Christmas on the farm was a very special time. But then I believe that no matter where you are Christmas is a special time. This story is a combination of the Christmases spent on the farm. A collection from my sisters and brother’s memories.
Christmas on the farm was simple, but full of love. Christmas trees were plentiful and actually changed often as the forest in the back of their farm was just pack full of Christmas trees. Mom would send Dad out at the early part of December to chop down their first Christmas tree. Through out the 25 days of Christmas the tree would be changed out about 2 times. Mom would remove the decorations from the wilting tree, and replace them on the new tree, making it fresh and beautiful. When you walked into the house it would be filled with the fresh smell of pine. The tree sparkled with homemade decorations. Throughout the year, Mom would keep the keys that were used to open their coffee cans. In those days’ cans were not opened with the can openers that are available to us now.
All coffee cans came with an attached metal key that you would put a piece of the metal in a slot on the end of the key and then start to open the can by unwinding the metal off around the edges. We would save the key with the metal strip wound tightly around it. Then at Christmas Dad would unfurl these into spirals. He would paint them different colors and Mom would hang them on the tree. A little elf was placed on the tree each year, that represented the Gremlin that Dad had brought back from World War 2. Seems many men in the service also thought they brought a Gremlin home with them. For lights they put on what was called Bubble up lights. They were in different colors and represented lit candles that were placed on the trees, which were a German custom. If one of the lights went out the whole string would go out. You were really in trouble if 2 went out at the same time.
Mom would put the finishing touches on it by placing tinsel all over the tree, placing it carefully one strand at a time. She’d place red garland and angel hair around the boughs of the tree. On the top of the tree was placed an Angel who was kneeling on one knee on top of the world. This remained our tree top until the family ornaments were shared amongst us. The Angel was given new wings made out of a thin piece of metal and etched by my sister Alanna. She also repainted it when the paint wore thin or off in places.
One year there was a knock at the kitchen door. My Mom answered the door with my siblings all around her. She opened the door just a crack. Just big enough for an arm with a red shirt on it and white gloves on his hands to put Christmas gifts into our hands. Of course, we thought it was Santa who had come to visit. After all my siblings had tried their best to be good all year long. Not until we no longer believed in Santa Claus did, we know that it was our Dad who handed us our presents and said HO, HO, HO and Merry Christmas.
My brother remembers one year, late at night peeking out the window and seeing our Mom and Dad carrying my siblings Christmas gifts to our Grandparents house. They lived right across from us. From then on out Henry had an idea that Santa was really Mom and Dad.
Mom always washed clothes, mostly diapers, over a scrub board as my family could not afford a washer. She normally would hang clothes on the clothes line out back of the house, but during the winter months, they would either remain wet because of the rain, or freeze because of the snow. During those months Mom would climb a ladder and hang them in the eaves of the house until they were dry. One Christmas Mom brought my siblings up the ladder with her. As they sat our Mom gave them a little preview of their Christmas gifts. Henry played with his Gas Station, while Janice and Alanna played with their own doll houses. My siblings say to their recollection my Dad was never aware of this play adventure.
When Christmas Eve came around my family would all dress up in their warm yet nicest Christmas clothes and went with the other Elhardt relatives to the Christmas Eve Church services held down the way on Gulf Harbor Avenue. This church was built by the congregation, one being my Grandfather George Elhardt whom I was told built the steeple. Services were held in the German Language as there was a large German population in the area. The Pastor of the church was my cousin Ted’s Grandfather Hans Wuerth, on his Mother’s side. Ted was my Dad’s Erwin’s son, My siblings remember being in a Christmas play one year where they sang O Christmas Tree in English and German. The church was beautiful with the snow surrounding it. A real Christmas scene. On the inside they would have a Christmas tree decorated, along with lit candles placed on the limbs of the tree. On either side of the tree stood my Grandfather and another man who held buckets of water just incase that the tree where to catch on fire. The children in the congregation received a brown paper bag filled with nuts, candy and a giant orange to take home to enjoy for Christmas from the church.
Following the service , all the family would congregate at my Grandparents home where Christmas began. It was a loving time of family full of laughter and great memories. There was plenty of food and dishes of hard Christmas candy including ribbon candy available for all to eat. It was a small house but a buzz with excitement and love as family gathered together to celebrate the birth of Jesus. Everyone got a gift. Janice remembers getting a coloring book one year that you used a paint brush of clear water to create the picture that magically filled in with colors. She thought it was pure magic. The Christmas evening would end at the Grandparents only to continue for our family at our home, where Christmas gifts were opened early. A tradition that was followed throughout my childhood.
I was blessed with the best parents, the greatest siblings and amazing extended family. Truly a very important part of our Christmases.
We all wish a Merry Christmas to all of you. May the peace of Jesus come into each and everyone of yours homes, filled with love and hope from the season.