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 to 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!
Copyright © Michelle G. Taggart 2012