Tuesday, December 9, 2008



I am sadly lacking in the Christmas Spirit this year. Aches and pains, financial difficulties, worries about the future, cold and snowy weather and a general malaise have all combined to make me dread the approaching holidays.

Therefore, I am trying to write posts that inspire me, as the previous post did, or take me back to my happy childhood, as this one does:

Along about the first week of December, the little one-room school I attended in Larson, ND, became a totally different place. A small crew of dads or the teacher's friends would come in to move all the desks to the right side of the room, and then they would build the stage on the left side.

When they were finished they would help the teacher hang the "theatre" curtain. It was a vintage, damask-type print with flowers on a plum-colored background, probably made from drapery fabric. It stretched from one end of the room to the other. On either side of the stage, the teacher hung plain white bed sheets to hide the activity in the wings.

I remember that the carpenters always used fresh lumber for the foot-high stage, and the clean scent of fresh wood would cling in the air for weeks, mingled with the fresh scent of pine. Yes, before they left, they would put up a real tree with lights. (You'll never see that in a school building these days!)

Once the stage was finished and the tree lit, the room was completely transformed. It was, in a word, magic.

All through the weeks leading up to the program, Mrs. Marston would set aside time for practice. Although I don't remember most of the programs' contents, I do know that we sang sacred and secular songs both. Thank goodness I grew up before Christmas carols were banned from school Christmas programs. The teacher would bang away at the old upright piano while we lustily sang, "Away in a manger, no crib for his bed, the little Lord Jesus lay down his sweet head..." (For years I thought the last line was "and stay by my cradle 'til morning is night.")

When I was 11 and in sixth grade, the final year at the one-room school, I was given the honor of reciting the entire poem, "The Night Before Christmas" ("A Visit From St. Nicholas") by Clement Clarke Moore.

I would sail along with no trouble all the way through "Now Dasher! now, Dancer! now, Prancer and Vixen! On, Comet! On, Cupid! on Donner and Blitzen! To the top of the porch! to the top of the wall! Now dash away! Dash away! Dash away all!"

But I always stumbled when I got to:

"As dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly, When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky..."

To me, it was a tongue-tangler, and besides, dry fall leaves had nothing to do with Christmas! But I recovered and went on:

"So up to the house-top the coursers they flew, With a sleigh full of toys, and St. Nicholas too."



That final year, I had the most splendid Christmas dress to date. It was a lovely rose color and with it I wore nylons for the first time. This was in the days before pantyhose. My nylons were held up by elastic bands which squeezed my legs but made me feel proud at how grown up I was.

I also had beautiful "velvet" slip-ons. I was so proud of them that I kept sliding my foot out from behind the curtain as we waited in the wings. That came to an end when an audience member stomped on my foot. Unknown to me, I had a dusty shoe print on my beautiful velvet slipper all through the evening!

The night of the program the school was always filled with friends and family members waiting to applaud us no matter how good or bad we were. Fortunately, we usually made it through the program with only a few faux pas. After the program, Santa Claus would bring us little brown bags of candy which always contained the same things: Chocolate drops, ribbon candy and other hard Christmas candy, peanuts and a popcorn ball.

This night marked the start of Christmas vacation. We would return to school in January to find the stage dismantled and the desks in their usual position. The magic was gone for another year, and it was hard to get back to business as usual.




If you enjoyed these vintage Christmas postcards, and wish to read the beloved poem in its entirety, visit the link below. This cool site uses the three images I've shown plus 17 others to illustrate the poem. Each card perfectly matches the lines it is matched up with!



Lynn Cohen said...

I loved both the cards and your wonderful childhood memories of Christmas at school. I could smell the freshly cut wood of the stage, see the fabric of the curtain and hear your young voice reciting the poem so beautifully.

I thank you for sharing and hope you are able to enjoy the current holiday season inspite of drawbacks that you mentioned.

a Pocket Angel said...

Julie, How my heart goes out to you after reading this post.. I'm in tears..Sadly I know just how you feel, I dread this time of year... These are such difficult times for many of us.
My heart goes out to you, you will be in my thoughts and prayers.
Thanks for adding the site for "The Night before Christmas" the vintage cards were delightful. I truly enjoyed viewing them.
Fare a way hugs (((Julie))) to you kind lady! ~Mary~

JoAnn ( Scene Through My Eyes) said...

You are bringing the holiday spirit to others, I hope that some will come your way in return. Your story was fabulous - you are an artist with words - the pictures as so clear as I read your post.

Thank you.

Kim Campbell said...

What a great memory! I am not fond of this time of year either.

Your blog is so beautiful! I love what you have done with it.

Rowan said...

Lovely nostalgic post Julie, the illustrations are wonderful. I've always loved 'The Night Before Christmas' and it was read to my children every year at bedtime on Christmas Eve. I still have the book and am hoping my grandchildren will get to know and love it as well. I hope you have a happy and peaceful Yule in spite of all the problems.

Anonymous said...

What a lovely post, thankyou. I love the pictures, and your childhood memories.

gma said...

I went to a one room school for a while in Hillside Arizona.It was a remote RR stop town. Our teacher was a lush. It was hard to find teachers who would live out there in the desert. We didn't have a Christmas pagent that year.
I do love hearing about your memories Julie.

LW said...

Silly me, I meant to leave my comment on this post…

But that is ok, so now I will leave you two…
I love when you tell us about your one room schoolhouse.
Oh, those nylons I remember when...


Joyce said...

I really enjoyed your story!
This was VERY, very, visual to me as I read it...and it was as if I were standing there watching you in the audience. LOVED IT. I always love reading things like this..where I feel I am right there.
I ESPECIALLY like the part about the panty hose and the velvet shoes. So fun! Odd how we tend to remember those goofy little things.
What a precious memory.
Thanks so much for sharing this!!!

Sandy said...

Julie, I wish for you some Christmas magic this year. Hugs!

Shopgirl said...

I love this Header...Thank you for sharing a wonderful Christmas story.
I haven't forgotten that I am making you a charm, I have just been in another world getting ready for the Holidays...not enough hours in my day.
Big Hugs, Mary

Shopgirl said...

I love this Header...Thank you for sharing a wonderful Christmas story.
I haven't forgotten that I am making you a charm, I have just been in another world getting ready for the Holidays...not enough hours in my day.
Big Hugs, Mary

Anonymous said...

I enjoyed reading your story. I hope you and your family have a very blessed and joyful holiday.

Lena said...

I loved this post Julie. It has brought back that wonderful feeling of childhood at Christmas for me. That is one of my favorite Christmas poems, and I had it memorized in 2nd grade, because my parents bought a big illustrated book for me when we were making a big move across country. It was the 2nd book that I really learned to read and enjoy by myself, and I loved it so.