Peeks From The Past

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Christmas (Weihnachten) circa. 1930
(as recalled by Herman J. Gerwing)

Herman Gerwing was born in 1920 and raised on the family farm a couple of miles northeast of the town of Lake Lenore , Saskatchewan . Lake Lenore was a German-Catholic settlement established in 1903. In December 2010, at the age of 90, while visiting with family, he shared his boyhood recollections of Christmas activities. He would have been about10 years old at the time of his recollections.

At our house the tree (tannenbaum) was not brought into the house and decorated days or weeks in advance of Christmas like it is today. Instead the tree would magically appear on Christmas Eve. In reality, the trees were most often purchased from a traveling salesman who peddled them door to door and farm to farm from a hay rack. The trees were cut from native stands in nearby communities that had not yet been de-forested for crop production. The tree would be purchased about a week in advance of  Christmas and stored in an granary until needed.  Christmas Eve would begin like any other winter day with the usual chores such as taking care of the livestock and chopping wood for the home fires.  

It was always a busy day for Ma (my mother Anna Gerwing). She would spend the afternoon baking goodies such as date roll-up cookies. She always made suet pudding preparing it by steaming in a tin can. (Suet is beef fat found around the kidneys and loins of beef cattle.) The pudding was delicious as it contained fruit (often raisins), milk, sugar, butter and corn syrup. During the afternoon a ham would be slowly roasted in preparation for the late evening meal.  

After supper the children would be sent to bed as they would need to be rested for attending mass later in the evening. As soon as the children were asleep the adults would begin Christmas preparations.  

One particular Christmas eve when I was about 10 years old,  the children (me included) were sent off to bed on the 2nd story of our two story home. My older brother Leo was allowed to stay up as he was deemed to be old enough not to require a rest before mass. That year my younger brother Alfred and I only pretended to be asleep. To satisfy our curiosity, we crept to a floor grate that provided an excellent view of the activities on the main floor below.  

We observed an evergreen tree that was hauled into the living room and placed in a stand. Decorations were quickly affixed and gifts placed around the base of the tree. Evergreen boughs were placed on the wood stove in the kitchen. The woodsy aroma that the heated boughs produced soon permeated the entire house.  Finally candles were placed on tin candle holders and clipped to the tree. When all was ready the candles were lit. Pa (my father Joe Gerwing) would then come up stairs to wake the children, announcing that Kris Kringle (Santa Claus by German Tradition) had been there. Fortunately, Alfred & I had quickly hopped back into bed before Pa made it up the stairs!  

One gift that I best remember was a red child’s wagon that we kids shared. That wagon made many miles through the house that winter before the snow melted and it could be taken outside. Other typical Christmas gifts received by my brothers and sisters included such items as a kazoo, jack knife, dolls and of course clothes. There was always a wooden crate of  Christmas oranges. We referred to them as “jap” oranges. Our family guitar arrived one Christmas. I took to it right away and with a little guidance from Pa,  learned to play. Playing the guitar has remained a life-long hobby.  I still play many tunes on guitar for my family and friends.  

When the gifts had been opened, there would usually be a ‘sing-song”. I recall that Pa would accompany the singing on guitar. Some of the songs we sang included: “Stille Nacht” (Silent Night), “Wir drei Könige des Orients sind“ (We Three Kings) and “Ihr Kinderlein Kommet” (Come Ye Little Children).  

Next we would dress up in our Sunday best to get ready for attending midnight mass at the church in Lake Lenore. The journey would be by horse drawn caboose or sleigh. I remember those cold crisp rides to town. The air was filled with the sound of bells. 

Nearly everyone had bells on the harness of their horses. Those bells would chime in unison as relatives and neighbors navigated the packed snow roads to town.  From our direction, came neighbors such as Gerwings (cousins), Gaetz, Stuckel, Brinkman, Berscheid, Hopfner, Hoffman, Wolsfeld and many more. As we neared the church, the sleigh bells would become background music for the tolling of the massive church bells that summoned the faithful to church. On many occasions the church bells could be heard at our family farm located about three miles away. The horses were stabled in the church barn that also doubled as a school barn.  

The mass service would last for about an hour and a half ending at about midnight . I recall the final song of the mass was always “Näher, mein Gott, zu Dir“. Christ Hopfner on violin would accompany the choir and organ for the Christmas service. I was told that Pa sung in the church choir until he married and started raising a family.  

After mass we exchanged Christmas greetings with relatives and neighbors. Then we would travel home for a family meal before retiring. This is when the ham that Ma had been slow roasting would be served. It was topped with a brown sugar glaze and served with home made buns or bread. For dessert there were the date cookies and Christmas oranges and lots of coffee and tea. We would finally be off to bed at about 3:00 AM .  

As a youngster I remember Christmas day as a day spent hosting or visiting with neighbors. Weather permitting, we often we paid a visit to Ma’s family, the Gessners, at Marysburg , Saskatchewan.

 

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