Reprinted here by special permission of the author, Cindy Beckman, a retired Conway High School history teacher who writes local history.
Amidst the hustle and bustle of the Christmas season, it is often nice to stop and remind ourselves about what makes Christmas special. My grandmother and her two sisters, Lou and Jewell, sat down with me several years ago and shared some of the special things they remembered about past Christmases with their family.
The three sisters were part of a rather large family. Their parents raised eight children in a four-room farmhouse in Pleasant Valley. Their grandfather, “Uncle Tobe” Hankins lived with them as well as any other friends or relatives that needed a place to stay for a while.
Cutting a tree was the first thing that had to be done to get ready for Christmas. Several family members would go out on the farm and cut down a cedar. “With four of us older children and maybe a cousin or two, it was hard to find a tree that would please everyone,” my grandmother said.
They filled a bucket full of sand for the tree to sit in so they could keep it watered. With a wood fireplace nearby, there was a fear that if they tree were not watered it would dry out and catch fire. They did not have lights for the tree because there wasn’t even electricity.
On Christmas Eve, the children would string popcorn to put on the tree. They would then color and cut out paper dolls to put on the tree. They would also take writing tablet paper and color each line a different color. The paper was cut into strips to make paper chains to put on the tree. The family farmed cotton so the children would pull cotton balls apart and throw the cotton on the tree to make it look like snow.
Aunt Lou described their Christmas stockings. “Our stockings were just one of our socks we wore. We always tried to get the biggest one we could for our stocking. We would usually get apples, oranges, candy and nuts in our stockings.”
In addition to putting up the tree, the rest of the house had to be ready for Christmas too. Aunt Jewell said, “Mama would always keep candy under her bed at Christmas time. She would give us a piece of candy if we would clean the yard. The yard had to be cleaned before company came on Christmas.”
“On Christmas Eve, we made popcorn balls out of sorghum, parched the peanuts and picked out pecans and walnuts for Mama to cook with,” my grandmother said. “We always had a large dinner on Christmas Day. We usually had chicken and dressing and boiled a ham. Mama always cooked a pineapple cake and a coconut cake.”
Aunt Lou added, “She also made gingerbread. She had a big bread pan that she used for biscuits. She made this pan full of gingerbread. She always made it with sorghum.”
The family always exchanged small gifts that they had made or picked up at a store. Aunt Lou said, “My sister Audrey’s husband, James Reed, got me and Jewell a set of little China dolls when we were about ten years old. There were six dolls in the box. I thought that was the greatest thing in the world. They had on blue and pink satin skirts.”
The children always had plenty to do to entertain themselves on Christmas Day. “Papa would buy firecrackers and sometimes a Roman candle for them,” Aunt Jewell said. “After dinner, he would take a shovel of fire out into the yard for them to use to light the firecrackers.” They also had corncob fights in the barn.
Aunt Lou summed up their Christmas celebrations like this, “We had a good time. Everybody was happy. We didn’t expect presents so we didn’t sulk when we didn’t get them.”
Thank you all for taking the time to read my columns. I hope they have given you some happy memories! Have a Merry Christmas! Go make some memories with your loved ones!