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Christmas Mississippi Style.

Usually at Christmas time in the late 1920s and early 1930s in the small Mississippi town where I lived it was not cold, but there was just enough nip in the air to create the happy excitement of holiday preparations. Mama would get as excited as my brothers and I did and was willing for us to do anything in the house to decorate. One of the first things was pinning a faded, misshapen artificial wreath on the lace panel curtain hanging on our front door. In spite of the wreath's condition, Mama never threw it away since she knew it was as much a part of the Christmas spirit to us as the tree we cut in the woods. She didn't fuss when we made holes in the curtain. It didn't bother us that the large safety pin we used to hang the wreath was obvious to everyone who came to visit during the holidays.

Each year one of my older brothers took my younger brother and me into the woods near our house in Sherman to cut a tree and take turns dragging it home. It was fun deciding which kind we wanted, a cedar or longleaf pine. Usually we chose the pine with its long bright green needles since our homemade decorations would show up more than on the thicker branches of the cedar, It wasn't important to us whether the tree had a perfect shape or not. We were satisfied that it was green and had an indescribable smell of the outdoors that meant Christmas had arrived. We put the tree in the corner of the living room, or parlor as we called it, and we made the decorations since there wasn't any extra money during Depression days to buy from the stores. We created long colorful chains from strips of construction paper glued together to make rings. There were many colors including red, yellow, green, purple, blue, even black and white to make the ropes we wound on the tree from top to bottom. Sometimes we made shorter strips of three or four rings and hung them from the ends of the branches, pretending they were icicles. Papa would put a layer of corn in our wire popcorn popper, close the sliding top then shake the popper vigorously back and forth over the flame in the fireplace until it was full of large white puffy pieces. With a needle and long threads we carefully strung the popcorn puffs close together making long ropes to wind round and round the tree. Sometimes Papa had to pop more corn if we ate too many of the warm puffs as we strung the ropes.

Christmas Eve was exciting. On the mantel in the room where we slept, my brother and I hung our stockings, long skinny ones we wore to school in the winter. Papa banked the fire with ashes to keep it hot all night, ready to start the next day. As we lay in our beds, in the dark every now and then a flame sputtered long enough for us to see the stockings flat and empty, waiting for Santa to come. I remember shivering from excitement, trying to stay awake to see what happened.

Early on Christmas morning, it was a thrill to see the stockings, lumpy and bulging with fruits and nuts. We were not aware that it was the time of the Depression, limiting the items we received from Santa. To dig deep into our stockings and pull out a large fragrant orange, a bright red apple, Brazil nuts, walnuts, and pecans, and a large bunch of raisins was even more than we had hoped to find. It was interesting that the raisins were on the original grape stems, not picked off and packed in a box for sale. How good they tasted, so plump and juicy.

As early as 4:30 a.m. on Christmas day, it was the custom in Sherman to shoot fireworks. Each of us had a small package of firecrackers, a box of sparklers, and a Roman Cannon. I didn't like the noise the firecrackers made, so I would light one, throw it, and cover my ears. My brother and I danced around waving the sparklers, making patterns in the dark. It was fun to see flashes of light all around us as people in our small town shared the fireworks tradition.

Every Christmas I helped Mama with the Christmas baking. It was a happy time of singing and sharing the nativity story as we made cakes, custard, and other goodies. We had lots of company since my brothers invited their friends to share what we had cooked.

Today our grandchildren will be arriving soon to share the holidays with us here in New England. I must get busy and bake some of their favorite things. As I stir and mix, I shall recall Christmases I had when I was young. Maybe this year we'll celebrate with sparklers, Mississippi style!
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Publication:Mississippi Magazine
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1U6MS
Date:Nov 1, 2000
Previous Article:Old Waverly's Victorian Christmas.

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