My very first memory is of Christmastime. I was living with my parents and my younger sisters in a small two room house in Glendale. The little house didn't even have the luxury of an indoor bathroom. The nearest bathroom was the men's and women's restrooms next door at the old service station, where my dad worked, on the north end of Glendale.
I was probably about three years old and my first memory is of crawling under the Christmas tree that was set up in the front room that served as the living room and kitchen of the little house.
I was intent on bringing out from under the tree a little green elf doll. The doll had a funny rubber face and long skinny arms and legs. Except for the face, the elf was made of green felt and was filled with sawdust. The doll was for my baby sister Donna. I can remember thinking that the doll was wonderful and I was happy to give it to my sister.
A couple of years later our family moved into small three roomed house that my dad had built, in Orderville. We would live there until my dad could build a house that was big enough for all of us. At least there we had an indoor bathroom. The neighbors across the street didn't have one until I was in seventh grade.
In that little house we looked forward to Christmastime. We could hardly wait for the Montgomery Wards Catalog to come in the mail. We would pour over it for hours and hours, deciding what we wanted Santa to bring. Mother told us to pick out the one thing that we wanted most, then we had to pass it by her so that she could help us write our letters to Santa. After we had almost rubbed off the ink and worn out the pages of the catalog we took the scissors and cut out the people and furniture to make paper-dolls.
One day after hours of play with cutout paper-dolls in the middle of the front room floor we had quite a pile of paper scraps. Mother told us to sweep up the paper and burn it. So we did. She was at the kitchen sink washing the dishes when a whiff of smoke curled around her nose. You should have seen her face when she turned around and saw our neat little fire in the middle of the floor. I still don't see what all of the fuss was about. We just did what she told us to do and the floor was cement.
When dad brought a tree home we found a place in front of the window. The Christmas tree was almost always a Blue Spruce, because dad thought they were the prettiest. He built a wooden tree stand and we made paper chains and strings of popcorn for decorations. The finished tree was topped with a star cut from cardboard and covered with Tinfoil.
When we were older, we brought home paper decorations we made in school. Mother thought they were beautiful and hung them on the tree. Many of our creations were still pinned to her bedroom curtains many years after all of of us had grown and left to make homes of their own.
By the time we grew out of that tiny house there were six of us kids. There was a set of bunk-beds in the front room and in the bedroom there was a bed for my parents, another set of bunk-beds, a crib for the one-year-old and a bassinet for the baby.
Waiting for Christmas was almost unbearable at times. As Christmas drew nearer, the excitement would build, as we waited for the word to go out that Toy Land had arrived at the H&R Shopping Center on main street (where Soup Town Cafe' is located today). The shop owner, Gene Russell and the ladies who worked for him, Lasca Chamberlain, Carol Lamb, and Nan Johnson cleared the hardware items from the shelves in the basement and replaced them with toys. Rows of toys, baby-dolls, trucks and cars, all kinds of toys, just waiting for Santa Clause to come and pick them up for the kids in Orderville.
Christmas then was so different than it is now. There was no Wal-Mart or Target stores. No Mall or shopping online. There were no computers or cell phones. In fact we didn't get a phone in our house until I was almost sixteen. Then I pestered my parents to get a phone because I would soon be of dating age and how could a boy call and ask me on a date if we didn't have a phone?
There was no television in the Valley until I was about 12 years old, and we didn't have a television in our house until I was about 14. The kids in Orderville didn't see the millions of commercials for the latest and most fantastic toys, every other minute, on made for kids televisions shows that promoted even more toys.
Even though we looked forward to Santa coming, we knew that Christmas Eve was baby Jesus' birthday. We learned that from our parents and from attending church. In primary we spent a couple of months learning the Christmas Hymns and practicing for the Primary Christmas Eve Program.
All of the girls hoped that they would be chosen to play Mary as we reenacted the story of the Nativity. I don't think the boys cared as much who they played, they were happy to be a shepherd, especially if they had a staff that they could use to poke each other with during the program.
For me the Christmas Eve Program was the climax of all of the excitement that had been building up for weeks. That night as we gathered at the church, all of the children in town were dressed in their Sunday best with shinny faces and freshly brushed hair. There seemed to be electricity in the air. The kids all twitched with excitement. Still, everyone was on their best behavior because we all knew that there were elves still about, watching to see who was being naughty or nice.
The magic began when the lights went down in the room and the music began to play. The children sang... Silent Night,....Holy Night, ...all is calm all is bright. Then curtains parted and we would sit there spellbound as the story of the birth of Baby Jesus began to unfold.
Some of the children acted out the parts of Joseph and Mary, the wise-men, shepherds and angels, and someone, preferably someone with a nice voice, who was good at reading, read the story of the birth of the Savior of the World, from the scriptures.
Even though the baby Jesus on the stage was a rubber baby-doll wrapped up in a blanket, our hearts were filled with love for the baby Jesus as we sang the Hymns that we had been learning for weeks.
We imagined the dark sky on that night so long ago, as it lit up with angels singing “Peace on Earth”.
And we wondered about how the shepherds must have felt as they saw the angels from the fields below where they were tending their sheep.
We listened as the narrator read from the scriptures about the star and the wise men who followed it from a far-away country, until at last they found the baby Jesus wrapped in swaddling clothes, laying in a manger.
We thought about Mary and wondered how it would be to stay in a stall designed for the shelter of animals with her new-born baby.
After the program was over and we had sang the last hymn, the excitement built to a crescendo as we strained our ears listening for the sound of far-away sleigh bells.
It seemed like an eternity before Santa came bursting in to the room, shouting HO, HO, HO, and jingling a handful of bells. The Primary president ushered the Jolly Old Elf onto the stage and into a large overstuffed chair where he could listen to all of the children's Christmas wishes.
Although teachers and parents tried to hold down the anticipation, there were always a few breakaways that could not contain their excitement. They would do cartwheels and just generally run a muck, punching each other and jumping up and down, like bacon on a hot skillet. Finally each child got their turn to sit on Santa's lap.
After we gave our lists to Santa and he had given us a small treat like a candy-cane or a chocolate covered marsh-mallow Santa Clause, we were anxious to get home and into bed so that he would be sure to visit our house as long as he was in town.
It was on Christmas Eve we hung up our stocking for Santa to fill. We looked through our chest of drawers to find to longest socks possible, sometimes we used our dad's. Some years we tried to get away with hanging up our tights but our mother told us that that was too greedy.
On the years that our parents had a little extra money we got a banana or an orange, in our stocking otherwise it would be an apple that suspiciously looked like the ones that Grandma kept in her cellar. There were always nuts and hardtack candy. We treasured the pretty ribbon candy that we sometimes found in the bottoms of our stockings.
My parents eventually became parents to ten children and then they adopted an eleventh. They continued to take us to the Christmas Eve program every Christmas Eve for as long as I lived at home. The Christmas Eve program became one of my cherished childhood memories.
I have continued to make the Christmas Eve program part of my family's Christmas celebrations, but my perspective of it has changed since I was a child. Several years ago when it was decided that maybe we didn't need to have a program on Christmas Eve, my sister and I decided that it was so much a part of our family's Christmas tradition that we wanted to do it for our families and those who didn't have anyone else to share Christmas with.
At the church as we gathered to watch the children as they sang their songs and acted out their parts in the Nativity, we saw people that we had not seen in a long time, people who only came to the church on Christmas Eve. There were people who's families were far-away and couldn't make it home that year to share Christmas with their parents or grandparents. Those with no children who came just to see the sparkle in the children's eyes. Friends and neighbors exchanging small gifts, along with smiles and well wishes for the Christmas Holidays. But most of all, people taking time out of a busy season to mark the birth of the Savior.
Even as hectic as it got sometimes when I tried to get my family to the church in time for the program, the part of Christmas that I love the most is taking a moment to remember the Savior. Meeting together on the eve of his birth to remember Him, away from the hustle and bustle of the season. Away from the shopping. Away from the wrapping. Away from the cooking and cleaning. Away from the world. Happy Birthday Baby Jesus.