Before the days of Christmas light tours with guiding maps, Christmas was a softly lighted time of year. Only open shades revealed glimpses of the neighbor’s tree hung with bubble lights and tinsel. Beneath the tree were unseen gifts, but not too many as the focus of Christmas was mostly church and family gatherings.
Of course, as children, Christmas was a time of practice for programs and the anticipation of something sweet and lovely from a teacher or a community Santa celebration. But it was never a time of over abundance – at least not for us.
The sun rose late and darkness came early to the small communities and farmsteads of my youth. Very rare were the winters without a cover of white sparkly snow and cold. Christmas Eve we walked to church. I followed my mother’s high-heeled footprint, marveling at the triangle-shaped toe, a space and then the impression of the tiny round poke in the snow that constituted the heel. Those same shoes also made such a lovely clicking noise on the sidewalk surrounding the church with echoes in the silent night.
The service always ended with candles, real candles with paper drip guards. Everyone that could was allowed to hold a light while Silent Night was sung in German. I miss that. Alot.
Christmas Day always meant a trip to Grandma’s house – both of them. First we would have lunch at Grandma Kaseman’s. Nearly everyone who could be, was there. The focus was on food, not gifts; although there were a few of those passed around after a wonderful meal. Grandma had an enamel roaster and after the men were fed and gone, the women would sit and eat, scrapping the last of those caramelized potatoes from that pan. My Aunt Leona usually sent a basket of dried fruit from California to compliment the nuts, chocolates and dill pickles set out for nibbling.
In the late afternoon, we jumped into the Chevy and headed to my mother’s parents house several blocks away. You could count on Grandma’s white-frosted honey cookies, popcorn balls, nuts and citrus fruit – but the house was rather small and my mother didn’t always like to stay for dinner. Now, that she is a great-grandma, she talks about how she should have…
With so many grandchildren, our gifts were small, tokens of the season. Before a certain age, a box of Cracker Jack with a silver dollar, and later a paper dollar, handed to each of the youngsters. It was a time when Cracker Jack toys were substantial. When we were older, we received something that Grandma crocheted – in the early years large doilies or toaster covers. As she got older, the items became smaller, but no less beautiful.
Christmas used to be a much simpler and quiet time – relaxing. A break from work and school focused on church.
And before the days of lighted houses that look like Christmas cards everywhere you look, my Grandpa Kaseman commissioned my mother to paint a Christmas card on three panels of wood. Last year when my Uncle Ed and Aunt Alice moved to a smaller home, he presented me with some slides. Photos I had never seen before of those Christmases at Wishek. In the mix was a photo of the three panels. By the time the household auction came around, there was only the middle panel remaining to be auctioned off. I imagine Grandpa couldn’t bear to use the Christ Child to build or repair something else. I had imagined those two panels as having angels on them, but I was wrong. I can still remember the Christmas Card that was used for the painting. Mom had drawn crisscross pencils lines on it to help enlarge the image.
Today the panel hangs in our pseudo art gallery in the large garage north of Mandan, but I am sharing the photo and a few memories as we move into the Holy Week of Christmas. Blessings and good food to you and your families…