Christmas in Camden
It is Christmas week again, and the first snowfall of more than a foot on the 15th of December almost insured us of a “white Christmas.”
The way this holiday is celebrated can be and is different, not only in all countries of the world, but here in town, depending on what is happening that year. Economics are a large factor. The reason for the celebration never changes, as we are joyful for the birth of Christ. The commercialism does cloud our vision, much more than it should. The spirit must still be there, as most everyone seems to be more generous, more friendly, more polite and more loving and forgiving of one another. The date of Christmas is not actually mentioned in the Bible. When the wise men came to Bethlehem to worship Him they said that they had seen his star in the East, and that told them where Jesus was. But why Dec. 25 was eventually chosen to celebrate Christmas, no one I know has the answer.
Many children are read to or read “The Night Before Christmas” and the story about Santa Claus is exciting for small ones to believe. I remember staying awake most of the night, when very young, hoping to hear his sleigh bells ring and even imagined that I could hear them. My brother and sister told me that it was just a figment of my imagination, and if I were smart enough to look on the upper shelf in my parents’ closet, I could find out what present I was getting for Christmas. I did not want to spoil the surprise and although older than me, thought they must be wrong once in a while.
That was many years ago and during the Great Depression, when any small gift meant a great deal. It was the days before iPods, tablets, Kindles, laptops, e-books, computers, smart phones and all those electronic gadgets. We spent hours decorating a beautiful live tree that could be cut legally anywhere. One second thought, I really don’t know how legal it was, but people didn’t mind you having one from their land, if you had none of your own. People shared whatever they had. We also made our wreaths, which turned out much larger than what we had anticipated, and found the old red bow we had saved year after year. It was a three-fold purpose in making a garland to trim the tree. It was recreation; we popped corn and had some cranberries to string one after another. We ate half the popcorn while working and the third thing was we thought the tree looked beautiful. If there happened to be popcorn left over, we made popcorn balls and hung those on the tree. We had some colored construction paper, preferably red and green, and it only took cutting strips and pasting them to link together. We also made a few ornaments out of nothing. One year each were given a small glass ornament to keep carefully and to hang each year. I still had my antique yellow parasol of fragile glass, trimmed with gold Christmas cord until a few years ago. I never knew what a parasol had to do with Christmas, but I treasured it anyway. It was prettier than the fish my brother had. When putting the ornaments away, I carefully placed the glass parasol on the floor until I found the box in which it belonged. Then I accidentally stepped on it and the poor old thing crumbled like it was sugar, so I have not decorated a tree for Christmas since.
We had the same tradition most have today of hanging our stocking. But it was not a fancy Christmas one; it was really an old stocking that I wore. In it I was happy to find an orange, apple, a couple of walnuts and hoped to find a candy bar in the foot. Really, it could have been a stocking filled with coal, so they said, if I had been a bad girl that year.
I learned something that was fun, very nice and fragrant to hang in the hall. If I could have a large naval orange and some whole cloves, it kept me busy to stick the orange full of cloves. Then by leaving a small space (no cloves), you would tie a red ribbon of two long pieces to bring up around the orange and tie with bows at the top, and a red ribbon to hang it by. It had a wonderful aroma.
If I received one doll, I was so very happy. One Christmas, I said if Santa brings me a doll, I would like a black one, because there were no black families in Camden and I had seen a picture. I did get the cutest black baby doll. That summer I was playing with it outside and forgot it, as a small child might do. It rained that night and when I found my doll, her skin had peeled and she was orange. I wondered for a long time if that happened to people.
I was born in the Depression and it didn’t really end until World War II, when everyone had a job and made money. It was natural not to expect much, but we were very happy with anything. No one in Camden was cold or hungry, because they had the necessities and learned that material things really are not what makes one happy.
Let us be grateful for good health, loving family and many true friends. What more does one need for Christmas?
Barbara Dyer is Camden's official town historian.