My first seven Christmas Eve nights were spent in a drafty old farmhouse in a rural community in South Dakota, USA. This was in the days before electricity. We had a lot of relatives, Aunts, Uncles and Cousins. I don’t know how we all got in our house but every one got in Grandpa and Grandma’s house for Thanksgiving and it was smaller. That was when names were drawn for Christmas present giving. There were always many very good things to eat along with oyster stew, salted herring and possibly Lutefisk (a special kind of fish!) There were apples, popcorn, and, many sweet items to eat also. Hard rock Christmas candy was in smaller bags, possibly due to sugar and the war effort. Many things were rationed during the Second World War.
There were kerosene lamps and a couple white gas lamps that had to have air pumped into them to work. Christmas Eve was the only time during the year that house was well lighted. The nickel plating on the old pot bellied parlor stove was shined up for the occasion. The fire was almost allowed to burn out, body heat would make it still too warm in the house. There would be enough hot coals down in the ashes to have new coal burning by morning.
Everyone enjoyed eating together and just sitting around and visiting and having a jolly good time. The kids were sent out to play day or night, seems like. There was always someone who played Santa Claus. I remember the surprise of Santa not being real, ended for me on that Christmas Eve. I saw my uncle going upstairs and he was carrying a bag, which I thought looked rather unusual. He was home on leave from the Army, Christmas of 1944 and had his uniform on. The War was still raging in Europe, Africa and the Pacific.
Curiosity was something I had plenty of, I quietly made my way up the stairs and uncle Edmond and a older cousin went in one of the bedrooms. My cousin was helping him put on a Santa Claus suit. I guess I expected it, there was no surprise in that anyhow. When he did come downstairs HO, HO, HO ing he had on my Dad’s five buckle overshoes and they still had some manure on them. I think someone said, “something about the reindeer and made a mess outside of the house.” Some of the older boys asked why he didn’t take the chimney right into the kitchen, guess it would have been to hot in there with the cook stove.
Everyone managed to smuggle presents into the house. They didn’t all come down the stairs in Uncle Edmond’s bag, one way or the other they all ended up under a big Christmas Tree that was set up in the living room.
The highlight of the Christmas night was about to take place. My mother and grandmother carefully started lighting candles on that big old Christmas Tree. These candles had to be very strategically placed so they wouldn’t cause a fire on the branch up above the candle. I wouldn’t begin to guess how may candles were on that tree but it was the most beautiful sight you could ever imagine. A few Christmas Carols were sung, then those awesome candles were snuffed out, They were only lit for just a few minutes and then they were put out. Christmas Eve had come and gone in our old farmhouse. I can close my eyes real tight and still see and smell the candles on that big old Christmas tree.
Christmas Day most of the same people gathered at my aunt and uncles house for a huge dinner. These were the years before homes were full of electronic widgets, gadgets games and such. Young folks headed out into the cold for sledding, or sliding on a scoop shovel if there were not enough sleds to go around. We thought nothing of walking a mile to shovel snow off the ice to go skating. The older boys might walk several miles rabbit hunting. Living in the upper mid-west, you get climitized or you don’t live.
One of our grandmothers was Sami. Us kids thought that give all of us closer ties to Reindeer and Christmas.
Sami people (also Sámi or Saami), traditionally known in English as Lapps or Laplanders, are an indigenous Finno-Ugric people inhabiting the Arctic area of Sápmi, which today encompasses parts of far northern Norway, Sweden, Finland, the Kola Peninsula of Russia, and the border area between south and middle Sweden and Norway.