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Oconto County, Wisconsin
Mountain Memories
Pages 34 - 35

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Christmas Memories
The year is 1877, it is Christmas Eve. The virgin forest of pine and hemlock, dark and brooding, seemed to encompass the whole world. But wait, there is a flicker of light in this vast wilderness.
In the little log house of Thomas McAllen a family, the first of the settlers in this area, were seated at supper. One can only wonder how Christmas was celebrated in the little log cabin along the frozen banks of the Oconto River.
That was the first Christmas in Mountain one hundred and eleven years ago this year. By 1900 there were 94 families living within the borders of the Town of Armstrong, all to celebrate Christmas in their own fashion.
They celebrated the traditions of their ethnic backgrounds; English, Scotch, German, Danish, Swedish, and Norwegian; and the melding of these different cultures could only be accomplished in the schools. It was here that the children of immigrants and those of old American stock mingled to produce the society we know, and the Christmas that we celebrate today.
When I was a lad at the Mountain School during the 20's our Christmas preparations started right after Thanksgiving. The teachers assembled to plan the Christmas program for the entire school. Skits and plays, group singing and narrations comprised the program with a concerted effort by the teachers to have everyone participate. There was usually a Christmas Tree in each of the four classrooms for the grade school and one large tree on the upper floor for the high school.
On the eve before Christmas vacation the entire populace gathered at the school for the program. The theme of the evening was the birth of Christ. How unlike today. The life story of Frosty the Snowman, or the antics of Rudolph the Reindeer had no bearing in the reason to celebrate. The Spirit of Christmas came to life as the children re-enacted, in innocent sincerity, the story that never grew old.
On this evening there was no animosity, childrens voices bursting forth, proclaiming the joyous message
of Christinas in the songs of hope and joy for a weary and troubled world. Peace reigned, Joy to the World, and not a single soul lamented the us of the school . ; house to pay tribute to God as'the true message of ' Christmas entered the hearts of all those present.
About two weeks before the Christmas .Program all of the students would draw names within their grades, so we each brought a gift to school. At the conclusion of the Christmas program, Santa then arrived to distribute these gifts. Everyone was also given a box of candy and nuts courtesy of the local merchants.
Christmas Eve at our house was a banquet of lutefisk which is dried cod. The lutefisk was then served with boiled potatoes and a gravy made of butter, milk/lour and dry mustard. Mother always had a big roast chicken with all the trimmings for those who did not like the lutefisk !
After the dishes were washed and dried we all went into the living room and opened our gifts. Santa's gifts were delivered after the smaller children were tucked into bed. My father would light the candles on the Christmas Tree and then we sat enraptured by the burning candles for awhile. ,,
Christmas Day provided another banquet of roast chicken with all its nourishing accompaniments and a stocking filled with candy, nuts, and a big apple or an orange. I best recall the Christmas when we lived above the General Store that is now Joe Baldwins. I believe I was 6 years olds and my brother Evans was 7, and I knew Santa was sure to come !
My brother Evans had his doubts that year. I later learned that my father, with a set of sleigh bells, went up through a trap door onto the roof, and shook those bells with all his might. He, of course, purposely left the trap door open. My mother came into our room and said to us boys, "Listen. . .You can hear Santa's reindeer. . .and you can even hear the bells!"
And so my brother believed once again while we fell asleep with visions of skates, or skis, or maybe even a 'Flexible Flyer' sled dancing in our heads !