Saturday, December 19, 2009

Christmas During the Great Depression.

People keep asking about growing up during the Great Depression. Specifically, “how was Christmas celebrated? "

Today we see Christmas decorations in stores before labor Day. When I was a child in the 1920's and 30's, we did not start decorating for Christmas in September. Neither we nor our neighbors had the time nor money to decorate for Christmas until Christmas week. Usually it was done on Christmas Eve.


Our Christmas tree was a pine tree brought in from a nearby wooded area between our house and the Yellow River. In my earliest memories of our Christimas trees,(late 1920's) we decorated the tree with strings of popped corn, red and green roping from the store and home made roping made of colored paper rings as in the picture above.

I remember at least one Christmas when we had the red and green roping from corner to corner across the ceiling, coming down into a swag with a large Christmas green paper bell attached in the center! It was the kind of bell that folded up and made a round bell when spread open.

I remember as a child, lying in bed on Christmas Eve, trying to go to sleep so it would be Christmas when I woke up. Christmas was Christmas Day.

Children in my day didn't have as much reason to be excited about Christmas presents as children do today. Or perhaps they had more reason?

When I woke up, there would be a stocking (one of my knee stockings left on a chair beside my bed) filled with candy and raisins (dried on the stems), a large red apple and an orange. There would also be some stick candy and chocolate drops and nuts, walnuts, pecans and large Brazil nuts.

I might also receive a pair of warm gloves, a scarf or cap and a pair of roller skates. I loved skating and skating up and down the paved sidewalks was a common activity for children and youth. We had paved walkways as everyone walked. The first paved roads in my town are in my memory bank as the South began to recover enough to prepare roads for the a few cars that were appearing in the mid thirties.

We did not have bowls of fresh fruit and/or nuts on the table or in the fridge all the time as now. Of course, we had peaches, pears and country apples in season. But not large red "store bought" apples. Not oranges.

Oranges had to be shipped from Florida so were expensive and rare in the late twenties and early 30's. My mother (3-6-1885 - 12-07-1973) told me how she and her little sisters would sit and eat their once - a -year orange and excitedly swap slices with one another.


Bishop Arthur J. Moore, a prominant Methodist Bishop of my mother's generation told "if one fell madly in love with a girl, he might share one piece of his Christmas orange with her".

Cooking and sharing cakes was one of the special Christmas traditions in our area. Mama always cooked a Japanese Fruit Cake. I do not have the recipe but the three cake layers of the JFC would be put together with two fruit and nut layers.

Mama's chocolate cake (still the best chocolate cake I have ever tasted) with her homemade fudge icing was my favorite. She made favorites for family members and friends including a coconut layer cake, an applesauce raisin cake, and several other kinds. Cakes were ready to be served when neighbors and friend dropped by for a Christmas visit.

Mama always cooked a hen with dressing and a ham for Christmas also. Mama cooked only one turkey that I can remember. She bought the turkey alive (chickens were also bought alive in those days.) I remember that after Mama got the turkey prepared (it's head chopped off, plucked, cleaned, dressed, and cooked), she had lost her appetite for turkey.

I hate to say it, as some of you may be on your way to a Turkey Dinner, but Mama never wanted to eat turkey again. I think the ordeal of preparing a smaller bird was not quite as traumatic as preparing a big turkey.

I have seen Mama wring the neck to kill a chicken, then pour boiling water over the limp bird and pluck the feathers off a few at a time. Smelly! Then she would singe the smaller feathers and hairs off with a burning piece of newspaper, scrub the skin, and finally take the insides out.

Mama would never have been so "wasteful" as to skin the chicken, as I soon learned to do. This would delete the "singe the hairs off" step.

Also, being a city girl, I could never wring the chicken’s neck but found it easier (and I thought more humane) to chop the neck off with an ax. Just thinking of this has helped to make me more and more vegetarian.

16 comments:

Jane said...

What wonderful remembrances. I sure miss Mama Baird. She was so loving and took such pride in her family. I can still see her smile and shake with laughter when we would arrive for a visit. She would always motion me to let her whisper in my ear..."there are tea cakes in the kitchen and co-colas in fridgidaire"!!

Carol said...

Oh Jane - Mama Baird's teacakes! I remember those well - and my mother's, too!

Mother, I loved this story. These are what I love best about your blog - these stories from your childhood. Please keep them coming.

Lyn said...

Cooking now-days is NOT nearly the work it was in the old days! I think my family would starve if I had to wring a chicken's neck and pluck it's feathers off! The Good Lord knew what He was doing when he let me live in the modern day of prepared food! :-)

Debi said...

Mother, I remember chasing a chicken or two around the yard in Griffin, Georgia, to "help" Daddy catch it and wring its neck. Or did he chop the head off? I don't remember - I didn't watch that!

Who are the pictures of? Do keep the childhood stories coming. I love them.

Debi

beth said...

I remember Daddy chopping off a chicken's head (or wringing it - I don't remember). What I remember about it is that chicken running around without a head and blood spewing out of it's neck till it dropped over.

It took me a while to like chicken again - I must have only been 4 or 5 - I know it was before I started school.

beth said...

OH! And those tea cakes!! I love them. And I can actually make them. I can't make the bisquits like Mama Baird and Mama do. I've tried, but I just don't have the touch.

Remember how Mama Baird usually had bisquits on the table. I knew a lot of ppl of her generation that kept bisquits on the table all day. Those were the best bisquits in the world!!!

online shopping said...
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Anonymous said...

the 30s sucked why would i even think about the 30s it was boring

KMcCune said...

Hello Ruth,

I teach 9th grade English, and we are currently studying the Great Depression while reading Of Mice and Men. My students had a few questions for you, and we would greatly appreciate a response if you felt comfortable:

Did you have a large family? How many siblings? How did this affect your holiday celebration during that time?
Unemployment was quite prevalent during the Great Depression. Was this a hindrance to your family's celebration and daily life?
Were children able to ask for gifts during the holiday season, or were they just happy with whatever the family was able to afford, if anything?

Thank you for your time! We greatly appreciate it!

~Ms. McCune and the 9th graders :)

Anonymous said...

this articale really sucked. i dont care about the great depression. i got so many things for christmas this year. you guys are poor. shit happens.

Anonymous said...

Ruth get a life listen to lil wayne and stop talking about the great depression your irrelevant and basic. you crack baby

Anonymous said...

Hi ruth, its sad when youhave to live christmas time during a great depression. You got no money but you have your family thatwith sacrifice have been able to give you food and shelter. My christmas is a lot more different, im not living in the time of the great depression obviously but still we have hard moments. Instead of eating turkey, we eat something very different, a mix of different type of food like salad, pumking pie, lemon pie, fruit juice and some other stuffs. Youhave a sad moment. We enjoy life. Dont pay attention on what you dont have. Imagine other families are passing through the sams hell. Its nice that you share your story with us. Moments like this make a person character strong. Everything happen fora reason. If youcan share this using a computer, i guess your life has taken a better route.christmas is not about having money. Its about family and Unity. I felt so move by your story that i neededto leave a comments. Enjoy life
- v.u

Anonymous said...

Dear Ruth
Times had changed and in this days we spend alot time in christmas. We have more time to be with family and also better economy in the world than back in those days.
And that permit us to decorate and buy better things to our family. But we have to give thanks to god for all the blessings we have now,
with kind regards
MP

Anonymous said...

Dear Ruth.
In my house is so different we celebrate the Christmas so different now. we did not like you in the 20's or 30's one of the difference is that we now start to decorating in October or something like that,, many months before Christmas time.

Neither we decorate the house a lot now and other difference is that we did not use popped corn to decorate the trees of our houses. And we decorate the trees with shiny baubles or glass balls , with ornaments or we decorate that like blooming design.
And now we sleep too late like 4:00am or 3:00. Cause now we as a teenagers we went to the bars or discos in Christmas with friends but our family always give me presents that's one similarity. One of the traditions in my house is like cook a lot of things and have many deserts, my grandmothers always cooked a lot of delicious food , we ate a lot of candies.

Neither my family did not kill the chicken or turkey, they only cook that and put a lot of wine in the chicken. Cooking the chicken or turkey is so different now, in those days is NOT nearly the work it was in the old days! I think my family would starve if I had to wring a chicken's neck and pluck it's feathers off, that's nasty.

Other tradition in my house is that my family and me stay together since 12:00pm then we can go out with friends.
With kind regards, hugs and kisses.

-MM

MFC said...

Dear Ruth,

I've read your letter and I would like to tell you that things have highly changed over the past years. We no longer decorate the tree only with christmas colors but with with purple, blue, gold, silver, yellow, etc. We shop for our christmas decorations instead of making them at home. The decoration starts showing off since October and all of the outside lights caught the attention of everyone that passes by the house.
By Bishop Arthur J. Moore's saying, I can imagine how deeply you cherish an orange. Now at days, we have the chance to easily get all types of oranges and not at a very high price. I can't imagine how could you wait for so long only to eat an orange once a year.
I was stratified when you told me that you killed your own turkey. I can easily understand your mom not eating it after preparing that big bird. We buy dead turkeys and chicken so the only thing you have to do is prepare it and all that. You can find turkeys everywhere.
When talking about gifts, everyone get exited about receiving and giving gifts. Specially receiving. I wish the cake-hiving tradition was still on because now at days, exchanging cakes or pies isn't a big deal.
All of the thing's you've told me made me realized how lucky we are and the many changes that have happened over time. We are leaving in a completely different way as you used to lived before. I think now at days we get a little spoiled and start buying unnecessary stuff. Not like back in the days where the economy was so low you can hardly get a single orange.

Anonymous said...

Dear Ruth..
Things change vera qickly.
In my family we have a similarity because we eat turkey on Christmas too.
But we have more differences, one of them are that we do our Christmas tree before, like 2 months before. We decorate it more and our house too.
We decide in which home we go celebrate christmas, and we also play a little play that is called "cuchumbo or secret friend" which is about giving your secret friend a gift; my family don't share cakes to others, they share "ronpopo" that is a alcolohic drink that is made of guaro and eggs.
I know that today every child are excited to have their gifts on christmas and that is because their fathers don't show them, the value of Christmas, what does is mean and what we celebrate it. Today children are aointeresting of material things.
Now we have more opportunities to eat better than the great depression, because we have more opportunities for have a job, but we are buying unnecessary things, and that is why we have a bad economy now. But thank God we have the opportunity to share things with our family and friends.
Your letter is so interesting, we have to know what happened in the pas, because thanks of what happened in the past is what we are in the present, we have to learn this for the future.
-ZM