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Clark County Press, Neillsville, WI
December 27, 1995, Page 24
Transcribed by Dolores (Mohr) Kenyon.
Index of "Oldies" Articles
Good Old Days
“The Twelve Days of Christmas”
By Dee Zimmerman
There were twelve days between two major festivals of the Christian church, Christmas on December 25 and Epiphany on January 6 – thus referred to as “The twelve days of Christmas.”
Years ago, when the lifestyle was of a slower pace, some communities celebrated the Christmas season throughout the twelve days. Other factors may have been an influence; such as the winter ahead could be one of much snow and cold, making traveling difficult or impossible.
The season started with most families attending Christmas Eve and Christmas Day church services, to be followed by a dinner on Christmas Day. Then, as now, was a day of families gathering together in fellowship. If you didn’t have extended family nearby, you found some friends without family such as you, who could join you for the day’s festivities.
Throughout the other days you were invited out to homes and in turn invited guests to your home. There was always food to be shared; games were played by children and adults. Often, the kids went outdoors to go sledding, skating or skiing.
If you couldn’t get to where you were going by car, you went by horses and sleigh. A team of horses were harnessed and hooked up to the sleigh. Large blocks of firewood were placed in the sleigh box with a plank on top to serve as a seating bench. Often some straw or hay was thrown in as insulation against the cold, and protection for the passengers’ feet. Always there were two horsehide robes (blankets) thrown in, to fulfill two purposes. The passengers were covered with the blankets enroute and when the destination was reached, the sweaty horses were covered with the blankets to keep them from becoming chilled when their bodies cooled down. The horses would hopefully be placed in the host’s barn, if there was room, until the return trip. As we left, the smelly, sweaty horse blankets were taken from the horses and placed around us kids, of the trip home. How we dreaded the thoughts of soaking up the odors of horses. Slowly, we would start to push away the blankets from our laps. Then, dad would say “Keep those blankets around you so you don’t get cold.” It was one of those times when we were sure dad had a set of invisible eyes at the back of his head.” The sleigh rides on moonlight nights were enjoyable. Each person looked over the landscape to see what was in the shadows and the imaginations took over.
My mom belonged to a Serving Circle; members were ladies in the neighborhood. One member, Anna, always hosted the last meeting of the year, between Christmas and New Years Day. Anna, her husband and fourteen children lived in a house that had large rooms, so there was ample space for entertaining the families on that special occasion. It was one of the two meetings of the year that husbands and children of the members were included; the other was a summer picnic.
Each year’s menu was the same – an oyster stew feed. At their previous meeting, each member put 25 cents in the kitty for purchasing the oysters. On the day of the party, each member brought a gallon of milk or oyster soup crackers for the meal. Anna, the hostess, prepared the oysters and determined when the milk was added with the oysters. Preparing the stew seemed to require her expertise. As soon as the stew was ready to be served, Anna’s daughters insisted that she leave the kitchen so as to join her guests. Each Christmas I think of that delicious oyster stew which must have been so good because of Anna’s loving touch.
One year, there were no “Days of Christmas get-togethers.” The accumulation of early snow-falls had made roads impassable. We weren’t able to get to grandpa and grandma’s home for Christmas, a distance of eight miles. The deep snow drifts would have been too much of a struggle for the team of horses. It was the first Christmas mother couldn’t be with her family which was depressing as well as the thoughts of being snowbound for possibly three more months.
One evening, a week after Christmas, mom walked into the kitchen and as she passed a window, she saw a small light bobbing along the snow covered landscape. Instantly, she knew it had to be the light of a kerosene lantern and from the direction it was coming it was Martin and Edith, a couple living on a farm a mile and a half north of our farm.
Quickly, mom put more wood in the cook stove and started mixing up a cake. After the cake was in the oven, she then prepared sandwich filling for sandwiches to be served with cake. The stomping of feet on the back porch announced their arrival. As they came through the door, we noticed they wore identical attire. Both wore the tan sheepskin lined coats with large sheepskin collars, flannel shirts, stripped bib overalls, five or six buckle over shoes and ear muffed caps. All of us were elated to see them.
After some conversation, Martin, Edith and my parents sat around the table to play the card game of Smear, men against the women. A few hours later, lunch and coffee were served before our guests walked back across the fields to their home. That visit to our home ws a most memorable event, our Christmas Season didn’t pass without someone coming to visit.
Thinking of the holiday seasons of the 30’s, there was little of gift giving. Somehow, that didn’t seem important. We kids each go (got) a bag of peanuts and candy at the rural school program. The families didn’t have the means for purchasing gifts other than maybe a small item or some fresh fruit for each. However, that didn’t seem to keep us from enjoying the season. Fun times were had by being with family and friends during the “twelve days of Christmas.”
The late Charlie Meier often re-enacted the “horse pulling sleigh days” on his farm southeast of Neillsville. He loved the children, his horses and life in general so enjoyed taking the kids out on sleigh rides for winter outings.
Meier’s dog couldn’t be left out of the fun, he walked along beside the horses and sleigh.
After all, every good team needs a mascot.
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