Did you know that there was a time when whole communities dressed in their best clothes, however threadbare, and turned out at their local school or church to watch the children of the neighborhood present The Christmas Program? Whether you had children in the school or not? Whether you stepped foot in the church any other time of the year or not? If you were a part of the community you and your whole family showed up to support the children. (And, I suspect, for some of the best entertainment of the year.)
You listened to them sing the familiar carols and you watched the old story of the birth of the Babe born in a manger. Somehow it was always new again and even the hardest of hearts did not fail to thaw a little when a young Mary cradled her doll brought from home or sometimes her baby brother.
And there was always a gift for each child in the community. You just did not miss The Christmas Program. It was an important part of community life.
"Dad and the boys got the chores over early that Friday before Christmas.
And Mother had supper on the table as they came up on the porch,
stomping the snow off their overshoes.
For once, Dad said, this family was on time. If the Model-T would start,
and if we didn't get stuck in a snowdrift, we'd arrive at the schoolhouse well ahead of the program.
We had to be early, because we children all had important parts."
By Vera Foss Bradshaw from "Sleeves for the Angel"
in The Farmer's Wife December 1951
I remember many of these nights as a child when our whole family dressed up and went to school or church for the Christmas Program. I usually had on the choir robe that each mother was expected to make for their child as I was shy and never had a speaking part. In the choir I was down near the end as the notes that I heard in my head never came out right when they left my lips. But I felt so angelic in my robe. My little sisters were dressed cute, my mother had on her best Sunday dress, and my father of course kept on the suit and tie he had worn to work that day. If you'll look closely at the picture below you'll see that all of the men wore suits and ties. And I vividly remember the racks in the entryway where each man trustingly left his own dress hat. There is an arrow drawn to my head, showing the vanity of a much younger age. I did not want anyone to miss finding me in that vast crowd of children who had gathered at the largest elementary school in our town that had the biggest stage. I still remember most of the words to one song we sang, "Bring a Torch, Jeanette, Isabella."
It is not easy to leave the comfort of your home in December and go to your child's school or church programs, especially if they are only in the wings of the choir. If you do though, they may always remember it.
The cover above from the December 1951 issue of Farm Journal, called "Christmas Eve at the Country Church" is by artist William Kirtman.