Christmas celebrated differently in early 1900s

By: 

Lorna Marquardt, Leader Columnist

This is the third article in a four-part series from notes written by my dad’s sister, Arline (Robenhagen) Roggenbuck. Thank you for your phone calls, comments and cards telling me the memories this series has rekindled. Here are more of my aunt’s memories in her own words:

“The wash tubs were brought back into the kitchen for Saturday night baths. I remember all too well the times during the Depression when the only soap available was Fels Naptha or P and G laundry soap. Baking soda or salt did double duty as toothpaste.

“A hair curler on occasion would rest in the lamp chimney and when hot enough to sizzle when touched with a wet finger, we’d crimp our hair. Many times, the smell of scorched hair filled the room.

“We eagerly looked forward to Christmas, but not for the reasons many children do now — presents. Santa never left even one gift under our tree. Our parents considered it fortunate to have a few goodies for us. Ma made beautiful animal cookies, cut out entirely free-handed, using a jack knife. She didn’t have any cookie cutters. We all clustered around the table, asking for peacocks, llamas, swan and whatever we could think of. They were artistically frosted and decorated. My older sister, Olga, who inherited Ma’s artistic ability, could help Ma decorate, but not the rest of us. The cookies decorated our Christmas tree. My brothers would lie under the tree, biting off the cookies and leaving just the strings.

“We often had candy cherries on a wire to put on the tree. We had no electricity, so candles were used to light the tree; but only for about 10 minutes a night because of fire concerns.

“The Christmas Eve program in church was the highlight of this holiday. Walking through the field and woods, entering the town proper, we were in awe of all the electric lights showing out of windows. Everything looked so much brighter than our little neighborhood using only kerosene lamps.

“All the school children had pieces to speak up in front of church and my, did we think we were important. As we finished, we walked past Pastor Uhlig and got our bag of candy. The bag contained an apple and orange, a little bag of nuts, a popcorn ball and a little hard candy. The bag was sorted over and cherished and guarded.

“One year, I confided in a classmate that I gave my bag of nuts to Ma so she could bake a nut cake, using “Carrie P’s” recipe, written in her one cookbook. Ma’s birthday was January 1, and now she could have a few ladies over for cake. Upon telling my classmate about the nuts, she asked if we were poor. Until then I hadn’t really thought that some people lived much better. My closest friend lived much as we did; her mother was bringing up seven children.

“Ma’s old maid sister and bachelor brother would usually come from their farm 10 miles away, bringing a Christmas tree and our only gift. My two brothers usually got a mouth organ, and the girls got a box of handkerchiefs, always wrapped in white tissue paper tied with red ribbon. Even though we knew by the shape of the box that it was hankies again, we were so happy to have a package to open.

“I guess I was about 14 when we got our first radio, a battery one. The battery would only play for so many hours, and then it would need re-charging, so we had to use it sparingly. While it was on, everyone sat right there, listening. No leaving it on and going into another room. When it ran out, Pa had to take the horse and wagon and take the battery uptown, and then get it home in a day or two. We didn’t have a spare. We used to listen to Fibber Magee and Molly, The Smith Family, WLS Barn Dance, Dr. Anthony and the news. During the war, Gabriel Heatter was the best-known reporter, and he would always say, ‘It’s a black night for us,’ when things were going badly.”

Next week will conclude this four-part series about life in the 1920s and 1930s as remembered by my dear Aunt Arline.

Answer for last week’s question: The Not Too Club was organized in 1965 for social dancing. The founding officers were Mrs. John (Mildred) Menacher, LeRoy Schauder, Mrs. Alvin (Ruth) Achten and Dr. W.W. Mitton.

This week’s question: In what year was the Big Brothers of Shawano County organized, what was its purpose and who were the first officers?

Happy 53rd anniversary, my dear.

Lorna Marquardt is a former Shawano mayor.