Our First Xmas Tree
by Celia LeDrew
Christmas Eve 1929 the temperature was 7 below and the sky was cold and clear and there was lots of snow. It had snowed for three days and the snow crunched under your feet when you walked. My father had come home from work early that afternoon and talked to mama on the back porch before he came in to get a gun to go hunting or tomorrow’s Xmas dinner.
Papa always kept his guns strapped high on the wall so us kids couldn’t reach them. We watched as he took down a shot gun and he started out the door. He said to Mama as he left, “If I can’t get any partridge, I know I can get us a few rabbits”.
Mama was in the kitchen making dinner - she could make a meal out of almost nothing. She told us to go to the dining room window and watch for Papa to come home and hope he shot some Xmas dinner. My brother and I looked in to the sunset, the tops of the spruce trees silhouetted against the bright red sky looked just like a Christmas card. There was a little hill on the road and we saw something move on top of the hill. We yelled to Mama that Papa was coming. She came into the dining room to look. “That’s not your father, there’s two people there and your father went hunting alone”. She went back to the kitchen. My brother and I looked and looked, It must be Papa but who was with him? It was getting dark and we knew the figure we saw was too big too be Papa.
The next thing we knew there was Papa coming in through the back shed door with four rabbits. Mama was pleased as that was to be our Christmas dinner. After dinner, Papa lit a lantern and said he would clean and skin the rabbits so Mama could prepare them. When the shed door opened we saw something in the shed. A few minutes later Papa came in with a little three and a half foot fir tree. He had strapped the tree to his back and that is why we thought there was two people. I had never seen anything so beautiful in my life, it was a lush green and every branch was even. I don’t think we had ever had such an exciting moment than that. All of us kids were yelling at one another, we were going to have a Christmas tree. The only Xmas tree we had ever seen before was at the Mayor’s house.
In these tough times not many people had them. Mama told us to get the dishes done and then we would decorate the tree. Everyone pitched in. We all knew we didn’t have any decorations and I wondered how we were going to decorate the tree. We finished the dishes and gathered together in the dining room. Mama came in with darning needles and a spool of thread. She gave me a bucket of cranberries we had picked earlier in the month and showed me how to string the berries.
My brother was given a pot full of popcorn. We’d never had popcorn before, it was a luxury. I watched my brother to see how much popcorn had on the string. He only had strung about a yard and my cranberry string looked about three yards. We were so excited and busy getting these done. I looked over at my brother and saw he was putting one popcorn kernel on the string and two in his mouth. I told Mama and she switched jobs. No one liked eating cranberries raw. When we finished Mama told us not to put them on the tree that she would do it. She strung the strands across the tree and stood back to look at it. She decided that it need something else. She gave my brother 10 cents and sent to the store to buy 10 cents worth of molasses candy kisses wrapped in Christmas paper and twisted on both ends. I tried to figure out how to put them on the tree.
Mama came back with the spool of thread and showed us how long to cut each piece of thread to tie on the twist of the candy and make a loop so it would catch on the branches. We thought it looked great as we sat by an open Franklin stove where we burned soft coal and the embers were glowing red. We sat admiring our first Christmas tree and we were excited as no one in town had one except the mayor. My brother and I thought it needed a star on top. We found an old cardboard shoe box that was so old it started to crumble when we cut it after we had drawn the outline of a star on it. As we were pasting it together my brother and I got into an argument about how many points should be on the star. My brother’s had four points and mine had five.
Mama, the referee said mine was the best, but that it was too big and I would have to cut it smaller. All the points must have been pasted about three or four times as we weren’t the best when it came to cutting with scissors. My brother said the star should be silver and we used to save the foil from cigarette packages when people threw them away, but it wouldn’t stay on the cardboard. Then we remembered that Mama always bought Red Rose in a one pound foil package and she put the whole package into the tea can. We dumped the loose tea directly into the can and absconded with the foil wrap. Two sides of the foil had Red Rose tea signs from end to end and we couldn’t pull them off or we would break the foil. We soaked the foil in warm water and we tried to it off with our fingernails. Mama was always there to rescue. She told us to use the inside of the package. Now we had to put it on the top of the tree. Mama told us she would put it on and out came the needle and thread again. She punched a hole in the bottom two points, but it just flopped over. This time Papa came to our rescue. He said he had some stove pipe wire out in the barn and that it bends easily. He lit the lantern, took his pliers and went to the barn.
Mama threaded the wire through the bottom of the star, but it still flopped over. Papa strung the wire from the bottom of the star to the top making it firm and at long last our star sat on the top of the tree like an angel. We couldn’t take our eyes off of the tree. To us it was the most beautiful Christmas tree in the whole world.
No one in our town had a Christmas tree. They couldn’t afford one. I had only ever seen one Christmas tree in my life. The mayor in our town had electricity in his house. They had four windows side by side in their living room and we could see it from the street decorated with red and green ropes, Christmas paper bells, gold, red and green balls. We knew we would never have a tree like that, only rich people had them. We had never asked for a Christmas tree because we knew we wouldn’t get it.
It didn’t take long to ask all the kids on our street to come see our tree. We were so proud of it. All the kids got a Candy Kiss, but not from the tree. Mama got the remainder of the bag of candy which was almost still full even after we had put them on the tree. All for 10 cents. From that year on we always had a Christmas tree and all our decorations were handmade. Mama could teach us everything that was possible under the conditions of the depression.
My father was earning $150.00 a month but when the depression hit, his boss told him he would have to let him go unless he was willing to work for $50.00 a month which he did and 10 cents for a spool of thread was a lot of money and we couldn’t waste one inch of it.