It’s been quite a while since I shared with you one of my columns written for Farm and Dairy by my mother, Berenice T. Steinfeld, who used the pen name “Aunt Teek” for her weekly columns form 1952 to 1965, the year of her death.
But going through the box in which she kept her columns — written first by pencil on what ever piece of paper she happened to have — I was caught up in nostalgia as I read of the pleasure she took in the Christmas season.
The column she wrote for Dec. 15, 1959, gives you a hint of her joy. Perhaps you will enjoy the season a little more through her words.
“Our valley has been through a rugged time during this strike period in the steel mills which has touched nearly every phase of our economic life as well. Mercifully, most children are not aware of the unfavorable implications as Christmas approaches.
“It is their mothers who get the full impact for they know only too well that the family Christmas has to be created around special circumstances this year. And they are lucky children indeed to have a mother who can contrive this kind of Christmas as her great-grandmothers did before her, with gaiety and enthusiasm. And it well may be that this can turn out to be the most memorable Christmas of all.
“Parents often try to give their children more than they themselves had in childhood. Sometimes it proves to be a mistaken gesture of kindness. Like the Christmas we lived on hamburgers and tea, so to speak, for a week, to get 2-year-old Janie an elegant doll carriage. And Christmas morning she climbed all over it and around it to get at the 29-cent cooking set, and she played all day with that — so bedazzled with the little stew pans and their fitted lids she never even pushed the expensive carriage the whole day. She still treasures a couple of pieces of that cooking set to this day. (Janie’s note: a little pan with fitted lid, a tiny spatula, and a breadboard which is used for many baking chores like kneading, etc.)
“For a long time our children have had too great of a sufficiency as the French say. In the process, they may have lost the discipline of longing; of longing sometimes in vain. Even childhood should learn how to bow to this precept, alas. It is no help to a child to be raised with a chronic case of the ‘gimmes.’ The capacity for wonder is soon lost to children when they get everything they want the minute they ask for it.
“Maybe this is the year to bring them back to a more simple world. This country was founded by people who lived simply and within their means. This country was developed to its present greatness by people who considered it a virtue to ‘make do’ with whatever was at hand, at Christmas and every other time. Some of our sweetest traditions for Christmas today have come down to us from that day of making do, like the cranberry strings and the popcorn balls and hanging up stockings and lighted candles on the Christmas tree. Every one of these evolved from isolated farm homes making Christmas for the children out of what was in the house or on the place.
“And speaking of wonder in connection with Christmas let’s revive the wonder and the magic of seeing the Christmas tree on Christmas morning. Of late years we have got into strange ways about this. Mom has the sewing circle a week before Christmas so we trim up the Christmas tree. Or the folks have their bridge dinner three days before Christmas so we trim up the Christmas tree. Or we decide, mistakenly, to set it up and get the mess over with. By Christmas morning the tree is an old story even to the children. We hold that they have the right to that magic moment on Christmas morning when they awake to that first breath of pine in the house, and the sheer ecstasy of that first look at the Christmas tree.
“This, then, is the year to make popcorn strings and cranberry garlands, and walnuts covered with foil. A year to have a Christmas tree, of course, and none of these pink and aluminum jobs, either. We’ll use an aromatic pine, even if we have to buy one with only one good side and set it in a corner. It’s a year to have the house shined and decorated and fragrant. The baking can be done with cleverly chosen recipes, and if we make plum pudding with ground suet and carrot and apple we are only repeating history like some smart woman before us couldn’t afford fruitcake either.
“Turkey and chicken are cheap and Christmas candlelight on the table has its own special quality. The presents can often be homemade instead of store-bill headache. The day will still be His Birthday, the spiritual reasons for Christmas the same as ever. And when you think it is over, hard times or not, no matter how poor you thought you were, you’ll find you are rich indeed this Merry Merry Christmas.”
I chose this one because of the similarity of hard times at Christmas!