East Tennessee History: A Country Christmas
Christmas has always been a special time in these mountains. We don’t always have much to give in the form of gifts, but there is usually plenty of food on the table and more than enough love to go around to each individual.
I grew up in a time when your stockings were filled with apples, oranges and tangerines. You tried to be good all year with the hope of good things in your stocking and not lumps of coal.
When the J.C. Penny’s Christmas catalog or the Sears Christmas catalog came along, it was the highlight of your week. You could sit for hours looking at all the color ads for the newest toys and games. You circled the things you wanted, but you tried not to be too greedy. You then left the catalog open where your parents could see it.
Some years you may get one of the toys from the ads, but at least you hoped and prayed you didn’t get clothes. Nothing killed a child’s Christmas more than to get a pair of jeans, size “husky.”
We made at least one trip to downtown Elizabethton during Christmas where the streets were filled with shoppers, coming and going. They darted in and out of J.C. Penny’s, Belks, Kress’, Eagles or Woolworth’s. Everyone seemed so excited, and this made me excited just to be in the crowds.
Christmas trees were not bought, they were cut from the mountains themselves. These were not always the prettiest trees. Usually they were a little lopsided and did not have the perfect limbs where every hole was filled and every part was trimmed perfectly. These trees were trimmed by the wind and the storms, so more likely than not, they looked a little homely.
They were usually prickly cedar trees, sometimes scrawny thin white pine or balsam, and once you got the resin on your hands, it took forever to get it off. They shed easily and left the smell of pine everywhere. To this day the smell I most associate with Christmas is the smell of pine.
For us, we always had a gift under the tree, even if it was just a toy gun or a G. I. Joe. I remember one year in particular when money was very tight around our house. In fact, Christmas gifts were in short supply. Somehow dad got a job hauling coal, and he was able to buy Christmas gifts for us.
It didn’t matter how much the gift cost, as long as it was something we could play with. Toy guns were my favorite and war was our favorite game. I have spent many days fighting Indians, Japanese, Germans or some other invading force to my backyard.
I was nine years old when I got my favorite gift. This was the best gift I have ever received and the greatest gift anyone could receive, ever! It was a .22 rifle from our local Western Auto store. I learned how to shoot it and how to be safe with it, lessons I taught to my own grandchildren when they were about the same age.
Yes, Christmas has always been special in our mountains. Today, my grandchildren are spoiled with anything that money can buy, and Christmas gifts are just a way to alienate ourselves more and more from society.
I do wish that I could go back in time and live some of those Christmas days over. I can’t do that, but they are harbored in my memory, right next to a thousand other memories that make some days a little more bearable.