Seems a long time ago my mother told me about one of her first Christmas celebrations. The Christmas was 1930 and she would have been six years old.
As my mom recalled the events of this Christmas she told of buttoning her winter coat and tying a scarf snuggly over her ears. It was a cold evening and the wind was howling out of the north on their Phillips County farm. The rest of the family was already waiting in the Model-T Ford ready to head to Logan and midnight mass.
Mom would go to mass in the parish church in Logan that night. Several years later, after she and Dad married, she spent the next six decades attending mass at St. Martin’s parish in Sheridan County.
As she grew older, her step slowed from those youthful days, but her conviction about the true meaning of Christmas never wavered. Summing up my mother’s thoughts about Christmas is an easy task. Mom believed the Christmas season and the rest of the year was simply about caring for one another.
Mom always told us, “That is the ultimate Christmas story – God’s love for man and our own love for each other.” Words she lived by.
Ninety years ago, church was the social center for life among rural Kansas people. Christmas was very much a religious festival and the highlight of Christmas Eve was going to midnight mass.
All the Becker children would dress in their Sunday best and unless you were sick in bed, you wouldn’t have dreamed of missing church service.
Like every other child at the time, Mom could not wait for Christmas and believed the day would never arrive. While she was in church, Santa would visit her farm home.
Although Mom never actually saw Santa, she absolutely, firmly believed in the jolly old man. And while she always understood the Christ child was the most important part of Christmas, the Becker family did a good job of balancing the two.
After they returned from Christmas Eve services, her mother would light the kerosene lamp and the children would gather around to open Santa’s gifts.
Growing up during the difficult times of the Dust Bowl Days, money was scarce. Gifts consisted of something useful like clothing and one toy for each child.
Mom always remembered the first and only horse she ever received for Christmas. She named the mare Dolly and as she told us, “I thought I’d died and gone to heaven. I rode her nearly all day long.”
While some of her neighbors cut a red cedar and placed it in their houses at Christmas, the Beckers didn’t have such trees in their pastures.
Her father, my Grandpa Bert, erected a stand with a pole in the center. Here mom, my Grandma Rose, and the children went outside to cut branches from the evergreen trees. Next, they gathered them up, hauled them inside and poked them in the stand to make their Christmas tree.
On most Christmas days, relatives would come to visit or the Beckers would jump in the family automobile and drive to see their cousins.
One of the special meals on Christmas day was always pan-fried chicken. Mom always said that her mom’s was the best.
My grandmother and Mom always made peanut brittle and fudge with walnuts before the holidays. These had to be hidden until Christmas so the children wouldn’t snitch these yummy, tasty delights.
Yes, the toasty feeling of a wood burning stove, the smell of frying chicken and the anticipation of Christmas are memories my mother always cherished. She always said you never grow too old to enjoy this magical time of the year.
As she grew older and these stories were told and retold Mom made sure we understood the true spirit of Christmas – caring for and helping our fellow man.
John Schlageck is a leading commentator on agriculture and rural Kansas. Born and raised on a diversified farm in northwestern Kansas, his writing reflects a lifetime of experience, knowledge and passion