Here are some anecdotes from my friend and colleague of yesteryear, Dr. David Heughins, who now makes his home in Connecticut. I am sure you will find things with which to identify. In our days of many toys and much tinsel, we need to be reminded of simpler times.
Reminisces on Christmas in New England
Perhaps one reason our childhood Christmas memories are so sweet is that we didn’t have to do anything but wait!
Christmas in the Heughins parsonage. There were the three of us, living upstairs over the church in Montgomery, Vermont. Gifts were relatively few and mostly practical. Just about my earliest memory was toddling into the living room and catching my Dad putting something behind the tree. “It’s a broom!” I cried, as he tried to shush me. Mom’s big present! Another time I got into the groceries and found a package of strawberry flavored milk straws (!) and was paddled for peeking (not too hard, but unjustly – I thought: I didn’t know it was the week before Christmas).
The tree came from some parishioner’s wood lot. Dad and I (when I was old enough) would go tramping into the snowy woods with an axe and select two spruce or fir trees, one for the church and one for ourselves. They would be placed in a grapefruit juice can filled with sand and rocks and trimmed with tinsel, red garland and balls. I remember when we got our first string of multi-colored lights . . .
After Christmas [the trees] would go out in the snow-bank with suet tied to them for the birds. The now-tattered cardboard fold-out manger scene that always graced a prominent place is still somewhere in storage.
Ma lit a candle in my bedroom window for the Christ child. I remember watching it burn as she sang me to sleep. I miss her!
Christmas in the Heughins parsonage – continuing the trip down memory lane – was filled with music. We didn’t have a “Victrola” when I was little, but Ma had a reed organ she had been given as a wedding present and could play anything with strings. After dinner we would gather around the organ and sing Christmas carols, from little booklets. Dad sang melody and Mom and I sang alto. No Santa, Rudolf or Frosty in those booklets, it was all the old, four moving parts, Christ-carols. I still love harmony!
Groan! It’s a winter wonderland out there! But it’s warm enough in here.
Christmas in the Heughins parsonage. I was ambivalent about Santa Claus. Dad preached (upstairs and downstairs) “keep Christ in Christmas” every season. Nobody had heard of “happy holidays” back then. The rival of Christ, in the lexicon of our church, was the jolly elf, no saint at all, but a pagan symbol of materialism! Dad held that if they lied to me about Santa, then when the disillusionment came, I would cease believing in the Christ child, too. On the other hand, my peers and teachers were all believers and Ma didn’t want me attacking them. And she did read “The Night before Christmas” to me at bedtime on Christmas Eve. So I wavered between entertaining belief and agnosticism.
We did hang a sock behind the stove, though, my actual sock, not one of those fake red felt sacks. On Christmas morning I would bound out of my cold room to get dressed by the heat and find it stuffed with a real orange (the only time we had one all year), a pack of lifesavers, and a trinket or two to play with until time for “the tree.” Ma might pretend she had nothing to do with it, but I knew I was supposed to say thank you.
In the Heughins parsonage, especially later in my childhood and adolescence, wrapping presents was a huge part of Christmas fun. Except for care packages from a more prosperous aunt, most of the gifts were winter clothes and supplies (we didn’t know about back-to-school shopping in those days), but oh! the fun we had disguising them! Gifts were placed under the tree as soon as ready and were designed for suspense and surprise. Nothing was what it appeared! Pick it up and shake it – go ahead. You’ll never guess!
With an allowance of 25¢ (and no parental bankroll, it had to be from me), my gifts were small. But they could be packaged in a huge box! A toothbrush for Dad, wrapped in multiple layers of last-year’s wrapping paper and assorted boxes, a brick or two, and I could pack a small trunk! I would take all day. And he would respond – although he didn’t have all day to work on it – with an enormous raw carrot from the root cellar (I notoriously hated carrots). My masterpiece came the year I went away to college and acquired six phonograph records for Ma. I made them into the form of a box and packed it with newspaper and decoys. She unwrapped and unfolded every piece in the “box” without discovering that the box itself was the present! I think she was a little hurt for a minute or two that I had deceived her.
I can see many similarities with my own early Christmases and I imagine you do too! Thanks to David for sharing his Christmas thoughts.
“Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!” 2 Cor 9:15 (NIV)