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Our Homespun Country Christmas

Dan Dodge

My childhood memory of Christmas preparations with my family at our Victorian country home remains my favorite. The wondrous season began with the Advent calendar countdown, followed by retrieving holiday supplies from our attic and fashioning handmade decorations with mother.

A few days before Christmas, my older sister and I assisted our father by gathering greenery from our woodlands. Dressed in warm coats, hats, mittens and boots, we walked outside in blustery weather and jumped on a trailer attached to a Ford tractor. Our adventure began as father drove along our gravel farm road and exclaimed: “Girls, we are entering the forest primeval!” We laughed and hopped off the trailer. A northwest breeze tickled our noses and hardwood trees seemed to whisper “careful” when we trudged on their fallen leaves. We spotted crow’s feet, gently pulling some into bundles, while father collected mistletoe. Walking a bit deeper into the forest, father cut shiny but prickly holly boughs laden with red berries and harvested spruce boughs. We knew a perfect tree hid somewhere in our woods; like a scavenger hunt, it was up to us to find it. Once selected, father sawed it down, shouting “timber!” With rosy cheeks and happy smiles, we hurried home.

We helped mother assemble garlands of crow’s feet to drape along our entry hall staircase railing, tying red bows at the top of each loop and a big red bow on the newel post. She placed holly on mantelpieces in our formal parlor, living room, and dining room. Smaller holly arrangements are set on the dining room table, buffet, and China cabinet. Red candles nestled inside each holly cluster, remaining unlit until Christmas Eve. Spruce boughs became door wreaths fastened with more red bows.

I remember helping mother prepare and sample aromatic and delicious holiday cookies, cakes, pies, fudge, eggnog, roasts, country ham, fried chicken, vegetable casseroles, and biscuits in anticipation of celebrating Christmas holidays with visiting relatives and guests.

On Christmas Eve we reverently arranged the nativity scene on a table, minus baby Jesus who magically appeared Christmas morning along with Santa Claus presents. Christmas trimming began by watching father set our tree in its stand, sawing bits here and there until it fit snugly and stood almost twelve feet upright. Standing on a ladder, father placed a glistening star atop our tree. Our parents hung colorful lights over tree limbs. At the same time, my sister and I kept the lights from tangling when pulled from their storage box, followed by a repeat performance stringing shiny silver garland. Little fingers decorated the bottom tree branches with our favorite handmade ornaments.

Meanwhile, our parents decorated those out of our reach with fragile, assorted glass and heirloom ornaments. Tinsel was the final adornment all of us draped on tree limb tips. We assembled a winter Christmas village under our tree on the snow-like fabric where each house and its village church held a small yellow light. We replaced burned-out bulbs and shouted “Hooray!” as our sparkling Christmas tree, and snow-covered village glowed. We set family wrapped presents beside our tree and treats for Santa on a table by the fireplace. At the same time, father fastened mistletoe above the parlor door. We hung our Christmas stockings, father started a crackling fire, and mother recited Clement Clarke Moore’s Christmas story. At age four, roaring fireplace logs on Christmas Eve caused floods of tears as I sobbed, wondering how Santa could visit us. Mother calmly explained, instead of his climbing down the hot parlor chimney, Santa would use the front door since it was always unlocked.

After each of us received kisses under the mistletoe, we settled into bed, anticipating the festive “Twelve Days of Christmas” at church and home with family and friends. The next decades, harbingers of artificial commercialism and technological inventions, would alter our simple lives but not my happy memory of preparations with my family for our homespun country Christmas.

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About the Contributor
Nancy Bryans, Writer, Production Assistant
Nancy graduated magna cum laude with a degree in Business Administration. She enjoyed a marketing and sales career in commercial and residential real estate. She used her management, PR and sales skills to design and write construction newsletters, media advertising and promotional brochures. Nancy served as board chair of numerous academic, civic, patriotic and charitable organizations. She resides in Brunswick Forest.