang. We carved a huge star from paste board shoe boxes, covered it with shiny paper to place in the top.

Underneath the tree we spread a plain white sheet, and all around the edges we laced running cedar with bits of holly. We decorated the mantel above the fireplace with holly, and then hung our row of five black stockings.

The "big" presents, such as little homemade chairs or desks or a doll head, BB guns purchased with October soap coupons, and a cherished book from Sears & Roebuck went underneath the tree.

The stockings held cap pistols, firecrackers, and Roman Candles for the boys. Small tea sets, lacy handkerchiefs and wonderful China dolls were given to the girls. Such joy they all brought!

On Christmas Eve we had the Christmas program at the little church down the road.

We would promise ourselves that we were going down to the stables and see if the cows really knelt down as they did in Bethlehem. We would be so weary by the time we had trudged home, that we would always be asleep before our father finished reciting "The Night Before Christmas."

I always recall one Christmas morning, when jumping up and down with excitement; I dropped my China doll on the hearth and broke it. I wept until my father put on his boots and went hunting in the snow. He killed and dressed the rabbits and exchanged them at the local store for another China doll. As the old song goes, I was filled with "joy unspeakable." The head, arms and legs of the beloved doll lie wrapped in tissue paper in my old trunk today.

On Christmas Eve night now, after everyone else has retired for the night, I slip out back and have my Christmas cry.

I listen to the church bells all over town. I see the glowing lights reflected on the nearby river. I lift my eyes to the matchless beauty of this sky on this "Most Holy Night." I wish with all my weary, grief ridden heart, that the peace and love of that quiet old fire lit room could be felt all over the world.

"Backward, turn backward,
O, time in your flight,
Make me a child again
just for tonight!