A Country School Christmas
By Bill Schuette
As the warm, sunny days of autumn gave way to the cold, snowy days of winter, country school students adapted to the change and looked forward to outdoor games, which only a snowfall could facilitate. A favorite was Fox and Geese. A circle with spokes radiating to a hub, was tramped into the snow. A fox was chosen and would chase the geese around the circle. If caught, they would retreat to a holding “pen.” The last person caught would then become the fox, and the game would begin again.
Another favorite winter pastime was sledding on a nearby hill. Kids would bring their sleds to school, and at recess time, trek to the nearest slope. One, sometimes two, would mount the sled, push off and ride with the wind to the bottom. All too soon, the sound of a distant bell would call them back to the classroom. Mittens and socks would be placed near the tin-clad stove to dry until the next round of outdoor adventures. The smell of drying, woolen mittens is not something students from a rural school soon forgot.
The anticipation of the Christmas season in a country school was always a big event. Preparation for the holidays began in late November with the teacher suggesting gifts that the students could make for their parents. These gifts usually required some assembly, so work began and everyone pitched in to make that special creation.
Art classes were devoted specifically to the production of holiday decorations. Pictures of bells, holly, Santa’s and angels appeared on the windows of the schoolhouse. Paper garlands and snowflakes would add a festive air to the tree.
Pupils would place their names in a bucket, and then draw out the name of a classmate for whom they would get a special gift. Oh, how exciting it was if you drew the name of your best friend.
At recess, kids would secretly gather on the playground and discuss what they would get for their teacher. The decision being made, the cost would be shared among them all.
But, the most exciting part of the whole season was the Christmas program. The teacher would select a play and assign the parts. There would be numerous practice sessions where lines would be recited until they were well rehearsed for the big night.
The school board would put up a stage and string a wire across the room to hold a curtain.
Props were gathered and costumes made. The lower grade students would have verses to recite and holiday songs to sing.
As the day approached, anticipation would become intense as kids practiced one last time.
On the night of the program, parents would gather at the school and squeeze into the desks arranged before the stage. Sometimes there would be standing room only. The tree was seen in all its splendor with the decorations so carefully crafted by the hands of students. In the days before electricity, candles were placed on the branches and lighted especially for the occasion. A careful eye was always on the lookout in case a candle burned down too far.
As the program progressed it didn’t always go as planned, but those incidents were a delight for the audience, and the kids usually took them in stride. And then, it was over.
From outside the school, came the sound of jingling bells, and a hearty “Ho, Ho, Ho.” How did that jolly old elf know when the program was over? No one ever knew, but he bounded into the room with a bag stuffed with surprises for everyone. Gifts were exchanged, a bag of candy was handed out to all the kids, and then Santa left as he had arrived, back into the dark, cold night from whence he came.
Parents and kids, brothers and sisters put on their warm coats and woolen mittens and retreated to their cold cars for the trip home, tired and happy, with memories that would last them a lifetime.
Photo caption: Santa visits Sunny Hill School, Greenfield Township, in 1959