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January 15, 2021

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Christmas: It's not what it used to be

By Joanne Niswander

Take it from someone who is experiencing her 80th (oops, now everyone knows!) Christmas season: Christmas isn't what it used to be. You've probably thought the same thing. But, before you start nodding in agreement that Christmas has gone to the dogs, read on . . .

As a child, the first thing I did on Christmas morning, just like every winter morning, was to jump out of bed onto my icy-cold bedroom floor and quickly run downstairs to stand over the huge open-grate register that brought the heat up from our furnace located immediately below. My dad (or mom) had already been down the basement much earlier, to put more coal on the night-banked fire so that my brother and I could enjoy the warmth.
We were lucky. Some of our schoolmates still lived in homes where their only heat source was from a pot-bellied, wood-burning, stove sitting in the middle of the living room floor and from the big black cookstove in the kitchen.
Yes, we had Christmas presents. It might be a book of paper dolls - and, one year, a real baby doll that cried "Mama." I'd usually get new socks and underwear - practical things that still were special because they didn't come that often.
The treat that we always looked forward to at our grade school Christmas program was the fresh oranges that were passed out to every student. (For those of you who think I'm balmy to wax poetic over a fresh orange, please know that shipping fresh fruits and vegetables across the country is a relatively recent innovation. In my childhood, the only fresh produce we ate was grown in our garden or orchard, then home-canned for the rest of the year. Lettuce was a strictly summer veggie.)
No, I didn't have to wrap up in a bear-skin rug to ride the sleigh to Grandma's house. We had a car. But we didn't jump in it every half-hour to go somewhere. Our trips were much more carefully planned and executed.
One thing I remember about Grandma Vercler's house in town was her glass candy dish that, at Christmas, always held some of those little disc-shaped hard candies that had a picture in the middle. Do they still make those today?
We had to provide more of our own entertainment, since there was no such thing as television, and some of the games, I'm sure, were pretty boring. But I don't remember ever verbally admitting "I'm bored!" Probably because, back then, mom would always find some work for me to do around the house if it seemed that I didn't have anything better to occupy my time.
This year, my Christmas will not be like it used to be. That's OK. I'm happy to be able to drive to a few good Christmas concerts, to tune in to a good television program now and then, enjoy the fragrance of a fresh olive wreath that just arrived in the mail from California, wake up in a toasty-warm bedroom while anticipating a nice, hot shower before a breakfast of fresh orange juice and my pick of a great array of ready-to-eat cereals.
Christmas isn't what it used to be.