Generations of Family Christmas Traditions by Erwin A. Thompson
As a family, over generations, we developed some of our own Christmas traditions.
PROVIDING CHRISTMAS TREES FOR THE COMMUNITY
My Grandfather Riehl was a pioneer in this part of the country in raising evergreen trees for Christmas trees. We took orders, in those days, and had a regular clientele of customers. Jacoby Furniture in Alton, Illinois, bought a large one each year and put it on top of their building.
GETTING OUR OWN TREE & THE CHRISTMAS TREE STAND
So, of course, one of the things we needed to do to get ready for Christmas was to secure a tree and decorate it.
One problem was a proper stand. I am sure that when Grandpa was in charge he secured the tree with a proper stand. But after his death we had troubles. One year Aunt Em and I went Christmas shopping in St. Louis. She found a sturdy one that was built in five parts. They could be stored easily, and put together in a few minutes into a fine, sturdy stand that would pass any reasonable test.
It was heavy! I was either ten or eleven. I remember carrying it part of the time to the inter-urban street car which we could board in Alton and end up in down town St. Louis. We were glad to reach the St. Louis end of the line with our prize! We still have the stand.
BEFORE ELECTRICITY: LIGHTING THE TREE WITH CANDLES
Before the coming of electricity, the tree was lit by candles. They were held in a special holder with a wider place to catch the melted wax, and a little ball placed at the end of a wire to keep the candle balanced and upright. We never lit the candles unless someone was intending to be in the room and monitor the burning candles.
OPENING PRESENTS ON CHRISTMAS EVE
I think probably because of chores needing to be done in the morning, we started having our Christmas present exchange in the evening before. After Ruth and I were situated here on the home place we would come down to the Big Brown House where my aunts lived.
Usually, while we were eating supper in our own house (The White Cottage) someone from the Big Brown House would come rushing up and give the great news that Santa had visited down there and we should come quickly.This was particularly appropriate after my brother, Ralph, started the practice of coming down here for Christmas celebration. This carried on even after his marriage.
CHRISTMAS GIFT EXCHANGE WITH GREAT CIVILITY
So, we all gathered. Someone picked out a present, and read the label, thus discovering who it was for. It was delivered. The person who it was given to, opened it. There was a relaxed attitude that is not always present. Everybody could see what the present was.
Then it was the turn of the person who had received the present to go to the tree and pick out a present to deliver to the person to whom it was addressed. The rule was that it could not be to themselves. We also tried to avoid having it be someone who had just received several presents. We tried to loosely guide things so that nobody felt slighted. I believe that we were successful in our plans.
THE OLDER GENERATION PASSES ON, AND WE ARE IT
One by one the older generation have left us. They left us a great heritage that we have tried to live up to. As Julia and Gary married and had their own families and family celebrations and traditions, the group got smaller. Ralph and his wife continued their participation until his death. Janet was in Africa for five years and then to New Mexico and California. She has now returned full circle, and will once again spend Christmas with me this year, but this year we will spend it by ourselves.
Ruth, the anchor of our almost sixty-four years of marriage, fulfilled her earthly duty on May first, 2006. There is no way that I can properly log the contributions that she made to the family and to the world.
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