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 Texas : Features : Columns : History by George
by Louise George
Louise George
Author: People who grew up in the early 1900’s remember what a thrill it was to wake up on Christmas morning to discover that Santa left some nuts, some candy, a few pieces of fruit and just maybe, if they had been very good, that toy they had been longing for. There wasn’t always a tree, but there was usually plenty of good food for the family and visiting friends and relatives. All the folks who share the following stories seemed to have fondest memories of their Christmas celebrations – even those whose families had little money for extras.
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Zulieka O’Daniel was born in 1911 and grew up on a farm southwest of Hart, Texas. She recalls the usual treats during the holidays and one very special Christmas.

When I was a little kid at home, we never did have a Christmas tree. You know, we didn’t have any trees out here. We’d always put down a paper on the floor, a page out of the newspaper and hang our stockings on the wall. We just got up on Christmas morning and there were our presents on the paper, and we’d usually have an apple and orange in our stockings. That was about the only time we ever had oranges. I can smell an orange to this day, and it always makes me think of Christmas. We didn’t get many toys. We got necessities.

Daddy and I went to Waco one time at Christmas time to see his sisters and his other folks. I’m not sure how old I was, six or seven I guess. I remember being real excited to go on that first trip. We went on the train. When you rode the train then, you took your lunch in a shoe box and later the conductor would come by selling candy or something. I still like to ride a train.

When we got to my aunts’ home in Waco, all the other cousins were there with these old aunts too. That’s when I saw the first Christmas tree I had ever seen. It was a big cedar tree. I thought it was just beautiful.

The night before Christmas we went to an orphans’ home, I think it was a Methodist orphans’ home. I don’t know exactly why we went, I guess it was one of my aunts’ charities, but we watched them open their presents. It was a big place and they had a beautiful tree too. I remember all those children coming down the stairs. You know, I can’t remember any boys. I just remember the girls and their dolls. They all got dolls. Aunt Blanche had explained to me that I wouldn’t get anything, that we were just going to watch them. I still wanted one of those dolls so bad. I got one the next day, but I wanted one right then.

On Christmas morning, they made us children stay upstairs. They wouldn’t let us come down until they got all those candles lit. Now, I think about how dry that thing was, and they put real candles on it. I’ve thought since how dangerous that was. It was a big old tree and it was so dry. Anyway, they wouldn’t let us come down until they got all those candles lighted. To me that was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. We got presents under the tree, but I don’t remember what I got except for the doll.
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Reba Guess and Elora Riddle were born in Alabama. They were two of the eleven children. The family moved to a farm west of Kress, Texas in 1915. Their memories reflect some of the changes the family experienced. Reba tells about the family’s celebration in Alabama.

Christmas was a great time at our house. We couldn’t cry or be cross for two weeks before Christmas or Santa Claus would not come. It was pure misery for us younger children. Oh, the good things we had to eat will never be forgotten. A whole ham was boiled and there was cakes and pies and also candy. The house was decorated with things from the woods. Holly and vines with red berries and other things were used.
* * * * *
Elora tells about the family’s first Christmas in Texas. An older sister and brother traveled to Kress in a buggy to find gifts for the younger children.

Lucindy and Elbert went to town and it snowed and they couldn’t get back on Christmas Eve. We hung our stockings on Christmas Eve and Papa and Mama put an orange and an apple, nuts and candy in, so we had that for Christmas and we thought that was all we were going to get. Lucindy didn’t bring our gifts in on Christmas Day when she came back because she didn’t want us to see them. That night, she put them all in our plates for us to find at breakfast, our dolls and more candy. We were so thrilled the next morning. Papa came in and he said, “Hey, you girls. I think you’d better get up. I think Santa Claus came back. He forgot something.” They told us that because we had moved, Santa had a hard time finding us. So, we all got up to go see what we got. Santa had brought us girls a celluloid doll. We were so happy that Santa came back.
* * * * *
Cindy Kennedy lived on a farm near Wildorado when she was a little girl. There were four girls in the family. There were no brothers, but an uncle lived with them most of the time the girls were growing up. Uncle Roy was a part of the family. Cindy’s family went through some tough times financially. Cindy remembers one fairly bleak Christmas.

My dad used to go down in the breaks and cut us a Christmas tree. That’s the only way we had one. It might have been a little lopsided, but we had a Christmas tree. We used to string cranberries and popcorn and we made those chains out of construction paper. That was our decorations. But, we always had Christmas.

There was one year we almost didn’t have anything. We didn’t even have a tree. I guess Pop never had time to go get it. Mama had some of that shiny tinsel and she strung it from one corner to another and she always had handkerchiefs, embroidered and crocheted, pretty little handkerchiefs, and she hung those up on that tinsel, over our heads. And, that was our Christmas decorations. That must have been 1917, because Uncle Roy was still in service and he wasn’t there for Christmas. We didn’t have much that Christmas. But, we always had Christmas.
* * * * *
Mill Boyd moved to Dumas in about1920 when she was in the third grade. A community celebration was held each year at the schoolhouse.

For a while after we came to Dumas, at Christmas time, we had a community tree for everybody. I don’t know how long we did that, but I especially remember this one time. Santa Claus didn’t come to our house. There was one big tree for the whole community, and Santa would come and he’d give out the presents to all the children in the auditorium. That year I went home pushing a wicker doll buggy and a Schoenhut doll. Those dolls were made in Germany. They were hand carved out of wood and were jointed and had real hair. Of course, a little later I had to cut it. I had bangs and I thought it ought to have bangs too. My mom like to have died when she saw what I had done.

Anyhow, I went home with that baby doll and that doll buggy, and stacked on top of it were two boxes of chocolates from my little boyfriend. My mom threw a fit.

“What’s going on here?” she said. “You’re too young for this. You’ll have to give that back.”

My dad said, “Leave her alone now. I’m gonna’ eat that candy.”

Wishing you a blessed Christmas and a happy New Year. - Louise George

© Louise George
History by George
- December 14, 2005

Louise George is author of two books, No City Limits, The Story of Masterson, Texas and Some of My Heroes Are Ladies, Women, Ages 85 to 101, Tell About Life in the Texas Panhandle. Louise can be reached at (806) 935-5286, by mail at Box 252, Dumas, TX 79029, or by e-mail at lgeorge@NTS-online.net

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