A glimpse of Christmas
By Clif Knight
Have you noticed it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas in Hartselle?
Driving through downtown on Main Street late Saturday night was a pre-holiday eye-opener for me. Everywhere I looked, holiday trappings looked back. Lampposts were decorated in their lighted Christmas characters; storefronts were decked out in colorful lighted Christmas trees; and picture windows were populated with wrapped gift boxes.
No doubt, shopkeepers stayed busy throughout the day displaying merchandise for early holiday shoppers, and families were making plans to decorate their homes and grounds in keeping with the festive holiday season.
Looking back on Christmases past, I was reminded of how much the Christmas season has changed since I was a boy in the 1930s and 1940s.
The lifestyle of our growing farm family was about the same in January as it was in December. Since we were sharecroppers, money was always scarce. Most of the family’s income came from a two-thirds share of our cotton crop.
During the Great Depression, my father supplemented our income in the winter months by chopping wood for $1 a day.
The Christmas season was downplayed as far as gifts for me, an older sister and two younger brothers were concerned. However, we wore out the pages of a Sears & Roebuck Christmas catalog looking at pictures of the toys and making our own gift wish lists.
The gifts we had under the Christmas tree seldom lived up to our highest expectations; however, we were always thankful for the small, inexpensive presents we received, along with a handful of fruit, nuts and candy.
Christmas during the World War II years was even more disappointing for most families and their children. Many staple consumer products, including sugar, leather, metal and gasoline, were rationed in support of the war effort. Wood replaced metal in the manufacture of toys, and sorghum syrup or honey replaced sugar in the making of candy.
The stores in my hometown didn’t put up Christmas trees or display toys and other gift items until after Thanksgiving Day. Most families waited until the weekend before Christmas to put up and decorate a tree.
The main focus of the holiday was on the birth of Jesus Christ. Most rural families were involved in regular worship at a community church and gave strong support to activities related to the birth of the Christ child.