A childhood Christmas in burleson 1910-1917
Mike: I need a good story to tell my grandchildren about how the Christmas season was observed in Burleson “in the good old days. ” What do you have?
John: There is a collection of records and memories of Donna K. Loyless, which was compiled by Mike Beard. They are in the research library at the Burleson Visitor Center and Museum. There is a wealth of information in her memoirs. My favorite is her description of the Christmases of her childhood.
Mere words cannot express the pure magic and wondrous excitement of the birthday of Jesus at the turn of the 20th Century. We didn’t receive much but then we didn’t expect much…a toy or a doll, a pair of socks, an apple and a candy cane.
It is difficult to describe those magical, wide awake joyous moments of childhood at Christmas. In the early years of this century, Christmas in Burleson was anticipated by both adults and children for several weeks in advance. Christmas was not a day, it was a season. Cookies, candies and cranberry sauce perfumed our home for the entire time between Thanksgiving and Christmas. During all this period, my mother was deep in her fruit cakes by the middle of November.
At school, the students started making red and green paper-chains and stringing popcorn in November. Every classroom had a small tree often brought in from the “mound” and placed in a corner of the room. We students didn’t worry about its shape or whether it listed to the right or left. The important thing was to cover it with small balls of cotton to resemble snow and decorate it with strings of popcorn and cranberries. The paper–chains were hung across the classroom windows and, yes, there was plenty of mistletoe. At chapel on the last Friday before we were dismissed for the holidays, all 10 classes participated in a Christmas program, singing Christmas carols and receiving an apple or an orange from the decorated tree.
Children started writing letters to Santa Clause in November for our parents and teachers informed us that it would take weeks for them to get to the North Pole where Santa lived. They said that he and Mrs. Clause spent most of the year making toys and all sorts of “goodies” getting ready for Christmas each year.
In the early days of December, we went to the Deer Creek farm for a Christmas Turkey and kept the foul in a wire coop until the morning of Dec. 24. (children sometimes grew fond of the bird and they did not want her killed). Mother would pop her neck, cut off her head and hang her up-side-down penned to the clothes line to let her bleed properly. Then, very hot water was poured over the turkey to make it easier to pluck the feathers. The softer feathers were put aside for stuffing pillows.
The turkey was stuffed with cornbread dressing with plenty of onions and sage and since there was no aluminum foil or plastic-wrap in that day, a damp buttered cloth was placed over the turkey to keep it moist while baking in the old wood stove.
I don’t recall any street decorations in Burleson in those years although the merchants would display strips of red and green “crepe paper” as garlands along the walls and windows in their stores.
Christmas greetings were in the form of postcards. On the card, it might have written only the words “Merry Christmas” or might have on it a range of sentimental motifs: Robins in the snow, children frolicking or a bouquet of flowers. Very few were colored with red or green for most of them were in pastel colors like the one I received from Mildred McPherson when we were in the third grade. My father sold the cards for two cents each at the drug store.
Adults enjoyed giving their friends gifts of home-made jellies and preserves or possibly a jar of apple butter which was a delicacy in that day. Mrs. Sam Taylor usually gave us a wedge of her delicious hog-head cheese.
I have a faint memory of my father tying a bell on our buggy one Christmas and the first time it rang it scared “Old Henry”, the one-eyed nag, and he ran us in the ditch.
My father never kept any alcoholic beverages in the drug store or in our home other than a bottle of Old Garrett’s whiskey behind the prescription desk for medical purposes. However, he would carefully measure out one teaspoon of the liquid spirits for mother to flavor the eggnog which she served on Christmas day (we were careful never to mention this for fear of being ostracized in the community).
My fondest memories were of Christmas Eve at the old white frame Baptist Church where a tall tree stood at one end of a raised platform and decorated with strings of popcorn, cranberries, gingerbread men and other “goodies”. A few small white candles were lighted and perched on the ends of some of the branches. After the reading of the scriptures pertaining to the birth of the Christ-child and the singing of carols, a bell would ring outside the church and Santa Clause would arrive at the north door. Some tots, scared out of their wits, would grab their parents around the neck; others would jump up and down in the irresistible charm of the moment. What fun it was to hear Santa call your name and receive the very gift you had written him for.
Children were told that Santa would fly his sleigh to every home some time during the night and would fill their stockings and leave other gifts. I stayed awake until late in the night listening for him.”
Donna K. Loyless
Donna K. was born in Burleson on December 12, 1910. She graduated from Burleson in 1925 and Texas Woman’s College. She was the daughter of the local druggist who operated the Trolley Stop Drug Store.