Volume IX, No. 2, Winter 1981

Happy Holidays


Written and illustrated by Vickie Hooper

The winter holidays in the Ozark hills many years ago were especially important to the whole family as a happy time symbolizing hope, love and fellowship. With the busy fall season behind them and spring planting time far away, parents had time to prepare for Christmas festivities as well as take out time to enjoy them. Though the New Year was not usually a real holiday, it was a new beginning which was sometimes observed by visiting. But, celebrated at school with card exchanges and parties, Valentine's Day, more than any other special day, was for children.

"Times are so very much different now in respect to holidays," said Vohn Waterman. "We didn't have many holidays to look forward to." However, there was one holiday everyone looked forward tot Christmas, the most important of all the holidays of the year.


For the children the Christmas festivities began the day before the one day Christmas holiday. "Sometimes the teacher and the kids would walk over the countryside and get a big cedar tree," Hazel Cravens said. "We always had a little program," recalled Roy Amos. "The parents could come if they wanted to, but it wasn't a big occasion like the pie supper program, or the program on the last day of school."

Hazel continued, "Sometimes we would have Santa Claus at school. Santa Claus would usually be some of the men from the neighborhood who dressed up. We kids weren't sure who it was going to be. Santa Claus would come, and he would give the toys away. He would sit down beside us and maybe kiss us, and we would just wonder who in the world that was."

The teachers would usually have a special treat for the children which was usually a sack of stick candy. "That kind of candy was absolutely delicious," Hazel said. "It was a sugary outside but it had peanut butter on the inside. The peanut butter was a little bit bigger than a ball point would be, but it went right down the center of the stick of candy. They had peppermint sticks, of course, and lemon. They would be individually wrapped. The candy didn't cost very much, like two sticks for a penny."

Sometimes the children would draw names so that everyone would get a gift. Usually the gifts were not over twenty-five cents. Popular gifts for girls were boxes of handkerchiefs or stationery, or a little perfume.

After school it was time to start preparing for the events at home. If they hadn't already got a Christmas tree, they cut one. Many families put them up even as late as Christmas Eve.


Vohn said, "It was a great big thrill. I would take the kids and go out in the timber and find a tree. I remember several times before Christmas when we had gone in the night possum hunting, we would find us one. I would know where it was and we'd go get it."

Hazel's tree was always a cedar that came from one of the pastures of her father's farm. Lucy Caffey's tree would sometimes be a big branch off of a cedar because they didn't have many cedar trees.

Gladys Amos said, "We used to think Santa brought the tree, too."

Lois Beard's family also cut cedar trees. "Those trees were so pretty and shaped out so perfect. I remember my brother and I went after the tree one time when it was icy. We got back home and didn't wait to let the ice drip off of it. He gave it a lick or two on the cement walk and broke off a lot of limbs. -It wasn't very pretty after that.

"The dressing of the tree was the one thing that was special, for we made our own decorations. I can remember when smoking tobacco had a little piece of foil in it. We would take those little pieces of foil, cut out icicles and pitch them up on the tree, or we would save enough that we would cut out little stars - of paste board and cover them with the foil folded around and fasten them on the tree."

Lucy Caffey said, "We would string popcorn, and then we would eat it after we took it down after Christmas. There wasn't anything wasted. Our tree would just be full of that popcorn and foil stuff."

Besides popcorn, Flora Lampkins used to string buckberries for decoration. "We would go out and get several big buck-berries. They would be little red pods. Then we would take twine and tie them and string them around with the popcorn. And we'd use red haw. It was bigger than the buckberries. The red haw was bright red, the black haws were kind of purple, and the popcorn would be white. We would have two colors on our tree, red and white."

Grace Manchester Johnson used to string cranberries and popcorn, as well as make paper chain links which she colored red and green. Lois Beard also made paper chains. "We'd save colored papers all through the summer. When we bought anything, sometimes it would be wrapped in red, green or blue paper. Those were the three colors I remember. We would save those, fold them back in the box, and at Christmas time, we'd get them out and make us up some paste of flour and water with a little salt in it. That little salt would make it pasty to stick better."

Flora helped to decorate her tree with chains of paper dolls. "There is a certain way you fold paper and then cut out great big dolls. We would color the dresses and make them different colors."


Children even made homemade imitation snow for the tree. Lois Beard said "If we wanted snow, we mixed a little flour and water to get it just the certain pitch. Then with a little in a spoonful at a time, we'd make little white spots in the green tree. We would also have some cotton that Mother had left from a padding, and we would put some cotton around the base."

Hazel remembers making snow out of Lux soap flakes. With an egg beater she would whip up the soap flakes with a little water and throw the suds on the tree.

Besides the homemade decorations, some people had purchased ornaments, rope tinsel and angel hair. Some people would decorate the room as well by stringing crepe paper around the room.

Since the homes did not have electricity, there were no strings of colored lights on the trees, though some people clipped on a few small candles. "Christmas was very much different then. Now we got all this modern decorational lights," said Vohn. "We've got everything in the world to go on the Christmas tree."

On Christmas Eve there would usually be a program at church depicting the birth of Christ, followed by Santa Claus giving out treats. The churches had huge trees and the church usually saw to it that every girl and boy received a small gift. Hazel said, "Fastened to the huge cedar tree were real wax candles about five or six inches long and about as big around as my finger. That was gorgeous--a huge cedar tree with real live candles burning on it. You would think they would catch the house on fire, but they never did because some of the men had a pole with a wet cloth wound around it.

If the candles started flickering or burning, they would just touch them with that and put it out."

After the programs and the passing out of gifts and treats, some of the young people in the churches might go caroling. But the small children hurried home to put up their best or biggest stocking for Santa Claus to fill that night. Flora got her father's socks because they were the biggest she could find. Most homes did not have fireplaces so the children hung their stockings some place else. "We would hang out stockings on the chair post or on the back of the chair and set the chair by the tree," she said. "One time my brother wanted to hang his on the foot of his bed, so that as soon as he got up in the morning, he could feel his sock and find what he had. Before we went to bed we would always put cake or cookies out for Santy Claus. Of course, there would always be some of it gone the next morning, so we would think he got it."

The children were not disappointed. The next morning most of them would find that Santa had left them delicious treats. Lucy Caffey would always get a popcorn ball and some stick candy. She thought that it was the best candy a person could possibly eat in his life. The only candy the children had was homemade molasses candy, so they always prized "boughten" candy.

Hazel said that she used to think that oranges were just the best treat that ever was in the world. Country stores didn't keep oranges for they were too scarce and were hard to handle. The only time children got them was at Christmas. Besides an orange, Hazel's mother would put in a sack of candy and peanuts.

Vohn got apples and English walnuts. Roy remembered getting chewing gum.

"We always got some little gift in our stocking," said Hazel. "We'd get a little bottle of perfume or any gift that was small enough to go in the stocking. Mother usually got us a ten cent ring from the dime store. They were pretty and lasted for awhile, and then they'd turn our finger green. We always lost them anyway."

Besides the small gifts in the stockings, the children would get other presents which they would find by their stockings. These presents weren't wrapped because Santa brought them. "The boys would lots of times want knives. And then they would have French harps," said Flora. "Every boy had a French harp in those days. A French harp is a harmonica.''


Hazel remembered her brothers getting marbles and balls. Books and puzzles were favorite gifts.

Roy Amos said, "There might have been some toys in the stores, but the country store couldn't afford to stock much of a variety because you couldn't return them in those days. I well remember a toy train that would've been worth two hundred dollars today. They had it in the store then for fifty cents--a little metal train which wasn't very long."

Vohn was thrilled over just about everything he got. "I remember when I was a small boy, my grandmother was sort of partial to me. She would slip me over some kind of a little old car or something for Christmas. I always thought a lot of that. I always felt a little bit bad because she didn't have enough money to buy for all of us. But she always managed to get me something."

The girls' gifts were usually dolls and housekeeping toys. "We didn't get a lot of toys like the kind of toys we have now," said Hazel. "I remember one year mother got us little tiny stewers, cooking pots, and they each had little lids. She got one for me and my sister, and I can remember getting a little miniature coffee grinder. I always thought there was more toys for girls."

"I got a little cookstove," Grace Johnson said. "It was a little tiny stove like my mother had and the oven door would open."

Most girls got dolls--paper dolls and real dolls. "We had old fashioned dolls," said Flora. "The legs from the knee down would be china and the arms would be and the head. The body was cloth stuffed with sawdust. We would make clothes for them."

Lucy said, "Sometimes we would get a little doll, one of those little stoneheaded dolls. Now they're too high to buy them if you can find them. Back then they didn't cost over fifteen to twenty cents. About every other year we would get one of them, and I remember when my twin sisters got big enough to work out. They got me and my sister just older than me a doll. We thought we were the best kids in Phillipsburg because we had them dolls."

Getting purchased toys was a real luxury. Parents bought what they could, and they would make some presents. Flora said, "Mother would make us little caps we wore on our heads, what we called night caps, and little aprons and things like that."

"People took time to make things," said Grace. "They had more time then. When I was little, we'd get a lot of handmade things. I know one time I got a kimono my grandmother had made for me." She used to get mittens and scarves. "One time for Christmas, when they first came in, I got a stocking cap. It was long and I could wrap it around my throat. I used to get mufflers, gloves and clothes. Maybe a new dress or a new coat, sometimes a pair of shoes, but my mother always said, 'It was nice to get children clothes for Christmas, they needed it, but they should have something they didn't need.'"

Once in awhile a nosy child would find something she shouldn't see. One day before Christmas Grace was looking in a wall cupboard where her mother kept linens. "I was looking for something in there one day, and I came across a brand new book, Five Little Peppers and How They Grew. I opened it up, and it said, 'To Grace from Santa Claus.' I read a little of it, then I'd hide it back and then when everybody was gone, I'd get that book out and read. My mother caught me one time reading it, and she said, 'What are you doing?' I said, 'Well, I found this book with my name in it, and I've been reading it.' She said, 'Now, your dad bought that for your Christmas and here you've spoiled it!' I had it practically read through. She said, 'Now, you be surprised Christmas morning.' I said, 'All right.' When I got that book, I was so happy. I said, 'Oh, I'm just so happy. I'm going to sit down and read this right now!' I just played it to the hilt. My father never did know that I had found that book. It would've broken his heart."


The pleasant myth of Santa Claus could not continue for long as children grew older. They eventually learned who Santa Claus really was. "I don't remember just when it was that we found out there wasn't a Santa, I probably was ten or eleven years old before I really realized it," said Grace Johnson. "Probably some kid at school told me. They're usually the ones that break the illusion. At the time I found out there wasn't a Santa Claus, my mother said, 'Well, there's always a Santa Claus. When anybody gives you a present, that's the spirit of Christmas, so that's Santa Claus.' That's the idea of it. All my life, there was always a present on the tree for me from Santa Claus. My mother would always get some little something and put it from Santa Claus, and put 'Mother and Dad' on the others."

"My parents never did tell us that there wasn't a Santa," said Roy Amos. "I think we learned it from someone else at school."

"The first time we found out that there was no Santa Claus, we lived in a basement," said Gladys Waterman. "People was so poor. We couldn't pay rent, so we lived in a big basement. My brother and I made it up to find out who Santa Claus was. One of the kids said, 'There ain't no Santa Claus.' So we hid and watched my dad and mom. I bet you can't guess what he got for Christmas. A broom and a little bitty orange skillet, because he liked to cook and sweep! I got a little doll. Of course, after we found that out, that took the joy out of Christmas for US."

Many families liked to visit relatives during the Christmas holiday or have relatives visit them. Of course there was the big Christmas dinner. Some families had chicken, some had turkey. Roy's mother made a special dish of scalloped oysters. There was always a lot of pies.

Some folks would shoot off fire crackers in celebration of Christmas while others enjoyed visiting and singeing. Lois' family would get out their musical instruments and everyone would play and sing. She pretty well sums up the feelings of people on this most important holiday. "Christmas was time of family, friends, and church."


New Year's Day was rarely celebrated as a holiday, but some people did like to stay up the night before to welcome in the New Year. There was rarely any special activities or dinners as on Thanksgiving, Christmas or Easter. There were, however, several traditions or beliefs because of the new year's beginning.

Some said that what you do on New Year's Day would be what you did all year long. Others said the weather the first twelve days of January would forecast the weather the rest of the year, each day for the corresponding month. A lot of people thought black-eyed peas for dinner on New Year's Day was good luck.

"We were told and believed it that at midnight on New Year's Eve," said Roy, "that the cows would get down on their knees and bellow. We would try our best to stay awake till midnight to see if they did. It was very difficult to. In fact, I do not remember ever being awake and going out and checking on them."

Some people had informal watch parities on New Year's Eve at their homes. Lois Beard's church used to have them. "New Year's Eve was a big night at our church and we would go in the wagon. It wasn't always celebrated by all the churches, but our church always kept and observed New Year's Eve. New Year's Eve we would take down the Christmas tree at church, put the decorations away and we would sing. From our church we would always afterwards hear the whistle at Lebanon announcing the new year. After the whistle blew at midnight, we would all sing 'Auld Lang Syne' and then, 'God Be With You Till We Meet Again.' Eventually we broke up but we would always eat lunch before and cleaned up whatever candy was left from the Christmas celebration. We just had a genuine good get-together at the church."


Vohn also remembered having a watch service at church where they would sit around, sing and pray as the new year came in. Then after midnight he would hear guns firing.

On New Year's Day most country children had school. Sometimes families would go to the grandparents, but for most, it was an ordinary day.

In town the day was celebrated a bit more. Usually school would be out. Grace Johnson remembered people visiting that day. "On New Year's Day, we used to go calling. A lot of people would have what we called open house. People just stopped in to see their friends. Some of the young girls would go together and have an open house party at somebody's house. All the young men would dress up and come and call on them."


Just as New Year's Eve, Valentine's Day was not celebrated as much as the more popular Christmas holiday, but for many school children, it was a big occasion. Though most of the fun was at school, it would start at home with making and selecting the right valentine.

When preparing for Valentine's Day, children had a choice of either buying or making their valentines. Both activities were fun. If they bought them, they could search through the choices for just the right ones. If they made them, they had the double pleasure of designing the perfect card and then making one for everybody in the one-room school. "Some of us had poster paper and we would take crayons and draw on it. If we had a special person, we would make them a bigger, fancier one. If we had our eve on a little boy, we would try to make him a real fancy one," Lois Hough said.

When the prices of valentines got so inexpensive that children could buy a whole bunch of valentines in the country store for a few pennies, some quit making them. They could buy single valentines or boxes of valentines of various qualities. Some were big and lacy. They could buy boxes like today's do-it-yourself kits, with all the materials to fashion their own valentines.

There were also comic valentines. "For somebody that you wanted to be mean to or play a joke on, there were all kinds of comic valentines," said Hazel. "Sometimes there would be an extremely fat lady on them, and sometimes there were rhymes. They would just be something crude like 'wide load.' They were terrible. You could really find one that fit the bill for everybody. And those things used to cost a penny apiece or two for a penny."

Children often drew names for Valentine Day just as they did for Christmas, though most everyone gave a valentine to everyone anyway. The children would decorate a box to have a valentine box.

Then from the last recess on until school was out at four, the children would have the exchange. Usually the teacher would call out the names for the children to come get their valentines. Then everyone would look at each other's valentines to see which boys had special girl friends. In the late winter months, it was a happy time away from studies everyone received lots of cards.

It wasn't long after Valentine's Day when the country schools let out in early spring as the busy work season began. The country children looked forward to Easter, but other special days in the spring like Arbor Day and May Day were usually observed only in the bigger town or city schools.


Copyright © 1981 BITTERSWEET, INC.

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