From a photograph by Solomon D. Butcher of four daughters of rancher Joseph M. Chrisman, at their sod house in Custer County, Nebraska. From left to right, Harriet, Elizabeth, Lucie, and Ruth. Photographed in 1886.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Ghosts of Christmas Past (10)

All In The Family... Another Trip Down Memory Lane... Life in the Nebraska Sandhills...



Duff Valley District 4I can't write a series about Christmas memories without mentioning country school Christmas programs. The following paragraphs are quoted from an article I wrote about six years ago. I was writing about the late 1950's through the mid-1960's when I attended that little one-room school (Duff Valley District 4 in Rock County, Nebraska), but country school Christmas programs were much the same when my parents were children.

Every year, our school had a program--usually a Christmas program--that we put on for our parents and everyone in the neighborhood who wanted to come. We practiced for weeks in advance, starting with just a short time each day and finally spending all day at it when it was almost "showtime". We decorated the schoolhouse with twisted red and green crepe paper streamers and special artwork on the bulletin boards, and we made invitations for all the people in our district and delivered them to their mailboxes.

Each of us had a "piece" in the program that we had to memorize and recite as a solo act. We also had several plays that we performed in costume and half a dozen or more songs that we learned. We hung curtains at one end of the schoolhouse to make a "stage" and we pushed the desks to the sides of the room to make room for benches and chairs to be brought in. People enjoyed the rural school programs and some even went to other country schools for their programs. A good Christmas program could help establish the reputation of a teacher, and a poorly managed and performed program could damage her reputation.

Some years, several country schools in the general area of Rose put on a Christmas program together in the Rose Community Hall. Schools that I remember taking part in this were our school (Duff Valley District 4), the Ewing School (District 72), the Meyer School, and the Buell School. This community Christmas program was in addition to the Christmas program that we had already done in our own school.


When I wrote the paragraphs above, I was trying to be mostly factual and I didn't try to describe how much fun it was to practice the program instead of doing regular schoolwork and how excited and nervous we were when the night of the program finally arrived.

I remember arriving at school the night of the program, and it was so strange to be there after dark and to see so many cars parked along the road.

My mother, God bless her, always sewed a new dress for me to wear to the Christmas program. The other kids were dressed up and slicked down too, and so was our teacher. The parents and neighbors in the audience were in their good clothes, too. It was an occasion.

When the curtains opened and the show began, we were supposed to be quietly seated on the benches behind the side curtains if we weren't performing. Since our teacher couldn't be on both sides of the stage at once, she had a teacher from some other school backstage on the other side and this added another layer of strangness to the event.

Stage fright was one of the perils of the event. Our teacher had the script in hand ready to prompt anyone who needed it. The worst moment for most students was when he or she stood alone to recite the poem he or she had memorized. The youngest students were sometimes reduced to repeating their "pieces" line by line after the teacher and sometimes their misery prevented them from saying a single word despite the teacher's coaxing.

After the performance ended, Santa Claus might arrive just in time to pass out the gifts under the Christmas tree. We each had a gift from our teacher and a gift from the student who had drawn our name. Our parents each had a little handmade gift that we had made for them at school. Every child present received a little paper bag of Christmas goodies -- a popcorn ball, a Red Delicious apple, and some hard Christmas candy. I think these were provided by the school board (our parents.)

My dad often gave me a dollar bill after the Christmas program because I had done such a good job. Wink

Our teachers had small libraries of Christmas plays, monologues, poems and music that they had accumulated through their years of teaching, and these provided fresh material each year. They purchased these books from school supply catalogs. Some of the material was humorous, some of it had a little lesson to teach about the proper Christmas spirit or the meaning of some Christmas tradition, and some of it was forthrightly Christian. I remember being in several manger scenes.

When we had a Christmas program at the Rose Community Hall with the other country schools of southern Rock County, we usually repeated some of the plays and pieces we had learned for our own Christmas program. In addition, we had a Sunday School Christmas program, so the new dress my mother had sewed for me served for several events.

We didn't always have a school Christmas program, but we usually did. I remember having a Halloween program and a pie social one year and a Thanksgiving program another year, but Christmas programs were traditional and, I believe, preferred by both the students and the community.


From the Dennison's Accessories 1955 Catalog

Why am I still writing about Christmas on January 2? I am a Lutheran and to Lutherans, Christmas is a season not just a day. It begins on December 25 and continues through January 5, the day before Epiphany. These are the twelve days of Christmas, referred to in the familiar Christmas song ("a partridge in a pear tree," etc.)

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6 comments:

Anonymous said...

Here in southern Nevada, where most holiday decorations are down and stored away by December 26, we are are regarded as highly eccentric and perhaps just a little subversive while our lights burn on through all twelve days of Christmas.

Merry Christmas (all 12 of them)!

A Friend in Nevada

Genevieve said...

Friend, my as-yet-unmailed Christmas cards feature the Magi following the star. A few people will understand the allusion to Epiphany, but most will not. They'll just think I'm late -- which I am, no denying it.

Keep those Christmas lights burning. :)

Anonymous said...

Love this site...dh has Nebraska roots, not too far from Sandhills.

Genevieve said...

I hope you'll visit often. :)

Anonymous said...

At Christmas I like to revisit this entry.

It sets me on a journey along a rutted hill track, across a half dozen auto gates, toward an isolated cottonwood grove at the south end of a neighbor's hay meadow. There, a tiny school yard is filled with familiar trucks and a few cars. As I park and step onto the crunchy snow voices of singing children fill the void under stars.

O Holy Night...............

Your writings are a gift GN. Thank you. Merry Christmas.

A Friend in Nevada

Genevieve said...

You know, Friend, the Cheyennes had an interesting belief that what happens once in a place is always happening there. We move forward in time, but the past is still real, still happening, and sometimes, the veil lifts and we catch a glimpse. Thanks for sharing.

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CONTENTMENT: Keep your heart free from hate, your mind from worry, live simply, expect little, give much, sing often, pray always, forget self, think of others and their feelings, fill your heart with love, scatter sunshine. These are the tried links in the golden chain of contentment.
(Author unknown)

IT IS STILL BEST to be honest and truthful; to make the most of what we have; to be happy with simple pleasure; and to be cheerful and have courage when things go wrong.
(Laura Ingalls Wilder, 1867-1957)

Thanks for reading.