Not too many around who remember Christmas holidays during the Great Depression of the 1930s. During those years I lived on a farm on the red clay hills of northeast Georgia.
In those days, many had large families and families seemed to branch out when they married and started families of their own, acquiring adjoining farmland. And so it was with my parents. They were 18years old when they married, and moved onto a farm adjoining my grandparents. Plus other family members, aunts, uncles and cousins, lived on connecting farmland.
I was the first child and first grandchild, on paternal and maternal sides. Eventually I had one sister and two brothers. Because my parents were so young, I had a lot of aunts and uncles, some younger than me. The closeness in age made it seem like a very large extended family.
During the era of the Great Depression, we had plenty of everything we needed, because so much came from the land. The one scarcity was money. A couple of aunts worked in local cotton mills and a couple of aunts were schoolteachers and they had cash.
In December we began preparing for Christmas. My mother did a lot of baking, cakes, cookies and candies. And children did the decorating. We went to the woods to find a cedar tree to chop down. And my father made a wooden stand. We spent many days making decorations.
We took colored paper and cut to glue together strings of chains. We gathered red berries from the woods and strung them together with needle and thread. We strung popcorn to wrap around the tree. We painted the hulls from English walnuts to make ornaments to hang.
My father would climb a tree to gather mistletoe, we hung on the tree and above the door.
My mother sat at the sewing machine and made stockings to hang on the fireplace, out of colorful material. Then decorated the tops with crochetting and tatting.
During that era, quilting frames hung from the ceiling in the living area, and were built so they could be rolled up out of the way when not in use. During Christmas time, we made decorations and hung them from the quilting frames. Mostly strings of red-berries. However, drew pictures of Santa and nativity scenes to hang from the quilting frames.
Christmas was the one time during the year my father bought bags of oranges, tangerines, nuts and raisins and kept hidden until Christmas night. A chair was placed by our bedsides and Christmas morning, the chair would be filled with oranges, tangerines, nuts and a box of raisins. I can recall waking up to the smell of oranges and tangerines.
Gifts under the tree were very few. My mother made dolls out of stockings, and the one gift which stands out, a framed picture of Shirley Temple, I was thrilled to receive.
On Christmas day, my aunts who worked in the cottom mills, came visiting, with a load of goodies. I think she drove an old T-model type car. They always brought clothes for our Christmas, sweaters, shoes, stockings, coats, dresses and hats. One named Aunt Ouida, always brought a carload of food items, not raised on the farm. Sugar, coffee, vanilla flavoring. We called them store-bought items.
We never had turkey for Christmas, but my mother would bake a hen and ham. We always had sweet-potato pie, banana pudding, and a bowl of fruit cocktail. My aunts would bring the cans of fruit cocktail, which always sat in the middle of the table in this pretty green Anchor Hocking glass bowl.
I still have the green glass bowl. In 1929, my mother picked wild blackberries and sold them for ten cents per gallon, for the money to buy the green, fruit-cocktail bowl. I keep it in my china cabinet, and everytime I see it I’m reminded of those happy times, as a child, living on a farm and those wonderful family gatherings around a long kitchen table, laden with lots of food.
My mother always baked several cakes for Christmas, but one in particular she always baked was a cocoanut walnut cake. We had a black-walnut tree at the edge of our yard, we cracked and picked out the walnut meat, and the cocoanut was from a fresh cocoanut. The cake was soaked in the fresh cocoanut juice. The most delicious cake I ever tasted.
Our Christmas dinner was served in the middle of the day, and afterwards, we sat around the open fireplace playing games. One was a card game called Old Maid. The cards had colorful charactors on them with names. The two I remember were Jazzbo Jackson and Zazu Pitts.
During those lean years of the Great Depression, any toys we had were hand-made. I always wanted a pretty doll, like the pictures I saw in catalogs and magazines, but never received.
Because I never had a pretty doll as a child, years later, I think it was in the eighties, my daughter ordered me a beautiful Marilyn Monroe doll from Franklin Mint, I still have and cherish.
In this first decade of the twenty-first century, many things have changed. Most families have Christmas trees with toys for children piled underneath. The children make long lists of toys they want. But during those Great Depression years, most families could not afford store-bought toys. However, despite this lack, I recall my childhood Christmases as being happy times and a lot of fun making tree decorations, and enjoying the family gatherings and all the wonderful food, growing up on a farm in northeast Georgia.
Hope you have a wonderful Christmas this year!!
LET FREEDOM RING