The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

A Christmas Tree in the 1920's

By Grace Cash © 1987

Issue: December, 1987

Editor's Note... The following is one of a series of articles written by Grace Cash. She lived in Flowery Branch, Georgia..

I have never been able to celebrate Christmas with plastic baubles, colorful electric bulbs and mechanized toys. Holiday spending sprees have no parallel with the first "Christmas tree" I attended. In the 1920's, folks might say, "Are you going to the Christmas tree?" The tree was a focal point, representing the festive occasion to the fullest extent.

The first Christmas tree I attended, when I was eight years old, was held at Macedonia Elementary School. The school was housed in two rooms, shaped like the letter L, and located on a broom sedge hill. The only buildings within sight were a white frame church, a country store and several dwelling houses. We drew the water we needed from a well in the yard, and we played on the fallow ground, unrestrained by land lines.

In the 1920's, in northeast Georgia, farmers hadn't started their migration to the towns and mill villages. Hardly anybody in our area had a public job. Arable land was plentiful, and most of it was under cultivation. Cotton, corn, syrup cane, wheat and oats were the principle crops. Every household had abundant gardens, so that we lived "at home," requiring only basic foods from the general stores.

Although World War I ended November 11, 1918, we regarded it as a long past part of history. Most of us were only remotely related to whatever local soldiers had "fought in France" or had been "buried in Flanders." A school child might tell about a soldier who had been on a troop ship that was wrecked at sea, and his hair had turned gray overnight.

Our talk and our interests were simple, so that a Christmas tree was a welcome surprise. The afternoon of that particular Christmas Eve, I went with my two older brothers and sister to Macedonia. We walked through wooded territory, crossing gurgling brooks, climbing hills and then walked out a flat dirt road, to the schoolhouse as we did every day when school was in session.

Songs and skits were performed by students in the upper grades. The tree stood sturdily, secured to a large wooden box, on the spacious stage, which was elevated about three feet from the floor. The heavy branched cedar, reaching the ceiling, drooped with unwrapped gifts, such as small dolls, pencil sets, peppermint candy sticks, apples and oranges. Vari colored silk handkerchiefs waved like fresh blooming flowers above the scalloped strings of popcorn and crepe paper streamers.

My teacher and the school principal had provided a fat jolly Santa Claus, outfitted in the typical red woolen suit, banded with soft white fur trim. His laughter rang out richly, and deeply, as he handed out the gifts from the tree branches. Whatever the gifts we received, we were aware that only the birth of the Christ Child could have inspired such remarkable peace and joy.

It had started raining during the Christmas party, and our brothers arranged for me, and my older sister, to stay overnight at the home of an aunt, who lived near the school. I watched my brothers start their journey back to our farmhouse, and I wanted desperately to go with them.

I had never spent the night away from home, and I worried about the doll Santa Claus had been "told" to bring me. My aunt's family assured me that the doll would be left at our house, whether I was there or not. The doll had been promised to me the past summer, during a long siege of typhoid fever, and I had a sunken feeling that it was ungracious not to be at home when "Edna" arrived.

The next day we went home. My china faced doll was there, her sawdust body covered with a cotton print dress. She had no shoes, bonnet nor socks, and no clothing beneath the dress. She came to me as though prepared to share our simple farm life. Later in the day, a visiting cousin told me that my parents had bought the doll, and kept it in a dresser drawer till they put it on the hearth Christmas night. She laughed gleefully, blasting my belief in an imaginary Santa Claus.

Yet what had happened at the Christmas tree couldn't be destroyed. I had learned that joy and peace are products of the mind, and not of any particular place, circumstance nor time. That is why I have never forgotten my first Christmas tree.