Christmas in 1920s Upstate New York (OS Archives 2011)

The newspaper was found among the multitude of papers she left behind, just a small circular from her hometown in upstate New York. None of her children ever knew she wrote about her childhood memories of Christmas during that last Christmas season she was alive, or that it was ever published. Her written memories might have been lost forever if I wasn't the daughter I was, the one who threw all those papers in boxes when she died and slowly over the years has been sorting the detritus, looking for gems...


Christmases Remembered

Being asked to tell memories of long ago is probably the nicest thing that can happen to a person of some age, thank you for the opportunity to dredge up a few memories of Christmases in the Twenties.

This was before Niagara Power installed electric lines through western New York and my memory of winter nights was of total darkness. People carried flashlights or kerosene lanterns when they were walking at night. There were no streetlights then in HoneoyeAn early pre-Christmas memory is of walking up the street from my father's store to our house where a light shone. It was windy and the bare branches high in the trees crackled. I was absolutely positive that Santa's sleigh was causing the sound.

An annual event in our home was listening to Madam Schumann Heink sing "Silent Night" in German over the radio. My father, like so many other men, had built our radio which was powered by a big battery resting on a lower shelf of the table. My mother, father, sister and I listened by sharing the two headsets, one earpiece to each (loud speakers came later). That much-loved song, sung in that deep voice all the way from Germany, was like a miracle to me. 

There was always the Christmas program at the church with a big tree, the story of the baby Jesus, music and "Santa Claus" who distributed little boxes of candies to the children. One year, one evening during supper, the phone rang and it was for me -- a rare event.

"Hello, Caroline," a man's voice said, "this is Santa Claus. Have you been a good girl this year?" 

"Oh yes," I answered.

My memory tells me he asked about some lapse of good behavior that he had heard about and which we discussed briefly. I then told him about some gift I was hoping for and we said good-bye. Of course my parents were astounded at his call and asked all sorts of questions.

"Well, what did you think about Santa's calling you?" 

"He sounded like Mr. Burton (the local undertaker)," I replied.

Another Christmas Eve, after we had hung up our stockings and set out cookies and milk for Santa, Mother was tucking my sister and me in, telling us to quickly go to sleep before Santa came. We heard sounds of sleigh bells outside our window and then a male voice saying, "Whoa, Dancer, Whoa, Prancer..." Paralyzed -- blankets over our heads -- we didn't see Mother turning off her flashlight and abruptly leaving the room. I now know I heard her smile.

Every Christmas Eve, as soon as it was dark, with great solemnity we, along with all the other houses with children, would place a lighted candle in a front window to light the Christ Child on his way.

We never saw our Christmas tree before Christmas morning. That morning we gathered outside the parlor door, shivering in our Dr. Denton's for what seemed like hours, before the door opened and there it was! Glorious, with the flickering candles clipped to branches, the scent of pine needles and candle wax, the packages in bright reds and greens heaped on the white sheet under the tree. To this day, I cannot remember a greater thrill.

What happened afterward now seems like anti-climax, but in those days, taking down our stockings, eating any cookie crumbs left by Santa, and opening presents made for a wonderful day, not to mention the special dinner of Virginia baked ham topped with baked pineapple slices -- an exotic menu to us.

After our mid-day dinner, we joined the other kids on Briggs' hill to slide down on our new Flexible Flyer, my sister and I not-so-graciously taking turns. Another year, we tried out new skis.

But each year, my favorite time was coming in, cold, to the warm house to open my new book, always a present from Mother. She never failed or varied, and I have never stopped reading.

Thank you for helping me remember. 



Re-printed from The Honeoye Herald, December 19, 2001. 


RATE: 25

DECEMBER 19, 2011 5:27PM

delightful - It reminded me of the beloved Flexible Flyer I used to have. I'll bet they were made in America.
How wonderful this was! For a few minutes, I was transported to a Christmas in a different time and place, but where that spirit I love is so present. Thank you for this, and I'm so glad you have this memory to pass on through the generations of your family. You were right to save those papers!

Happy Holidays to you and yours!
Thanks, Sarah. I'll bet they were. : )
I grew up in Georgia, where there was no call for sleds. That required deeper snow, but those plastic things? They slid so quickly on the ice from ice storms we got instead. Such fun...
Thanks, Alysa. And thank goodness Mom did write something! Her stories of memories veered from year to year...not in a liar kind of way so much, more from ADD and age combined : ) 
I still find it odd we had no idea she'd written this....
How wonderful that you have this, in her own words...what a gem indeed. I have my parents papers too, escavating as time allows.
This brought such a smile to my face. Thank you for saving it, thank you for sharing it.
Thanks, Mime, I think it's pretty cool too. Life is so different and yet the same...
All the papers of Mom's have me determined to clear out while I can! My kids would not be so patient with excavations : )
Nice to see you here!

keri: I appreciate that, and am glad you liked it : ) As Mom has been gone for nine Christmases now, I can only say I'm glad to have some more stories from her...
Thank you, for sharing such precious and heartwarming memories of your childhood and beloved mother. 

Wishing you a peaceful holiday season and a very good new year.

You're so lucky to have found them. May you find many more treasures in the detritus.
What a treasure! And sweet memory of Mom. I tell hubby all the time there is value in my paper piles! You have proven that true. Thanks for a real Christmas memory. B
This is just beautiful. My grandmother wrote poetry, not that any of us knew that when she was alive. My aunt found pages and pages after she died. At the time, a junior in college, I thought it was so sad that she wrote and kept it secret. Now I understand the desire to have just one small corner of your life that is your own private place. Thank you so much for sharing your mom's article!
Mr. Burton has become part of Christmas forever. No doubt he'd have been played by Jimmy Stewart in the movie.
Amazing that her children weren't told. That's a story in itself. 
This was lovely. Finding gems amonst detritutus is one of life's pleasures. This was so lovely.

Thrilled to see a picture of you there on the banner. You look like a honey.
This is what it's all about.
This is so beautiful. Harkening back to such quieter times. Thank you for sharing this.
She writes so beautifully, I was there. This was a trip ~ thank you.
Santa always brought me a book, and I haven't thought of that in years. Thank you for these memories, for finding a way to save and share them.
Sweet. Did you ever find out, was Santa really Mr. Burton the undertaker? How fun to call little kids on the telephone. Maybe Santa emails these days!
Now this is paying it forward. Wonderful, nostalgic and in the spirit of the holidays!
Thank you Fusun, happy holidays to you and yours as well : )

Thanks, Jon! It wass very nice to find this article after all this time...

Thanks, Phyllis, I think I've gotten to the end of the treasures, but then, I thought that before I found this too : ) 

frustratedartist: Thanks for coming by! It was a treat to find this Christmas memory...I'm glad you had a moment to come by and read.
Everyone! This is one of my sisters, frustratedartist. She plays a mean game of pool ( I had to add this! ), although it's been way too long since we've gathered around and laughed all night. 
Hugs to you and yours, Ms. Artist, I miss chatting with you : )

To Cindy, my first Sister: Thanks for the personal message : ) 
I love it when you come by too! Wasn't it cool that this was buried in Mom's stuff ? Although not so cool I'm still wading through history like this...

Jennifer: Thanks! I thought it pretty amazing to find this, it wasn't clear when I found the circular that there was a story written by my mom inside...I just looked through wondering why in the world did Mom save this?? and there it was : )
How wonderful to find poetry of your grandmother's! I'm guessing that was an interesting peek into the woman your grandmother was...
I appreciate your coming by!

Matt: Too funny. The first and last time I've heard of Mr. Burton...hilarious remark, sounds just like Mom, even at age 6 or whatever she was then...
Thanks for coming by!
this was so cool that it bothered me when the phone came in -- technology, what are you doing in here? (the radio was okay though)
Damon: I know what you mean! I found myself wondering how flashlights got into the mix.
If it helps at all, that phone was the kind with the black horn for an earpiece, the rest mounted on a wood block, and they had a party line, at least for awhile. This I remember from visits to my grandmother's house and listening to chats about the old days...
fernsy: Nice to see you! You would not believe the things I learned about my mother only after she died. I'm sorting through many emotional surprises these years since she died...not a bad person, a very interesting person actually, just not so much on the Mom end, for me, at least. I keep finding many photos of my sister and her, grinning at each other, holding sister was the one she related to better on most levels. I was weird, and pretty, and frivolous. I think she just worried about me.
Even weirdos like hugs though. : )
Because of all this and more, it's a treat to find something she wrote about her own childhood so long after she's been gone.
Thanks -- I added the photo recently -- taken on my 51st birthday this year -- I thought I'd peek out from behind the quill just a bit.

Chicago Guy: Nice to have you come by, and yes. I like this story from a different age....a better balance than we have today, I think.

Thanks, Maureen, some simpler times indeed. They feel as if they've come around again, and I think kids would be more thrilled with some simpler excitement. Too much of all the hooha is confusing and in the end, not very satisfying. Or maybe I'm convincing myself here : ) Thanks for coming by...

Kim, nice to have you come by : ) 
You're right, her style brought me right in as well. It's a trip to think this was just my mother's early days (even if she was 45 when I was born), not even a grand or great grand, and the times were so different...
I find myself thinking of that dark dark sky without electricity at night, the levels and layers of stars must've been so crisp and stunning...I only see that density when we're at the coast, facing the Pacific, away from any cities...and even then I doubt it is what most of our ancestors were able to see. 
Sometimes I wonder what wisdom are we missing by not seeing the stars very clearly at night anymore....I still go out every single night and look for just a bit...
Wonderful memories, so glad you shared them with us.
What a treasure this is. It reminds me of my own delirious joy at the sight of that tree and all the presents beneath it. My own mother was born in 1924 and gives similar accounts of her childhood Christmases.

Wonderful. As this is a favorite period in history to me, it was especially enjoyable.
It sounds like you have a world of understanding ahead. I really was so happy to see a picture. You look like you sound-- and that's a big compliment.
This I love: A mother writing in a place called Honeoye, and a daughter appreciating. Happy Holidays, JT!
You heard her smile...what a beautiful and warm image. I smiled back at you, or was it her?
Memories like these are to cherish and hold on to forever. thanks for the memopires!
diana, books have always been my favorite presents, but I remember really loving it when a book or miracles, a book set, would arrive for Christmas too. I guess not a surprise we'd both love those kind of presents... Thanks for coming by : ) And Merry Christmas!

greenheron: It likely was ol' Mr. Burton...that bit didn't survive, I guess. I'd not heard of Santa *calling* before. Nice to have you come by : )

Thanks, Cathy! Merry Christmas to you and yours, I hope you're off enjoying the snowy mountains...ours isn't getting much snow yet!
Thanks, Sheila : ) Merry Christmas to you!

Lezlie: It was a different time for our Moms, wasn't it? I am missing that young innocence this year, we're all older over here, while grandbaby is oblivious... but fun : ) Thanks for coming by and Merry Christmas!

Thanks, Miguela, I love history too, I'm imagining partly because I heard so many stories from my mother of this time and of ancestors' antics and achievements further back in America and in Europe...I'd do well without electricity : ) Nice to have you come by.

Thanks, fernsy ~ Happy Hanukkah to you and yours : )
Oops, missed a couple...

Thanks, Mary, I loved going to visit Honeoye as a kid...the lake there was always front and center as far as I was concerned : ) Actually that was true wherever. Happy holidays to you and yours as well!

CalicoCatherine: Nice to have you come by : ) I'm so curious what a memopire is, but I'm guessing you're like me and enthusiasm for the comment overrides...'memories', maybe?
It was my mother who felt that smile from her mother, in hindsight it seems...I just re-typed the whole article onto my page, I do things like that for some reason... 
Happy holidays to you : )
This is just lovely! What a nice thing to post. Love the images of black night Christmases and trees with candles, only there in the morning. It's a special gift to have papers from your parent's lives...and a funny kind of responsibility, too. Happy holidays...

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