Trappings scanty, but love abundant in Dark Corner Christmases of pastPublished 4:48pm Tuesday, December 13, 2011
Pungent, present-day smells of ginger, dried apples, popcorn and cedar conjure up memories of older Christmases in the Dark Corner.
Gingerbread angels, snowmen and fully-built “houses” were decorated, displayed and eaten during the lengthy, 12-day celebration of the Christ child’s birthday.
Dried apples were reconstituted, joined with aromatic spices and fried into “mule-year” (mule’s ear) or “half moon” pies (think present-day apple turnovers).
Popcorn served a dual purpose: popped individual kernels were strung together for draping on the tree along with strung holly berries or loosely twisted “roping,” while handfuls of popped kernels were joined together with molasses, syrup or honey to form sweet tasting “popcorn balls.”
Christmas trees were almost always fragrant, native cedars, even though their sharp needles caused injury to young, un-callused hands in handling them. Landowners who had an abundance of the ubiquitous, native trees would offer them free of charge as a gift to neighboring children, and would afford them the pleasure of choosing and cutting their own tree.
After draping the stringed popcorn or berries on the tree, paper strips would be joined together as links in a “chain” and pasted to form additional draping.
Painted, mature sweet gum balls would be tied to the branches as ornaments. Some families would roll up free advertising calendars and cut them in such a way as to make “Jacob’s Ladders” for additional ornaments.
A special treat during the December holiday was brightly colored tangerines purchased with meager cash holdings, or bartered for, otherwise.
But the best part of Christmas was the sharing of simple, handmade gifts or offers of help in needed ways. It was a special time for renewing a deep, heartfelt love for each other, modeled by the great love that the Heavenly Father demonstrated to the entire world by the gift of His son.
That magnificent story was retold every Christmas by someone in the family, as they read or recited the words of Saint Luke: “And there were shepherds, abiding in the fields, keeping watch over their flocks by night….”