Saturday, December 20, 2008

Simplier Christmases

We’ve all heard the stories about children in the old days who were so happy at Christmastime just to receive an orange, some nuts and candy, a handmade toy or an article of homemade clothing in their stockings. Well, it is true! My aunt Ethel who was born in 1920 in Silver City, Utah remembers…We hung up one of our regular stockings on Christmas eve, and in the morning were excited because Santa had visited. In our stockings, we would discover an orange or a banana, some nuts and candy, and a gift. The girls always got a doll while the boys got games to play like Old Maid cards, Checkers, Dominoes or Parcheesi. (I’m sure their widowed mother carefully saved money all year to be able to provide these gifts for her children.)

Ethel continues her memories of Christmases with her two sisters, two brothers, and a working mom…Sometimes we would each get a dollar to go shopping at Woolworth’s dime store in nearby Eureka to buy gifts for the family. Amazingly, it was possible to buy gifts for the whole family with just one dollar: handkerchiefs, combs, a head scarf, socks, gloves, a woolen cap or some candy could be bought then carefully wrapped and put under the tree to be opened on Christmas day.

The Johnson kids knew they wouldn’t be getting fancy gifts because their widowed mother just couldn’t supply that for them. She was lucky to keep food on the table and wood or coal in the pot belly stove to warm their two bedroom house with no indoor plumbing but their holiday meal was always special because she was an excellent cook. A turkey or chicken with delicious stuffing, whipped mashed potatoes and tasty gravy served with homemade rolls and pies were served and enjoyed by all which sometimes included invited friends and extended family members.

Ethel continues…Our loving Grandma Morby, who lived far away in Coalville, either brought or mailed us special gifts this time of year. One year she sent a small suitcase filled with different kinds of candy. What a treat that was for us kids. (What joy and appreciation they had for anything that was given them.)

May your holidays be blessed and filled with warm memories of your family’s traditional celebrations. Tell your children and grandchildren about your memorable Christmases or better yet write them down to preserve your family’s history.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Go back to the past

My husband who is very quiet asked an interesting question at lunch yesterday. He said, "If you could go back and do an activity that you did in your past, what would it be?" For me-the answer was to be with my father who died when I was five. Just to see his face, hear his voice and feel his love for me. It didn't matter what we did, just to be together. (Photo of my dad and me in 1943.) For my husband-it was to be fishing with his dad. Interesting how both of our activities revolved around our dads.

Then a few minutes later, my son Dan called and his son Nathan wanted to talk to grandma-me. So we talked for a few minutes and then he wanted to talk to grandpa-my husband. So they had a cute conversation about Christmas. Even though my husband is a step grandpa, my grandchildren accept him fully. Seems to me having a dad or grandpa is very important to all our lives. Though they are all different-some more outgoing than others, we do need them.

What would you do if you could go back and do an activity that you did in your past? Leave us a comment.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

St. Lucia Day

Today is my son Jeffrey's birthday #26. Happy Birthday! He was born in Provo on St. Lucia's day in Sweden which is a celebration held every year: December 13th was also the Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year, in the old 'Julian' Calendar and a pagan festival of lights in Sweden was turned into St. Lucia's Day.

St. Lucia's Day is now celebrated by a girl dressing in a white dress with a red sash round her waist and a crown of candles on her head. (Normally electric candles are used for safety!) The crown is made of Lingonberry branches which are evergreen and symbolise new life in winter. Schools normally have their own St. Lucias and some town and villages also choose a girl to play St. Lucia in a procession where carols are sung.

A national Lucia is also chosen. Lucias also visit hospitals and old people's homes singing a song about St Lucia and handing out 'Pepparkakor', ginger snap biscuits. In homes often the eldest girl plays St Lucia for her family, bringing them 'Lussekatts', St Lucia's day buns flavoured with saffron and dotted with raisins which are eaten for breakfast.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Christmas Family Traditions

As we approach the holidays, take some time to reflect back on what traditions you remember from your childhood days. Let’s look back at earlier times…say your grandparents’ days. How did they celebrate the holiday season? Were gifts opened on Christmas Eve or in the morning? Was attending church together part of their holiday celebration? Where did they gather to eat a special family meal? How was gift giving handled? Was everyone involved in finding and decorating the Christmas tree?

There were no artificial trees in my grandma’s day so it was a wonderful family time to bundle up and go out looking in the mountains for that perfect tree. My aunt Ethel who lived in Silver City, Utah with her widowed mother and four siblings remembers… We did enjoy going out in the nearby mountains to find a Christmas tree. My older brothers would chop down a pinyon or cedar tree, then bring it home and place it in the living room next to the wood stove. They made a tree stand out of four small pieces of wood then it was time to decorate the tree. We threaded popcorn on long strings with a needle, and made red and green paper chains to drape on the tree limbs. Either candles with clips or later fancy colored electric lights were wrapped around the tree.

The top of the tree always had some special ornament representing the Christmas star or an angel, either store bought or homemade. The tree wasn’t complete until the star was placed on top to watch over us in our celebrating. We had some colored glass ornaments that were very easy to break but fun to put on the tree. The last decoration to go on the tree were icicles made out of narrow aluminum foil strips that you hung carefully on each branch to look like real icicles hanging down. They had to be placed on each branch one by one to get the right effect-no throwing them on in clumps. When the tree was undecorated after the holidays, the icicles were carefully saved to be used next year.

What holiday traditions have you preserved or are you starting new ones? Christmastime unfortunately can become too hectic for us as we loose sight of why we celebrate and the feelings of love and closeness that can be developed as we continue our family’s unique traditions.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Family Names

Ever ask your parents how you were named? In their day, there were fewer unusual or unique names as most children were named after a family member probably a grandparent or parent to honor them. Usually the first son was named after his father then called by some nickname like Junior or Sonny. One of the daughters would be named after the mom. It took the birth of almost six children, three male and three female, before the parents could finally select a new name of their own choice. Then there were their brother’s and sister’s names to consider.

It made for lots of confusion when everyone got together or signed legal documents with many relatives sharing the same name but born in different generations. Middle names were added to distinguish individuals with the same first name. Often maiden names were used for middle names that otherwise would be lost in family genealogical records. Thus, my ancestor John McGuckin Malin was named after his mother Sarah McGuckin.

Another common tradition was to name your child after a prominent person in local or national history. In my family I have several examples: Christopher Columbus Johnson, John Quincy Adams Johnson, Benjamin Franklin Johnson, and George Washington Johnson are just a few. Popular names taken from biblical characters were used for some of my male ancestors: Elijah Malin and Noah Smith. Biblical names for girls popular were: Patience, Charity, Faith or Chastity. Try naming a child today one of those names.

After all the work of naming a child, then parents sometimes used a nickname. First names were shortened: William became Bill, Richard––Dick, Robert––Bob, and James––Jimmy. Girl’s nicknames were more interesting as Elizabeth became Beth or Liz or Eliza or Betsy, Susanna became Sue or Susie, and Virginia––Jenny. Amelia became Amy, Margaret––Meg, Faith––Fay, and Katherine was called Katie. Henrietta became Etta, Sarah––Sally, Mary––Molly or Polly or just May. Or the nickname could have nothing to do with the given name like: Butch, Buddy or Red.

How do you feel about your name or nickname? Have you told your family how you were named or how you choose their names? What unusual family names do you have? Utahans are known to give their children strange two syllable names like LaPrell, RaNae, LaGene or DuWayne to name just a few. I’ll bet your grandkids have unusual first names and unique spellings.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Indian Life

Now that we've discovered two grandmothers from the Cherokee and Choctaw tribes in my husband's ancestry, it makes the Native American culture part of our family. Wondering about how they survived living in primitive shelters and met the constant demands for food, shelter, clothing and security is intriguing to consider. (Click on photos to make them larger and read the signs below.)

On the way home from Texas, we stopped 30 miles north of Flagstaff, Arizona at the Wapatki National Monument's ruins that have been preserved. Walking through their adobe dwellings, we talked about how they stayed warm in the cold winters at that elevation. What did they sleep on, just the cold rocks or did they make mats of weeds and use animal skins to cover themselves? Lots of unanswered questions, but they did survive...barely. Water was very scarce..

Was there a stigma for their later descendants to marrying a non-Native American? Did they ever see their Native families again after marrying and moving away? Many unanswered questions as their genealogy was oral and not written down. It is lost to us for now.