This used to be my Grandma and Grandpa Schmidt’s house in Drake Saskatchewan. It is the home my mother, Dorothy grew up in. At Christmas time my mother and her two sisters and her brother hung their red stockings around the edges of a table in their parlor. Their Christmas tree stood on the table and the children strung garlands of popcorn and cranberries to decorate it. It was lit with candles. They did not have a fireplace, so Santa couldn’t come down the chimney, but my Grandma told the children she didn’t lock the front door on Christmas Eve so Santa could come in.
This is my mother Dorothy at age one in 1926. Mom told me that often on Christmas Eve she would try to stay awake so she could see Santa. But she always fell asleep before he arrived.
These are my grandparents Annie and Peter Schmidt. My grandfather would make a trip to town a few weeks before Christmas to buy the candy and nuts and gifts for the holidays. My grandmother hid the treats and presents in her closet. My Mom and her siblings knew they were hiding there and it was hard for them not to resist sneaking into the closet and taking some candy. My Mom’s favorite were the chocolate covered coconuts.
My mom is on the far left in this photo, next to her is her sister Leila, then her sister Viola, and finally my Uncle Earl. The staircase leading to the upstairs in my grandparent’s house had a colored glass window on one side. This gave the stairwell a ‘churchy’ atmosphere. My mother and her sisters would sit on the stairs pretending to be congregation members, while my Uncle Earl acted the role of the pastor, “preaching” to them while holding a church Gesangbuch (songbook) in his hand. This way the children would reenact the Christmas church service both before and after it was actually held.
My mother who is on the left in this photo and her sisters always had new dresses for Christmas sent to them by their Aunt Marie who lived in California. Aunt Marie worked for a wealthy family and mailed them beautiful clothes, exotic dried fruit and corn candy for Christmas. Before going to church on Christmas Eve my mother and her sisters crimped their hair with a curling iron they heated up in the chimney of an oil lamp.
This my mother’s grandma, Marie Jantz. She lived with my Mom’s family. She didn’t like to go to church in winter because it was too cold, so one of the children would miss the Christmas Eve church service to stay home with her and keep her company. My Mom remembers when she stayed home she and her Grandma would pull their chairs up over the hot air register in the floor to keep warm, and then her Grandma would read stories to her. Their grandma loved to knit and she made the woolen stockings they wore to church for the Christmas service.
The family rode to church on Christmas Eve in a sleigh pulled by their horses Prince and Gypsy. The children kept warm by setting their feet on tin boxes filled with stones that had been heated in the wood stove and snuggling down under heavy horse hide blankets. My Mom remembers on clear nights her Dad would make them look up at the sky and he would point out the Big Dipper.
My Mom says at the church there would always be a huge tree covered with lighted candles. Two men stood on either side of the tree with long sticks covered with rags at the end. They used these to snuff out candles that burned too low.
This is my Mom’s grade one class. My Mom is third from the end on the right. Every child had to give a recitation at the concert. After it was over the men would get the horses out of the church’s barn and hitch them up to the sleighs. My mother remembers the steam from all the horses’ bodies creating a fog so thick it was hard to pick out your family’s sleigh.
My Mom is on the far left with her two sisters each with a doll. These dolls were gifts in the girls’ Christmas stockings. They were ordered from the Eaton’s catalogue. Their stocking might also contain oranges, candy, peanuts, a Bobbsey Twins book or paper dolls. My Mom remembers having Shirley Temple and Dionne Quintuplet paper dolls.
On Christmas Day cousins and aunts and uncles came for turkey dinner, a gift exchange and visiting. The children played Chinese Checkers and Snakes and Ladders or used the attic for games of hide and seek. Supper was always hot chili soup and buns on December 25th.
There was always singing in the house at Christmas. My grandparents had nice voices and often sang duets together. My grandmother played the organ. When my mother was older she would accompany her parents on the piano when they sang. My grandpa was also a very good whistler, and could whistle any Christmas carol.
Having my mother tell me stories about her childhood Christmases has given me a greater appreciation for my family’s history. What next? I need to find out how my Dad’s family celebrated Christmas when he was a boy.