Pioneer Potluck: About… Getting ready for the Christmas pageant

  • By Grannie Annie
  • Tuesday, December 16, 2014 5:22pm
  • LifeFood

Cactus Hill Observatory Grade School

1940’s and 1950’s

Dad and Mom played a big part in the Christmas party, gift giving and preparations. At one time, I also thought Dad played Santa. I still do not know who played Santa all those years.

To get ready for the big event at the school house the last day of school and as the Christmas vacation began, we pushed all our desks back to one side. The boys brought the folding chairs out of the basement. The girls dusted them off and we all put them in rows for the big night.

The folding doors between the two class rooms were pushed away to expose the “little kids” room. We had one more rehearsal for the Christmas Pageant, with everyone dressed for their part. We all took this very seriously.

Some of the Angels from the little kids room were fidgety, but all in all, they took instructions well and usually everything went as planned. We were dismissed early to go home and get dressed in our finest Christmas clothes and polished shoes so we could show up later that night to go on stage and show off what we learned.

Dad and Mom for several years provided popcorn balls to be given out with the toy that Santa gave to each child. At home the night before in our big kitchen, Dad would get out the big cast iron skillet and a white enamel lid. Heat up the pan, put a tablespoon of lard in the pan, wait for it to get almost smoking hot, pour in 1/2 cup of his famous home grown white kernel Japanese popcorn kernels, that he sold to Safeway as Kemp Korn. He put the lid on and almost instantly they would start popping.

Dad would shake the skillet back and forth on the stove, ( I still hear the sound of the skillet scraping on the stove burner,) and would listen to hear the last kernel pop, quickly dump the popped corn into a big white enamel dish pan. Put more lard in the pan and shake until that was popped. He did this about 5 times until the pan was full. Then it was Moms turn at the stove. She had the corn syrup, sugar and water mixture ready to go on the stove and cook until it formed a string on her spoon and then she would test it in cold water to see if it formed a soft ball. She had red or green food coloring handy to stir into the bubbling hot liquid.

The quick part started when Mom said “It’s done, John,” and Dad would grab two large wooden spoons and poise over the dish pan while Mom would pour the hot, hot liquid over the popped corn. Dad would stir and stir to get every kernel coated. Then working as quickly as he and Mom could, they dipped their buttered hands in cold water and into the hot popped corn mixture to form large popcorn balls. Squeeze the balls together and grab another handful until the dish pan was empty and colored popcorn balls were setting in a row on a cookie sheet.

Dad would pop more corn as we cut pieces of waxed paper large enough to go around the popcorn ball. Cut ribbon to tie with. When the balls were cooled, we wrapped the waxed paper around the ball and a brother, sister or Mom tied it in a bow.

When I was a little older I got to form the balls and burnt my hands many time before I got the hang of it. Dad would tell me if it was just the right size. They HAD to be all the right size!!

It was my job when I was little to count the ribbon tied popcorn balls. I have a sneaking suspicion that is was a arithmetic lesson also!! “Put ten in a pile and count ten more – now how many popcorn balls do you have in a the piles?” I would have rather just counted them to one hundred, but as I say, I do believe he was trying to teach his not to savvy daughter the workings of arithmetic!

If we had one hundred pretty tied balls, we were finished for the night and the clean up was next. As I was older I washed the pans, Ginger dried them and John got the broom duty.

The red and green popcorn balls were transported to the school the night of the party in a pillow case. They were given to Santa and he took care of the rest of the duties.

After the beautiful Christmas Nativity Pageant was over and we all sang “Away in the Manger” and “Silent Night” with audience participating, my piano teacher playing the piano, we all sat down and waited for Santa to appear on stage with his sack of goodies. There was clapping, laughing and happiness all around as he took his seat on stage and greeted everyone.

He would look into his big sack and pull out a wrapped package, with a name on it (parents quietly provided the toy for their own kids) he called out the name and the recipient would go running up on stage. Santa handed him his toy and a popcorn ball. They would thank him, run off the front of the stage, back to their seat with their family. They could open the present and eat the popcorn ball.

The next child was called until ever child in the room had a present and a popcorn ball. Mom always bought extra toys and had them wrapped just in case one child got left out. AND some did!

Santa’s sack empty and giggles everywhere – the parents indulged in cookies and tea or coffee at a few of the parties, but this was not done in later years. I think the parents had enough to do and Dads and Moms were anxious to get their kids home and in bed.

My memories of the decorated school room, the Nativity Pageant and the satisfaction of doing my part right, (how hard is it to play the Virgin Mary, as no words were spoken). The bright lights on the Christmas tree, all the Christmas carols that we sang, Santa doing his duty and the room full of smiling neatly dressed Moms and Dads and sometimes Grandparents, me getting to wear my new Christmas dress and shoes, are still etched into my memory bank.

It makes me so sad that no Christmas traditions are carried on today in schools, so our children can have early memories of an old fashioned wonderful Christmas like I had.


We need to make memories especially at Christmas.


Next week. The Day Before Christmas at the McClure farm.

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