Christmas at Our House -- 1925

By Juanita Collins Rhine


From:  The Conservative, December 18, 1986


The Christmas season has always been my favorite time of the year.  I hope as long as I live, my memories will never fade from the pleasure I had with my family and friends at this time.  In preparation for the holiday, my mother would always bake her cakes the week before Christmas.  There would be seven large cakes, tea cakes, and animal cookies.  The latter would be given to children of the neighborhood.  When the cakes were done and cooled, Mother would wrap each in a white cloth and place them on the sideboard.  On Christmas Eve, these cakes would be sliced in layers and filled with different kinds of icings.

There would be fresh ham or shoulder brought in from the smokehouse to be put in a container and boiled until tender.  When cooled, Mother would trim the fat off the meat, place it on a large platter, and put dots of pepper on the top side.  The pepper made it very tasty.  On that day, it was many things to do in the kitchen, to get the food cooked for the large number of relatives who would be coming in on Christmas Day.

On Christmas Eve, near the end of the day, we were ready for Santa’s visit.  My brother Harvey, and sister, Louise, had decorated the house with holly, cedar, and pine.  Red and green paper bells were hung in the rooms.  The tree had been trimmed and metal candle holders had been placed on the tips of the branches.  These holders held many tiny candles of different colors.  They would be lit on Christmas morning and again that night.  As bed time drew near, Harvey would read to me the inspiring story of the birth of the Christ Child.  One reading was not enough for me.  He re-read parts of it until I fell asleep.

Finally, morning came, and I was up by 4 o’clock, creeping into the room to see if Santa had made his visit.  The house was quiet and the room was warm from a fire that burned in the coal grate all night.  It was by the light of the fire that I viewed my gifts.  To my delight, Santa had brought almost everything I had asked or hinted for.  A beautiful baby doll lay in a wicker doll buggy.  Near the buggy was a child’s table and chairs.  On the table was a tiny china tea set, but when my eyes fell on a red tricycle that I had not asked for, it was almost more than a 5-year-old could stand.  Along with this was candy, fireworks, nuts, and fruits.  One fruit I especially loved, was raisins on the stem, which is rarely seen anymore.

Each Christmas there would be only one box to open.  In this box was almost the same items we received each year.  There would be a new pair of Buster Brown ankle-high laced shoes, and a prize of a whistle with Buster and his Bulldog pictured on it.  There would be long tan stockings for the winter days, and knee-length white stockings for warmer weather.  I will never forget the long stockings.  They could sometimes aggravate a child to tears.

No doubt I’m recounting experiences of my readers, who themselves will relive a special Christmas of their past, when life seemed less cluttered.  Children then were more appreciative than they are now.  We were not given gifts throughout the year.  The gifts and toys we received at Christmas were to last until Santa came again the next year.

May each of you have a Merry Christmas and the very best in the year of 1987.




Christmas in Shongalo

By: Juanita Collins Rhine

From: The Winona Times – Date: n/a


            Each Christmas my thoughts drift back over the many, many years to my childhood and to the happiness and joy I felt during this special time of the year.  First of all, I shall never forget the beautiful and impressive Christmas Pageants presented each year at our Shongalo Presbyterian Church.  The Songs “Silent Night” and “Away in a Manger” that we, as small children, sand in the programs, still stir my heart when I hear them now.

            Christmas Eve was a day of much activity around our house.  Mother was busy in the kitchen putting the final touch to her many cakes that had been baked earlier in the week.  Daddy and my brother Harvey were bringing in a tree from the woods and my sister Louise was decorating the house with holly and Christmas bells.  She would trim the tree later.  After all the decorations were put on the tree, she then clipped small candle holders to the tip of each branch.  What a beautiful sight I had never seen when Brother would light the candles that night !

            On Christmas morning, the excitement grew as we entered the room to see what old Santa left us.  What a happy time ! Naturally, the toys of the 1920s were so different from the toys now, but I feel sure that no Christmas of today could bring as much joy to a child’s heart and brighten a small face as the Christmas of long ago.



If You Don’t Believe In Santa Claus,

Don’t Hang Your Stocking Up

By Frank L. Stanton

Reprinted from the Vaiden Heritage  -- Date of Poem Unknown


If you don’t b’lieve in Santa Claus, and that your way he’ll call,

Don’t mind the Christmas stocking – don’t hang it up at all !

But when Christmas winds are whistling.’ And the home-lights’ burnin’ dim,

He rides away from little folks that don’t believe in him !


When you hear his sleigh-bells jingle on the house-tops Snowy-white,

Say: “the Wind is playing music for the witcher o’ the night!”

When he’s slidin’ down the chimneys of the still and dreamy town,

“Tis the Wind that wants to warm himself – the Wind is comin’ down!”


If you don’t b’lieve in Santa Claus, like other folks b’lieve,

Just wait till Fourth o’ July, and forget it’s Christmas Eve!

Say: “The children – they just dreamed him, and they think he’s true-and-true!”

And don’t hang up your stocking – for he won’t believe in you!


When the floor is piled with playthings, and the Christmas trumpets blow,

Say no fairy folk have been there, and that Santa Claus ain’t so!

When your stocking’s lookin’ lonesome, then you’ll know the reason why:

You’ll wish you’d made-believe in him ‘fore Santa Claus went by!


Your great and great-grand-people – they knew him far away,

(There’s toys that he gave them in the attic there to-day!)

The chair grandfather dreams in – he gave him that, you know,

For bein’ once a little boy, and b’lievin’ in him so!


But – don’t you hang your stocking up, if you don’t think that way,

And know lots more ‘bout Santa Claus than folks that’s old and gray;

But – when Christmas winds are whistling.’  And the mornin’ stars burn dim,

He rides away from little folks that don’t believe in him !





Christmas at Our House – 1963

By Ron Collins

From:  My Heart


Although every Christmas of my childhood was special, the Christmas of 1963 was the most memorable for me.  These were the days in which a boy could take a knife to school to show his friends, not to stab one of them with it.  Guns were for hunting and for bragging about, not for killing.  Arguments were settled with fist fights, not with gang violence committed by some twelve-year-old with an automatic rifle.  School problems were dealt with by a concerned parent or teacher, and, more often than not, by the student concerned whether or not he/she could still sit down after getting into trouble at school.  We didn’t have to go to “guidance counselors” every time we made a mistake.  If that were the case, most of us would still be in the counselor’s office today.  We didn’t have to take Ritalin or Prozac because we didn’t pay attention in class (the teachers had never figured out that we were just ignoring them).  We were kids.  Nevertheless, we were proud of our school and  we loved our families.  Coca-Cola was the drug of choice, Sears Roebuck still had a Christmas Catalog, Tuff-Nut still made blue jeans, prayer was still allowed in schools, girls were gross (proving to an 8-year-old, prayers are also answered), there was no Christmas in July on the television, we still cooked with lard and, during the Christmas of 1963, it snowed in Vaiden, Mississippi.

It wasn’t the snow that made it memorable.  It was the last Christmas I would get to spend with my dad.  Christmas back then wasn’t as impersonal and uncaring as it is now.  It wasn’t as commercial as it is now, either.  Stores didn’t begin their displays of Christmas decorations until the day after Thanksgiving, or until December 1st.  Today, if you go into a store in October, Christmas decorations and displays are already on the shelves.  Halloween is almost pushed aside for the blatant commercialism of today – another attempt to separate us from as much of our money as possible, as soon as possible.  Of course, back then, we had fun on Halloween as well, and didn’t have to worship Satan or slaughter a calf, or person for that matter, as a sacrifice.  This Christmas, however, is etched in my mind forever.

I had already done the customary deed.  I had recently acquired the Sears Wish Book and had dutifully gone from cover to cover circling everything and anything that I might want.  Listing each item was a bad habit – very addictive – and I was hooked.  The total of the items I had circled were closely approaching the gross national product of France, and nothing would be missed.  I figured that, if I circled only one or two items, I would only get one or two.  Although my ideals are reversed today (now that I  have to make the payments), this 8-year-old wanted quantity, not quality.  I figured that, if Santa could make one trip from the North Pole, he’d just have to go back to get another load for me.  But, as the song says . . . ”You don’t always get what you want.”

My dad, Alf Trotter Collins, worked at the J.A. Olsen Picture Frame Company in Winona.  He worked hard.  Then, he would come home and work just as hard to make sure that the chores were done.  Of course, to someone that didn’t understand the value of a dollar, for all I knew, we were the Rockefellers’ first cousins.  What I didn’t know was that he had a secret life – the secret life of an elf.  While telling me what Santa probably would be unable to bring, he was plotting and planning with the old red-suited guy, to get me whatever he could afford.  Juanita, my mother, was suckered into the ploy as well.  It was a conspiracy, and a secret one, at that.  James Bond would have been proud.  As much as I tried, I couldn’t break the code to get inside information.  Whatever Santa would bring was labeled “HIGHLY CLASSIFIED,” and I just didn’t have the connections.  My aspirations of becoming a “Jethro Bodine double-naught” spy fell through before they ever got started.

School was out.  Our family didn’t put out the Christmas decorations until two weeks before Christmas, or later.  A Saturday would be devoted to finding and cutting a choice cedar tree, slightly smaller than the 150 foot one that I had picked out as being adequate.  As far as I was concerned, Mississippi Power & Light would have to install a couple of additional transformers to handle the billion-watt demand that I so badly craved.  And they say you can see the lights in Australia from outer space. 

This Saturday, we made the usual trip to the woods to get the tree, cut it, and brought it home to be trimmed.  It was cold, but clear outside; not a sign of snow in the sky.  After the tree was trimmed, we dug out the lights and tested the bulbs.  There were no “throwaway” strands of lights like there are now.  It was a meticulous process.  If one bulb was out, all were out.  These were the screw-in type.  Also, they were red, blue, green, white, yellow, orange, and purple – not peach pastel # 106, mauve # 864, etc.  No designer colors, no themes, no “mood lighting.”  The only atmosphere I wanted to create was one with snow in it.  I also wanted to make sure that Santa had no doubt which house was mine.  I figured, at the least, he would be blinded by all the lights and crash dive into my front yard, at which time I could plunder the sleigh for all it was worth.

My dad and my uncle would always get fireworks for me to shoot.  Yes, I was an 8-year-old pyromaniac with a box of M-80s, Cherry Bombs, sparklers, whistlers, bottle rockets, Roman candles, and enough explosives to wage a small war.  In 1963, there were different warning labels on the boxes – not your common “Warning, Using fireworks without adult supervision can cause injury or death.”  These were more like “Yeah…blow your hand off once, you won’t do it again.”  Believe me, after you’ve had a firecracker or two go off in your hand, you’ll make sure you let go of it after you light it.  Been there, done that, and learned from it.  Near-death experiences have a way of making you wise beyond your years.

Also, the Christmas Parades in Winona and Greenwood were closer to the true meaning of Christmas than parades of today.  A week or so before Christmas, we would all drive to Winona for the grand show.  After waiting endlessly for it to start, the parade would wind its way toward us.  The floats would come by and the girls would throw candy into the crowd, to be scooped up by the bystanders.  We didn’t trample each other at concerts, as is becoming common today; that was reserved for the Christmas Parade.  This year, I didn’t fare so well on the candy; only a metric ton or so.  Then. . . suddenly, there he was.  SANTA.  The red-suited, conniving, reindeer-petting guy himself.  I always wondered why the reindeer didn’t come with him.  Probably because they needed to rest for the Big Trip.  And the fact was, he had only eight reindeer (Rudolph was only needed on a foggy Christmas Eve).  Even we had a spare, in case one of our tires went flat.  Anyway, cracking the secret code had to be the last thing on my mind, at that point.  Remember?  He knows when you’ve been bad or good, so I’d better be good for goodness’ sake. 

From the time the parade and Santa was out of sight, the countdown had begun.  Christmas was officially on the way.  No turning back now, and I was on my best behavior.  Mother would spend hours in the kitchen preparing meals, wrapping gifts to our friends and family, and making the house smell like a bakery.  Cakes and pies were prepared for the feast that was only days away.  Under the threat of limb amputation, I knew to stay out of the pies.  How could I open the gifts with no hands? The pies, cookies, candies, and cakes were absolutely delicious, but not worth losing a limb over.  Maybe after I had opened my presents. . .???!!!  One of my favorite Christmas traditions was the baked and fried ham.  We kept, raised, and killed our hogs, and had a constant supply of ham, sausage, pork chops, and bacon, not to mention those demonic “’chitlins.”  To that point, I had wondered why the paint was peeling from my bicycle.  Now I knew.  I kept the bike, and myself as well, far out of range of the noxious ‘chitlin fumes when they were cooking.  They say that every part of a hog can be used for food.  Some parts are well enough left alone. Thank God she left them alone at Christmas.

Christmas Eve was here.  The plotting and conspiracy was in its final stages.  Later that afternoon, I got one of my wishes.  It started to snow, lightly at first, but, by the time it was dark, it was coming down heavily.  We had already turned the Christmas lights on, and I went out to play in the snow.  My uncle, Wilson, and my Aunt, Louise Caddess lived across the street from me.  I knew they were up to something, after they had remained relatively quiet throughout the day.  There had been a lot of hushed phone conversations between my mom and my aunt about a certain visitor.  Mom could no longer S-P-E-L-L out my Christmas gifts to my Aunt on the phone…I could S-P-E-L-L too.  Wilson and my dad took me outside to shoot fireworks while the women plotted.  I didn’t care.  I wanted to blow something up.  We shot fireworks for a long time; long enough for me to be numb all over from the cold.  Then, as suddenly as they had appeared, my aunt and uncle were gone again.  I was getting sleepy, but wanted to stay up late in defiance of the cardinal rule of Christmas Eve.  I had a good excuse, though.  Bonanza was on, and Hoss was having a time with the Leprechauns.  That’s still one of my favorite episodes today.  As far as I was concerned, Hoss didn’t have it half as bad as I did.  He only had Leprechauns to deal with.  I had to deal with an 800-year-old fat man in a grossly-overloaded sleigh, that somehow seemed to think he could come down a chimney we didn’t have.  The guy hadn’t shaved in years, much less changed his wardrobe.  Besides that, as far as I knew, he didn’t work but one day a year, and mooched off everyone along the way.  So, with that in mind, I made sure that his customary milk and cookies or cake was left out for him.  Maybe I should have left a razor instead.  So, with visions of sugarplums, etc., dancing in my head, off I went to sleep.  It was hard to go to sleep on Christmas Eve, especially when your ears are still ringing from all the fireworks.

About 4:00, my mother came in to wake me.  She informed me that Santa had come.  My dad was up early and I proceeded to enter the living room to see if the Wish Book ploy had worked.  It did.  Not everything, mind you, but enough to keep an 8-year-old busy for quite a while.  As I was opening my presents, Wilson and Louise came over to check out my plunder.  And they came bearing gifts.  It was getting better and better.  I still hoped that Hoss had gotten rid of the Leprechauns, though.

My dad was a master at anything he did.  Before I delved too far into the presents to turn back, he wanted me to come outside, because he had seen reindeer tracks in the snow.  I had forgotten about the snow.  As we went outside, I saw them, as plain as day.  On the roof, were hoof prints and sleigh marks in the snow, and there were boot tracks leading to the front door.  It was then that I knew that there would always be a Santa.  As long as there is time for us to believe, he will always be with us.  Whether we’re 8 or 80, he’s here.  It wasn’t until later that I found out my dad had taken a cedar limb and whittled a “hoof” onto one end of it to make the tracks.  He used the other end to make the sleigh marks on the roof.  He borrowed my uncle’s large boots to make “Claus marks” in the snow, and had carefully backtracked to prevent any duplicate marks.  Anyone that would go to that much trouble to make a little 8-year old boy happy, will never be forgotten.  So, you see, every thing you can do for a child, can make a world of difference.  Every impression you make can last a lifetime.  We only need to remember to make a good impression.  You never know where the next “double-naught spy” might crop up.

            That Christmas taught me a lesson I’ll cherish for the rest of my life.  The real gifts are the little things that you do.  There is no value that can be placed on a positive impression.  I had gotten many gifts, but the greatest one was LOVE.  The eyes of an 8-year-old boy are wide open on Christmas morning.  Every day I can thank God that they were not so wide as to overlook the obvious.  I was loved.  I had proof that Santa exists.  I had presents.  And, I had suffered no limb amputations from diving into the pies, cakes and cookies that mom had made.  Life was good, and all was right with the world…..until a month later.

That was the last Christmas that my dad was alive.  On January 23, 1964, he was in a head-on collision while going to work to support our family.  On this foggy morning, a drunk driver of a bob-truck belonging to a feed and seed store in Morton, MS, driving on the wrong side of the road, hit the car my dad was riding in.  My dad was in the front passenger seat and was critically injured.  He died the next day.  I never got to say goodbye, or to let him know how much I loved him, but I’m sure he knew.  One thing is for sure. . .I knew how much he loved my mom and me.  And that’s an impression that will last beyond a lifetime.


We are only on this Earth for a limited time.  During that time, we have the chance to help or hurt someone we love.  We hear that the success of a child depends on its parents.  I have the two most wonderful sons a man could ask for, and because of that, I CAN NOT FAIL.  As long as there is a breath in this body, I will support them in every endeavor, and will do my best to teach them to lead a life to make their children proud.  And…as long as there is a breath in this body, there will ALWAYS be a Santa….always has been; always will be.  What form he’s in us up to us. 



Ron’s Childhood Christmas Story, as told to him by his Mother



I Love You Dad