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The 1940s are memorable to me for several reasons.

One, I was just becoming conscious of being alive and in a big world.

Two, World War II was going on in my earliest years.

Three, farm electricity came our our way in the mid-1940s.

Four, jet airplanes were invented, and television in our homes began to be possible in the late 1940s. But, all during those years, Christmas was a very memorable time for me.

I was born in 1940, and my brother Ben was born in 1942. So, by the time our little brother John was born in 1945 and our sister Donna in1948, Ben and I were getting grown up, so we thought. Our Christmas trees in those years were always cedar trees cut from the fence rows or from the wood lots on our farm. From very early in our lives, Dad would put us in the farm wagon with him, and the horses would take us out to hunt for our Christmas tree. Ben and I got to suggest this tree or that one, telling Dad that this one is too thin, or that one is one-sided, and that one looks really good. Sometimes we would all agree that that one right there should be our tree this year, and Dad would get down from the wagon, cut our tree with his ax, and lift it onto the wagon with us. I remember one year feeling really grown up when Dad got back on the wagon, and said, Jerry, you drive the horses and take us to the house.

I knew how by having watched Dad handle the horses, but until then I had been too little to actually handle the reins. By the time Iwas 5, I knew Giddup and Whoa, and Haw and Gee, and thankfully old Mike and Pat, our horses, knew those commands very well. I also knew that pulling the right rein would make them turn right, and pulling the left rein would make them turn left. Mike and Pat were good ole horse sand they let us boys get along pretty well in learning to drive the wagon.

A cedar Christmas tree is fragrant. I always just thought of that cedar fragrance as a delightful part of Christmas. It was even more fragrant when Dad took the handsaw and squared off the bottom of the tree to be nailed to our stand. I have been surprised to learn that some people are allergic to the cedar fragrance, or are bothered by it so much that they avoid cedars as Christmas trees. But, in my early life, a Christmas tree was a cedar tree cut from the farm and set up by the window in our living room. In the days before electricity in our home, we would decorate the tree with things like popcorn chains, colored paper chains made of loops of colored paper, maybe a gold rope, and various Christmasy knick-knacks dangled from the branches. Sometimes we arranged our Christmas cards in the tree branches as we received them in the mail. Always we made a gold or silver star to top the tree, representing the Star of Bethlehem.

The house always had wonderful fragrances during the Christmas season, with the Christmas tree and the goodies being made in the kitchen, goodies like fudge and ginger bread and pies and hot chocolate. Our first electrified Christmas tree was in December 1945. That was our first time to have electric lights on our Christmas tree. Those first lights were unlike the strands of tiny lights which we commonly use today. They were sizable lights, at least 4 watts each, with different colored bulbs. They were all wired parallel, so if one was not burning you knew it was bad. It was several years later that we got strands of Christmas lights that were wired in series. With those, if one bulb went bad, as many as 10 would go out, and you had no idea which one was bad. We had to invent a little battery-powered tester to check those new-fangled series-wired Christmas lights.

In those days, we were a pretty close extended family, accustomed to sharing Christmas gifts with our cousins in California. So this meant ordering gifts from the Montgomery Ward catalog, wrapping packages, and putting Christmas gifts in the mail for the cousins and aunts and uncles. As more cousins were born, our families decided we all couldn'tafford to get Christmas gifts for each and every one, so for many years we drew names, and each of us would select a Christmas gift for the person whose name we pulled out of the hat. That might sound as though each person would only get one Christmas gift. But it didn't work that way for our family.

There were several categories of Christmas gifts. First, there were gifts from the grandparents. Then there were gifts from Santa Claus. Then there were the Drawing Names gifts from cousins. And, if we weren't too poor that year, there might be other gifts from Mom and Dad. One year, we kids got a bike (that is, all of us got the one bike). The next year we got another bike, and so on. One year we each got snow sleds. We were poor, but we didn't really know it.


Editor's note: Jerry Nichols, a native of Pea Ridge and can be contacted by email at, or call 621-1621. The opinions expressed are those of the author.

Editorial on 12/06/2017

Print Headline: Remembering a 1940s Christmas

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