He worked and gave, and he knew the meaning of Christmas

Diane Mack
Family Matters

Years ago, I asked my father where his family bought Christmas trees when he was little. His story was almost unbelievable.  

Diane Mack

My father’s childhood story opened another door of appreciation and love for him. This was the 1930s. 

At Christmastime, when my father was young, they purchased their trees in the center of town. Nearly every church sold trees. The trees cost about 50 cents. 

I knew my father came from a poor family, so I asked him how they earned the money for their 50-cent tree.  

He was quick to respond with, “Shoveling snow for ten cents a pavement.”  

“We’d also buy Easter eggs at two cents each.” He continued, “Then we’d sell them for five cents each. They’d give us eggs on consignment.” 

“That’s how we had Christmas.” 

I asked him how they transported the tree home and he replied, “We carried it.” 

My father went on to describe the tree and the decorations. First he mentioned that the tree had small needles and “maybe it was a blue spruce.” 

“We stood the tree in the corner without a stand,” he said. “Eventually, we placed it in a bucket with two bricks on the bottom and coal around the trunk. Then, we’d add water.” 

They had no lights. They’d purchase Christmas balls at the 5 & 10. A box of balls cost 15 cents.  

Sometimes they’d add tinsel or the “stuff we made at school, like a snowman, Santa, or a picture that looked good.” 

Often Aunt Millie would show up at the house with a star or more Christmas balls for the tree. Uncle Harold, Aunt Millie’s husband, owned a grocery store and they’d bring food, too. 

By the time my dad was 10 or 11, Aunt Millie brought electric tree lights. Although, there was one problem. They had no electricity. 

However, they were creative and had good neighbors. 

They ran an extension cord from the neighbor’s house to theirs and plugged in the tree lights.  

Dad laughed when he said, “Sometimes we never stopped using their power. We’d plug in a small lamp and use the neighbor’s electricity all year.” 

I asked him what gifts they’d get for Christmas. He first mentioned the teacher at school gave them candy, an orange or a candy cane. 

He recalled, “When my mother was alive, she’d give us each one present. … She gave me a little metal truck. I think it had lights which worked with a battery.” 

“Most the time, we left the tree up till new year’s. Then we’d throw it away.” 

When I asked him how their tree lasted so long, he answered, “Our houses didn’t have heat.” 

My dad recalled attending annual Christmas parties at the “church on East King. My sister Virginia got a doll one year.” 

I asked him if he had a winter coat for those cold Pennsylvania winters.  

His answer was, “No, I didn’t at first … until my principal gave me a coat at school. It was nice to have. We shared everything we had with everyone.” 

I can only imagine that I looked down from heaven and saw my dad as a young boy. I’m sure I petitioned Heavenly Father to bless me with such a good father. 

My dad had little money and very few materials things as a child. Yet he set a powerful example of service to our family.  

Today as I have written this column, I have thought a lot about Dad’s humble beginnings. Oh, how I miss him. 

I have also reflected on the first Christmas, in Bethlehem. It was not in an inn or fancy home. It was a stable. It was cold. The light was borrowed from heaven. The gifts came from others.  

My father taught me about the Savior, in word and deed. 

Thank you, Daddy, I love you. 

Diane Mack is coordinator of Putting Families First, Jackson County's Family Week Foundation. Email her at Director@jacksoncountyfamilyweek.org.