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Christmas in the Valley 100 Years Ago

Santa Brian of SC

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Lots of times I wondered what it would have been like many many years ago...... I come across this story and thought it was worth sharing.

In the fall, when the nights began to be cold and frosty, children would count the days until Santa Claus would come. They would beg for pretty striped stockings to be knit and long ones, too, to hang up Christmas Eve night. For weeks, older people would keep children disciplined by telling them, "If you don't act purty, Santa won't come to see you. "

On Christmas Eve, the beech yule log was brought in and placed as a back log in the big fireplace. It had been lying in the creek for days to get thoroughly soaked so it would last longer, for the festivities lasted as long as the yule log lasted.

Children were told the story that Santa came down the chimney from the house top. Parents had fun making this seem true by shaping tracks in soot on back of chimneys and then sooty tracks on the hearth. Children were urged to get to bed and to sleep early on Christmas Eve so Santa could come. There was often a nosy boy who stayed awake to peep at Santa.

Children aroused parents early on Christmas morning with the greeting "Christmas Gift." This greeting was used by everyone to friends and relatives on Christmas Day. It was not a request for exchange of presents, but a greeting which probably originated by acknowledging Christ's birthday as God's gift to mankind.

But we must find out what Santa put in those stockings hanging from the mantle. In the girls' stockings, there would be a few sticks of candy, a few pieces of cream candy, raisins with seeds hanging to the stem, and an orange. The orange was the prize, for they seldom saw one. Each girl usually got one little doll in her childhood. It was about 6 or 8 inches tall. Its head, even the hair, was china as was its hand and arm to the elbow and foot and leg to the knee. It was left for the girls to dress, for every girl must learn to sew.

The boys got about the same in their stockings, but instead of a doll they got a $0.10 barlow knife and firecrackers - ten in a row laced together, the only kind on the market then. An older brother might put in a hickory as a joke. The joy these gifts brought to those children far exceed that of the child of today with their many expensive gifts. [this is probably a reference to the bonanza of electric toys my parents bestowed on my brother and me during a 60's Christmas at the Wistaria-ed.]

My mother told of one little girl who begged for button shoes. She got them and wore them first to the community Christmas tree at the church. When they returned home, the mother discovered the child had them on the wrong foot. They were buttoned on the inside instead of the outside of the foot.

A great stunt for boys and men on Christmas morning was a prank with their dogs. When animals were butchered in the fall, every bladder was saved and blown up like a balloon to dry. When dry, a few peas I were put in each one. On Christmas morning, boys collected with their dogs. They tied these inflated bladders to the dogs' tails. The peas rattled, the dogs took off over roads and fields and the boys whooped and laughed. Soon the firecrackers were heard. The men had a shooting match with their old flint rifles.

Families and friends gathered together in homes on Christmas Day, so there must be a feast prepared. Butter had been saved for days for making sweetbread, gingerbread, and pies, which were all baked in I the ovens on the hearth. Fresh pork with souse meat, liver mush, and sausage was prepared.

Wild turkeys were baited so they could be easily shot. Also, rabbit, I squirrels, and opossum were gathered in. Lye hominy was made with lye leached from oak ashes. Apple butter was made with sorgum substituted for sugar. There was leather britches from the strings of green beans dried by the fireplace, Kraut and sweet potatoes. For drinks they I used coffee made of parched sweet potatoes and parched rye; sassafras tea made from root of red sassafras and locust beer. Every family planned food according to their means and they were not showered with baskets as now. I

A Christmas tree at the church usually followed in the afternoon. For programs, they had devotions and singing. The tree was a large holly which abounded in this area. It was trimmed with strings of popped corn and strings of holly berries. The gifts, even dolls, were hung on the tree without wrapping. There was no paper for wrapping except heavy brown paper used in stores and that was rare. Santa Claus, and usually Mrs. Santa, were there to distribute gifts and to call "Merry Christmas" to all.

There were dances during the Christmas season. They would have the square dance and the dainty toes would dance the minuet. It was the custom then as now to watch the old year out and the New Year in. The colored mammy and many others told that at 12 o'clock on that night the cows would kneel and mourn for the passing year. This story has been handed down through the years. A party of young people decided they would see if there was any truth in that story. A few minutes before twelve, a part of the group went a head to the cow shed only to be disappointed to find the cattle sleeping. The remainder of the group followed with a pine torch. When this torch appeared, one cow rose on her knees and bellowed. Such scurrying away as the group did! Stephen Keith, the fellow with the torch, yelled back to the cow, "Happy New Year."

By Bert Hendricks Reece


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