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Young People Learn About Christmas Traditions from Their Elders

(Editor’s note: The Messenger invited young people to interview their elders about Christmas traditions in their families. The following youngsters were chosen to receive a $25.00 gift card for their work. No high school students submitted entries.)

Kaitlyn Steinkamp
St. Mary Parish PSR, Carlyle, Third Grade – Remembering with Grandma
Christmas was a special time at my Grandma Kaegy’s house when she was a child like me. Something very special to my Grandma was remembering how beautiful the Christmas tree looked back then. The tree had bubble lights and sparkling tinsel that made the tree shimmer. Last but not least, the angel topped off the tree. Going to church on Christmas Eve was a family event.As a child, Grandma went to Sunday School and was given passages from the Bible that she needed to memorize and recite that night at church. Grandma said she would get so nervous her knees would begin to knock! When she sawSanta Claus it would be at the American Legion Hall in Breese. She would sit on his lap and let him know the one item she really wanted for Christmas and then the best part she got a candy bar! Grandma’s most favorite gift from Santa was a toy farm set. She played with it every day from morning till night. She loved it! The house smelled so good with the holiday baking that my Grandma’s mommy took care of. There was always a fresh platter of Christmas cookies and a bowl of fresh fruit.

My Grandma had 4 other siblings and they were always dressed in their Christmas best. Grandma’s favorite Christmas song is I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas. One thing that Grandma and I have decided has not changed since Grandma was a little girl is the celebration of Jesus Christ’s birth. Grandma Kaegy says Jesus’ birth is the reason we celebrate Christmas and we all need to wish Jesus a Happy Birthday on Christmas morning and remember it’s not the gifts we receive but the giving of gifts that matter.
Kyla Norton
Cathedral Grade School, Belleville, Sixth Grade – Christmas Traditions from the Past
I have interviewed my mom and have asked her questions about her Christmas from when she was young. My mom’s Christmases are different than usual because she is Filipino and lived in the Philippines most of her life. Ju
st by talking to my mom I have found out a lot of interesting traditions. Nine days before Christmas most of her family would go to church every day and on Christmas Eve at midnight they would prepare food and go to a midnight Mass. A very interesting thing is that my mom’s father used to buy apples a week before Christmas and hang them up on the ceiling. Nobody was allowed to take an apple down and eat it unless he gave you permission. He liked to buy the apples because he liked the way that they looked like ornaments hanging. Also, when you would wake up in the morning it would smell fresh and just like apples. My mom has seven brothers and two sisters (not including her). Every Christmas, my mom’s mom would get all the girls the same clothes and all of the boys would have the same clothes except the oldest because they are special. My mom says that they all looked like three sets of triplets on Christmas day.

I have learned a lot about my mom’s past and how they did things that we would think are weird, but to them it’s normal. I think it is really cool how you get to find out how people across the world celebrate the same holidays, but differently.


Morgan Cowell

St. John the Baptist School, Red Bud, Eighth Grade – Christmas Traditions
Every Christmas I look forward to opening my gifts such as clothes, electronics, jewelry, etc. On the other hand my grandpa looked forward to getting oranges and candy for Christmas. That is a major difference between back then and now. People today couldn’t even imagine getting just oranges and candy. More and more people every day don’t appreciate what they have and don’t realize that what they have is way more than what people had back then.

Back when my grandpa was a little boy, days were rough. My grandpa’s family had no electricity in the house and didn’t have any heat. Every year when it came to Christmas time, he and his family would go out and pick a Christmas tree one day before Christmas. They couldn’t even pick one before that because the tree would dry out. The tree never had lights on it and there were very few ornaments. These days my family doesn’t go out and pick a tree to cut down. We just have a nine foot tree that we put up. We also have a lot more ornaments and lights than what they did when my grandpa was little. Another thing that has changed over the years is the gifts.

Today, people of all ages can’t wait to see what they get for Christmas every year. My grandpa, however, knew what he was getting every year. He would get oranges and candy and maybe a creme soda if he was lucky enough. Since his family was so poor, they weren’t able to buy anything and there wasn’t even that many places to go to get toys.

The one memory that my grandpa said he would never forget is how he got a toy truck one year for Christmas. That was the only toy truck he had ever gotten and he was so surprised he received one. To me, getting a little toy truck doesn’t seem that big of a deal, but back then it was very rare that kids would get something like that. I now understand how it was to live back then, and I appreciate things a lot more than what I used to.

Even though opening presents is fun, people should still think about the true meaning of Christmas. Just because my grandpa’s family didn’t have much of anything doesn’t mean they couldn’t thank God for what they did have.
They were very grateful for what they had and always praised the Lord. His family would always say a prayer before the Christmas dinner, and then sing “Silent Night” before they all went to bed. My family still says a prayer before dinner, but we no longer sing “Silent Night’. Although the tradition of singing didn’t carry on, I still think it’s important that every family prays and does something that will thank God for all he has done.

The way people celebrate Christmas has changed so much in the past years and it still continues to change. I think that if you have family traditions, you should keep doing them. Things like that are very special. Carrying those traditions on with you in the future will make you grateful that you never stopped. In some ways it may even feel like you still have that part of your family with you. It is also very interesting to know where those traditions came from and how it all started. There is nothing more special than being with the ones you love and being thankful for all friends and family God has given you.

Honorable Mention: The following writing selections were chosen to receive an honorable mention.
Colin Mueth
Immaculate Conception School, Columbia, Third Grade
My grandpa, Ron Becherer had a great Christmas memory to share with me over Thanksgiving break. He remembers serving Midnight Mass at St. Teresa Church in Belleville, Ill.

All servers of the parish would wear red cassocks with a white surplice. Each of the 125 servers had a task to perform at this special 12:00 a.m. high mass – said in Latin in the Roman Catholic rite.

Hundreds of candles were lit on the altar and in the sanctuary. Incense filled the church during the entire Mass. He said it was incredibly majestic, quite beautiful and uplifting. Our 110 member children’s choir sounded like the angels on the first Christmas night.

After mass, all the servers formed a single-file like from the church to the rectory. We filed into the rectory to receive a stocking of fruits, nuts, candy, toys and a holy card. It was special to receive this gift from our pastor, Monsignor Joseph B. Stenger, at 2:00 a.m. on Christmas!

I’m 9 years old and this sounds like a great memory to me!

Olivia Madura
Blessed Sacrament School, Belleville, Seventh Grade – Trollinger Family Traditions
I talked to my Grandma about our family traditions. Her maiden name is Trollinger. Once that starts in the fall is Decoration. Decoration occurs at each Family Cemetery in the country. Where we come from in Southern Missouri there are Family Cemeteries on old family farms or large plots of family owned property rather than city cemeteries. So on certain Sundays after Labor Day will be Decoration at each Family Cemetery. They are planned so they try not to overlap but you may go to a cemetery every Sunday for a few Sunday’s in a row. They hold a prayer service and everyone brings a covered dish and flowers for your immediate family. After prayer the graves are decorated and then everyone eats and visits because they are all related.

Hunting is very big in our family. So that is another kind of tradition. Even my cousin Logan who is 10 has shot his own turkey and deer! His sister Maddie has to!

Grandma tole me that they always stayed home for Thanksgiving. Sometimes extended members of her family would come on Thanksgiving but they never went anywhere. We continue to go to my Great Grandma’s for Thanksgiving. So that tradition has been going on since 1941 when Great Grandma Wilma and Great Grandpa Ray got married. That’s 72 years! Also Great Grandma Wilma also always took a picture of their food on the table before anyone was allowed to eat. Grandma said that they always had Turkey on Thanksgiving and Christmas sometimes it would be a wild turkey sometimes a farm raised turkey but not store bought.

My Grandma was poor when she grew up but her favorite tradition was that her Dad, Great Grandpa Ray, would take her, her two sisters and one brother out in the country and cut down a cedar tree for Christmas, never a pine tree. They really just went out in the country somewhere and found a tree and cut it down. They didn’t know if it was on someone’s property or not. It just didn’t matter. They had a special bucket they used for the tree that they would fill with sand and keep wet to keep the tree from drying out. They had no store bought stand. They had a wood burning stove for heat so that would dry everything out and they watered the tree every day.

Grandma doesn’t remember any ornaments only tinsel that her mom wanted placed piece by piece on the tree. But she said when she wasn’t watching they would just clump it on the tree. She remembers making garland out of popcorn and sometimes out of construction paper. The kids always decorated the tree. They didn’t have a Nativity and her parents didn’t go to church. My Great Grandparents were Southern Baptists buy they didn’t go to regular church. They read the bible at home as their parents did. However they sent their kids to Lutheran church with the neighbors. But my mom who is also a Lutheran, a favorite tradition is to put out her mom’s Nativity and I like to put out ours with my mom.

Kelcey Luchtefeld
St. Luke Parish PSR, Belleville, Sixth Grade – Christmas Traditions
I interviewed by grandparents, Grandma and Grandpa Lucky. They always start the Christmas season on December 5. They put out two pairs of wooden clogs, the bigger pair grandma’s great-great-grandfather made and wore. They put the clogs on their fireplace and St. Nick fills them with candy and small presents. They have two Christmas trees, one upstairs and one downstairs. The one downstairs has homemade ornaments made by grandma’s dad and aunt, others are made by their son, daughter and grandchildren. The tree upstairs has gold and bronze ornaments and that’s where they put the presents. They always open the presents last. First they have a family dinner with Honey Baked ham, sweet potatoes and everyone that comes brings their favorite dish. After dinner they get everyone into the living room where they have the kids read the Christmas Story from the bible. After the story they have the children pass out gifts, and then they have us open gifts youngest to oldest. After gifts they get everyone downstairs for dessert and the stockings filled with toys and candy. Those are the traditions my grandparents have.

Nicholas Cortese
Blessed Sacrament School, Belleville, Seventh Grade – My Father’s Christmas
My dad grew up in Chicago, Ill., with six brothers and sisters. His father was a landlord who was not rich, but not poor. With such a large family, money was tight, but his mother always made sure Christmas was special. Every Christmas was cold and snowy. He remembers his house was always warm and smelled like old-fashioned Italian food. All his relatives came over to celebrate Christmas.
On Christmas morning, the kids would sneak downstairs, though their parents were already awake. The tree had lots of presents under it, but with nine people in the house, they each got just the right amount. They got things they needed like pajamas, school supplies and socks. Their mother always made sure each kid got at least one toy they really wanted. She also got them family games to play with each other. His father was always grumpy at Christmas because he thought his mom was spoiling them. But before they knew it, their father would be on the floor playing with them and their new toys.

Around noon, the cooking would kick into high gear. His mom would start the water boiling to cook the homemade ravioli to eat with the sauce that had been simmering from the day before. Soon the rest of the family, aunts, uncles and cousins would come over for the party.

MaKenzie Harbaugh
St. John the Baptist School, Red Bud, Eighth Grade, Christmas Traditions
Christmas is a time to rejoice the birth of Lord Jesus Christ, but some people don’t really know the real meaning of Christmas. Children and sometimes many adults only look forward to receiving gifts these days such as name brand clothing and electronics. My grandma looked forward to getting store bought clothing for Christmas since she mostly had clothing that her mom had made by hand for her. Clothing in the 50s and in many cases was made by a family member where today most clothing is made and purchased from a store. In the 50s people were more appreciative of the gifts they received than people are today.

My favorite Christmas tradition as well as my grandma’s is getting together to visit with and spend time with our family. Christmas was a busy holiday for my grandma. She and her family went to her dad’s side of the family on Christmas Eve and on Christmas day they always went to her mom’s side of the family after opening gifts and attending Church. Christmas is also a busy holiday for my family as well. On Christmas Eve we go to my mom’s side of the family and on Christmas day we go up to my dad’s grandparent’s house after celebrating mass. My dad’s grandma which is my great-grandma always made the best iced sugar cookies and she always made plenty of them for everyone. Usually the day after Christmas we go to my dad’s side of the family. I am lucky to have both my mom and dad’s sides of the family to spend the holidays with. Some people don’t have any family or friends to spend their holidays with or a home to stay in. People need to appreciate what they have and make the best of every second they spend with their family.

Do you say prayer as a family before you eat your Christmas dinner? One thing that I thought was very interesting when I interviewed my grandma was her family said the same prayer before they ate dinner that my family still does to this day. A lot of people may just say the “Bless Us O Lord” prayer before eating dinner, but my family says an extra prayer after “Bless Us O Lord”. We say: “Bless us O Lord, and these Thy gifts, which we are about to receive from Thy bounty, through Christ our Lord. Amen, Praise to you, Lord Jesus Christ, Now and Forever Amen, all for the honor and glory of God.”

As you know Christmas has changed a lot over the years. From Receiving gifts as little as candy to receiving gifts as big as iPhones, people need to appreciate anything they get. We need to be thankful of what we get these days because back in the 40s and 50s little children didn’t get as much as what we get now. A lot of people aren’t thankful for what they have now and want more, but what if they were the people sitting on the streets with a cardboard box as their home? People need to thank God everyday that they have a home to live in and a family that loves and surrounds them. At Christmas I am always sure to say thank you to everyone I have received a gift form. If you want someone to say thank you to you for getting them a gift then you need to do the same to them. I am thankful that I have a home and a family that surrounds me during the holidays.

Sadie Stefani
St. John the Baptist School, Red Bud Eighth Grade, A Grandmother’s Christmas
My grandma’s favorite part of Christmas was midnight mass and the manger at her house. She said that they respected the manger. Before she went to bed her family and she knelt down and prayed in front of the manger. Now before I go to bed I play with the new electronics I got earlier on Christmas Day. I think that when my grandma was a child they focused more on the true meaning of Christmas. Now all we think about is presents and Santa but if it wasn’t for Jesus we wouldn’t have any of that.

My grandma said that when she was a child every Christmas they ad turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, sweet potatoes, and ham. Still to this day when I go to my grandmothers on Christmas we have that exact same Christmas dinner.

For presents my grandma got useful things that she needs like socks and underwear. She said she did get some dolls but mostly things she needs on a daily basis. Today I get electronics, clothes, and money. My presents cost way more than hers did. When I need socks or underwear I just ask my mom for it and I get it that night. It is nothing special but to her it was amazing and a Christmas present.

Back then my grandma and her brother and sisters went and cut down their Christmas tree. They decorated it by stringing popcorn through a piece of thread and laying it across their tree. My grandma said that they didn’t have ornaments or lights. My Christmas tree is artificial. We also have so many ornaments on our tree. I can’t imagine not having ornaments on my Christmas tree. We also have lights that we string across our Christmas tree and she didn’t have that.

I can’t believe the difference between my grandma’s Christmas and mine. My grandma really made me aware of how different I view Christmas as a child than she did. This Christmas I am going to focus more on Jesus and the true meaning of Christmas than presents like I used to.

Jacob Gilbreth
Immaculate Conception School, Columbia, Sixth Grade – Christmas Traditions from the Past
My family has many traditions around Christmas time. Some have been carried on for many years and others have changed in our family. Each tradition my family remembered brought back good memories and each had special meaning.

My grandmother’s Christmas traditions would start on Christmas Eve. Her father would take her and her brother out to search for Santa Claus. Of course they would spot him in the sky and rush home to see if he had been to their house. After opening presents her family would go to midnight mass. Her father always ushered and she sang in the choir. She remembers that midnight mass was mostly done in Latin. They would even sing the Christmas songs in Latin. After mass the whole family would go home and have ham sandwiches. But in the morning they would go to Christmas morning mass. She said going to mass always brought the family closer.

My mom has memories of going to her grandmother’s house for dinner on Christmas Eve. Dinner was always turkey, dressing and green beans. She said she remembers Santa Claus would come to visit sometimes and bring one present to open early. But the tradition she remembers the most was going to midnight mass every year. The whole family would meet at church, including her aunts and uncles, to sit together. The church would be decorated with trees, wreaths and candles. The school kids would perform a live nativity scene. She said Midnight mass was always a special tradition because it made her feel closer to her family.

My dad’s memories of Christmas traditions were different. He would to go Christmas mass early in the morning with his father. They would then get together with family to celebrate during the day. There were so many cousins that they would have a gift exchange, everyone was given a name and a price range to buy one gift for that relative. But he said the tradition of just gathering with his cousins made him like he was part of a large family.

My family continues Christmas traditions from the past and we have a few of our own too. We spend Christmas Eve with family sharing stories and making cookies. Christmas morning we go to early morning mass with my grandparents. We have even started traveling to see them if they are not home for the holiday. No matter what generation you are from, being with family has been the most important tradition passed on to me.

Alexa Hoelscher
St. Boniface Parish PSR, Germantown – Grandma’s Christmas Traditions
Seventy years gone by and my grandmother Joann still remembers her childhood stories. A couple of days ago I went to visit my grandmother Joann at her house in Breese, Ill., to ask her some questions about her childhood Christmas. I learned so much about her that I never knew before.

My grandma said that when she was a little girl her family would pray the before meal prayer and then they would eat Christmas dinner. Right after dinner they would head to midnight Christmas mass. Did you know that all masses back in the 40s even were spoken in Latin and when you would go up for communion you would have to kneel down on a rail and the priest would have to place the host into your mouth.

Grandma told me about when she was a little girl her mother would put their real evergreen tree into their dining room and place all of their presents in sections under the tree. She would lock the doors to the dining room after everything was placed in and she would put curtains in front of the door so on one could look in. For my grandma every present was directly from their parents. There was no Santa Claus. She would open her unwrapped presents on the night of Christmas Eve.

She would go to mass everyday. It was usually morning mass. In school there was always a play each year about Mary, Joseph and the birth of Jesus. The church every year would be decorated in the colors of Christmas. There were no girl servers, there were only boy servers. Everyone was in church on Christmas Eve and Christmas day. Back then Christmas wasn’t ever about Santa or presents, it was all about religion and the birth of Jesus. There was a choir at every mass and her father sang in the choir. My grandma also went Christmas caroling.

Everything was closed on Christmas, just like today. There was also no traveling, no dances and no parties that she went to for Christmas. No one really sent Christmas cards either.

There was normally always snow on Christmas, and when my grandma woke up in the morning she would go to her friends house and check out what they got for presents. There were a couple of presents that my grandma will never forget. They were a doll, saxaphone, and a special board game.

My grandma Joann would always head to her grandmas on Christmas. She would give my grandma huge cookies and she lived in Breese. She wouldn’t just be treating my grandma to treats though, my grandma had one sister and two brothers. Right before Christmas my grandma would heat to the movies. She would receive a bag of apples and peanuts while she was watching movies.

My grandma would dress up for church and they would have to wear fancy hats.
I learned alot about my grandma Joann and I can’t wait to learn more. She made everything really interesting for me. I loved talking to her. She was the best.

Maria Biske
Immaculate Conception School, Columbia, Third Grade
Grandpa Mike came from a family of eleven children. If there wasn’t a baby at home the family would be waiting for one, Christmas is about waiting for a baby.

Music was an important part of Christmas. When he was a child he always sung in the choir. His family always got their Christmas tree from their farm. Sometimes when it warmed up in the house, the bugs came out of it. In the 60s they got a silver Christmas tree with a color wheel under it. It was not very popular with the kids.

As grandpa got older, he took the younger children upstairs to sing songs so Santa would come downstairs with their presents. In the 8th grade, grandpa got a picture of a shotgun from the Montgomery Ward catalog. It arrived the day after rabbit season was over. The family went to midnight mass and sang in the choir. The Mass was in Latin. Christmas day was spent at his grandma’s house where everybody squeezed into a three room log cabin with no indoor plumbing and no complaints.

Grandpa connects with the manger scene because on the farm his family raised lots of animals and he knows what a trough/manger was, and we are still “feeding” off Jesus today.