Christmas is coming, the goose is getting fat
Please to put a penny in the old man’s hat!

I remember singing that song as a child and thinking that it was a strange song. Why were we singing about a fat goose and putting pennies in an old man’s hat and just how did that relate to Christmas?

Christmas was magical as a child.  Things were a bit simpler then, but even so, I couldn’t have loved Christmas more. 

As simple as Christmas was for me as a child, I know that in earlier times, it was even simpler.  I do confess however, that thanks Christmas by the fireto old movies, I tend to romanticize it a bit, envisioning a family gathered around a roaring fire in a large rustic fireplace, real stockings hanging from the mantle and a freshly cut pine decorated with a few simple homemade ornaments standing beside it.  In my mind, their meal was composed of some type of bird and a few tasty yet simple fixings.  One thing is for certain, I’ve never pictured them gathering for a dinner of squirrel or including sardines!

So as I browsed through a few journals that I have copies of, I was surprised to read what they did in the days leading up to Christmas, as well as Christmas Day itself. 

From the biography of Henry Newton Cochran of Campbell County, Georgia:

December 24 1918
Tuesday “Christmas Eve”, It was very rainy last night, but has ceased this morning, but still cloudy. . . . The boys are preparing to go with a Lackie crowd serenading tonight. they went.
December 25, 1918
Wednesday-Christmas. We are all fine this morning, but I don’t know where or how we will be next Christmas Day.

That’s it?  No mention of exchanging gifts or a festive meal? The next two entries come from the journals of men serving as missionaries in the Haralson County area of Georgia in the 1880’s.

From the Journal of John Edward Metcalf:

December 25 1881
Sunday & Christmas day did not hold meetings ate some squirrel for breakfast, commenced to rain it rained without secession for twenty-four hours a very dismal Christmas read talked sung hymns 

And from the Journal of John Joseph Pledger Murphy I read the following:

December Friday 24, 1886
Christmas eve and uncle John is very buisy all day Selling candy Sardines Soda water & cigars to those that are having Christmass  I was also very buisey all day cooking & Eating.  uncle John & I continue to talk on the Principals of the gospell.  We hold Prares & go to bed & have a good Rest & Feel Refreshed.

Again, no mention at all about gifts!  No mention of decorations or big parties. I was struck by the simplicity of the day and although I did not include any entries for the days leading up to Christmas, I assure you that their entries were uneventful and full of typical daily activities.  There was no mention of a frantic effort to create the perfect holiday season or days full of shopping and spending. While I recognize that these entries may not fully reflect society as a whole during that era,  I do think it reflects a difference in how many people viewed the day.

I can’t help but think back to my own growing up years and see the contrast between then and now.  While we certainly celebrated Christmas and had fun activities with family and friends, the thing that stands out in my mind are the simple things.  We had many quiet evenings at home together as a family, enjoying games or an occasional special on TV.  I remember the peace of the program at church and that Christ was at the center of the holiday.  While I anxiously anticipated Christmas morning and a visit from Santa Claus, the expectations pale compared to what most want and receive today. The season didn’t seem to include the noise, the frantic determined search for the perfect gift, or the expectations for elaborate ornate holiday gatherings.   How did things evolve to where they are today? 

It has given me something to think about.  While I have definitely tweaked things the past few years to return the season’s focus to what Christmas is truly all about, I think I still have more changes to make.  One thing is for certain however, whatever else I choose to change, my family can rest assured that simplifying will not  include shopping for sardines on Christmas eve or serving squirrel for Christmas Day breakfast! 

Merry Christmas!

Copyright © Michelle G. Taggart 2012

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4 thoughts on “Christmas is Coming, the Squirrel is Getting Fat?

  1. Definitely, Michelle, squirrel will not be on my holiday menu, either!

    However, you are so right about the commercialization of Christmas. I first realized the simplicity of Christmases-long-ago when I read aloud to my daughter from the Laura Ingalls Wilder stories. There was one episode where Pa had to go to town and was caught in a severe blizzard on his return trip. His safe return became the best Christmas gift the family could ever have hoped for. Pa had holed up in a cave to survive the storm and had eaten the obligatory sardines, I think, but he did manage to save an orange and a candy stick for each of the girls' Christmas stockings. And that was it for their Christmas festivities.

    It's stories like these–and your diaries–that help us see what Christmas always used to be like. Even Santa Claus got a costume change, thanks to advertising. Did you know he never was portrayed in red until included in a Coca Cola ad?! My daughter discovered that tidbit.

    History can certainly teach us a lot, if we're willing to learn.

  2. Jacqi, your comments are so interesting. I had no idea about the coke commercial. Now your comment about the sardines have made me curious—is that just coincidence that the Laura Ingalls Wilder story and mine have sardines in them, or does that hold any particular significance at Christmas that I am not aware of?

    I've loved your blog posts that have talked about the same type of thing. I particularly loved this blog post

    Have a Merry Christmas!

  3. I've actually been planning on eating squirrel this next summer while camping, I've heard there are some recipes that are quite tasty. So I will let you know if it is something we should consider eating next Christmas.

    It would be interesting if we simplified the Christmas season. That's something I'll have to keep in mind as me and Suzie continue developing our own family traditions. Great post mom!!

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