By Naomi Jackson, Becketwood Member
In September 1956, when I was two months old, my parents moved to South Dakota to serve two rural Congregational churches. This was a very long ways from their native Massachusetts, and everything was different, including Christmas.
Evergreen trees don’t grow well in eastern South Dakota, and only people with financial means could afford one. Ornaments, too, cost money. So my parents set out to create a home-grown Christmas, starting with a large, sturdy tumbleweed. They attached the stem to a board, sprayed it with “snow,” and set it on a TV tray by the bay window. Fortunately I wasn't walking yet.
As far as I know the only purchased item on the tree was a string of tiny lights with a white cord that matched the tumbleweed. Everything else was home-made using scissors, glue, paint, colored paper, glitter, and found materials such as burned out flash bulbs from their camera.
Last year’s paper chains were enhanced with a string of popcorn. Green foil wrapping became an origami peacock and peahen. The lids from tin cans were transformed into ornaments using tin snips and old Christmas cards. A fringe was cut around the edge of each lid, and circles cut from the cards were glued in the center, both sides. A small nail hole at the top and a sturdy piece of string completed the process.
When Mom was cooking, instead of cracking eggs open she would cut an oval hole in the shell and dump the egg out. Then she washed, dried, and painted the shell, put a mound of flour and salt paste in the bottom, and inserted tiny figures cut from old Christmas cards. A manicure set made this job easier.
To enhance the atmosphere, Mom and Dad spent an evening creating paper snowflakes for the window, set candles out, and hung this year’s cards in the archway into the living room. Dad spent hours (no TV then) creating the Twelve Days of Christmas out of construction paper. A string of tin lid bells with red enamel designs hung by the window. Looking back, these tin lid ornaments seem rather hazardous, but as I mentioned, I wasn’t walking yet.
After a holiday full of church services, gifts and dinner invitations, Mom described their Christmas in a letter to the folks back home:
The house is decked out in proper fashion – the tumbleweed tree is decked with not only last year’s nut and chain decorations, but this year’s flash bulbs painted all colors and stripes with tempera paint, and some glittered in various designs, and shellacked. The archway is about filled with cards and makes a gay entrance to the living room. Candles are everywhere – last night before going to bed we lit them all, and with the lights out, listened to Mozart’s Reformation symphony, trying to catch up some of the real spirit of the day which often becomes lost in the clutter of packages and gaiety. It was a peaceful end to the day. (12/26/1956, Nancy Alden Jackson)