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Margaret Christianson: “I remember Christmas in the Great Depression — and the Christmas program snowstorm”

By Margaret Christianson

(Editor’s Note: Margaret Christianson lived in the Colfax area for her entire life until last summer, when she moved to Tennessee to live with her daughter. Margaret’s family moved to a farm on 20th Street, seven miles east of Colfax in the Town of Howard, in 1934 when Margaret was seven years old.  Margaret Christianson lived on 20th Street for the next 77 years. She graciously agreed to write a story for Remembrances of Christmas Past for the Colfax Messenger’s special Christmas edition.)

When I was growing up during the Great Depression, we were poor and couldn’t buy a real Christmas tree.

So, Dad would go up into the woods and look for the best four-foot Jack pine or white pine tree he could find. He put it in a pail of water so it wouldn’t dry out, then he put it on top of the old treadle sewing machine.

We would make red and green colored paper chains and popcorn strings to decorate the tree, and Mom had about a dozen metal clips that held small wax candles.

At suppertime on Christmas Eve, we had fresh hot lefse fried on a wood stove and rolled up with butter and white sugar. I remember how long they were, and we could hardly hold them.

A lefse supper is still a tradition in our family today.

After supper, Mom would light the candles. This was the only time they would be lit because they could set the tree on fire very easily. We would sit there in the dining room and watch and admire them while they were burning.

Christmas stockings

Before bed we would hang our clean tan long cotton stockings behind the wood dining room heater by the chimney.

The next morning we would find an apple or an orange, some peanuts, large pieces of hard colored ribbon candy, and a pair of new mittens in our stockings. I haven’t seen ribbon candy in the stores for a long time.

All our neighbors were in the same situation, and we would get together, play games, sometimes some would bring instruments that they had, and we would sing Christmas songs during the Christmas week.


At our Christmas program in our country school, the teacher would choose the Christmas dialogues and pick who would best fit the parts. Of course we had to memorize all our parts.

We would have curtains hanging on a wire across the room and down the sides with a big stage in the front of the room. There was always a discussion on who would get to draw the curtains. They were very good programs.

I will never forget one year a big snowstorm came while we were at the school Christmas program, and our car got stuck on the way home. We still had a half mile to walk.

We didn’t have our mittens along, and Dad carried my little sister Laila. My sister Betty didn’t put her hands in her pockets and nearly froze her fingers. Dad managed to thaw them out, and they turned out OK.

Sister act

My sisters and I started singing together for different gatherings.

A neighbor heard about a Christmas Amateur Hour at a theater in Chippewa and said we should go there and sing and maybe win some money.

My sister Laila was four years old, Betty was six, Gladys was eight and I was ten.

It was very frightening to come out on the stage in front of a large audience.

We sang “Silent Night” in Norwegian. Many neighbors heard us on their battery radios and said we would have had a better chance of winning if we had an instrument for accompaniment.

After Dad heard that, he started saving his money so he could buy me a guitar for $8.

A few neighbors taught me some chords, and I played until my fingers were sore. I soaked my fingers in salt water and kept working at it until I could play the cords.

Christmas Fooling  (Jule Bokk)

A fun event when I was growing up was the neighbors would get together and dress up in odd clothes so they couldn’t be recognized, and they would come over.

It was so much fun to try to guess who they were, and we would treat them to Christmas goodies. They would visit awhile and then go on to another neighbor.

When we were old enough we would dress up and go with them.

Christianson Christmas

After Jack and I were married, we kept the lefse tradition.

On Christmas Eve we would have lefse supper and then do the chores. We would feed the cows special alfalfa hay on Christmas Eve.

Our neighbor Clifford Hanson was Santa and would jingle the sleigh bells outside the window.

Once when our son Dale was about four years old, he heard those sleigh bells ringing and was so scared that he crawled behind the davenport.

We had to assure him that it was OK, and that if he came out, Santa would bring him presents. He soon thought Santa was OK.

When our daughter Marsha was about four years old, that Christmas she had the mumps and the measles at the same time.

Santa had to come in the downstairs bedroom. We had to have the lights down very low, and she had to keep her eyes closed for Santa to come in and bring her presents because it was hard on the eyes to look at the light with the measles.

Below zero

Many years, the Lind family and our family went shopping in Rice Lake before Christmas. More people traveled to Eau Claire, so we felt that Rice Lake had better bargains.

I remember one year very vividly. Gladys and Hjalmer asked Jack, me and our Mother (Minnie Jenson) to go shopping with them. The day that we had planned to go it was 31 degrees below zero, but that didn’t stop us.

We all piled in the car and headed out. Once we arrived, Hjalmer decided he better stay in the car to keep it running. It was so cold outside, we were not sure we would get it started again.

In those days, cars were not so reliable when it was that cold. Thank goodness he did. Others were not so lucky. We never went shopping on a cold day like that again.

Sleigh ride

One year when we lived on our farm, Jack hitched up the horses and sleigh with jingle bells, and we picked up Gladys and Hjalmer Lind and their kids Greg, Jane and Wanda, Juel Lind, Lilly and Karmit Foss.

We all dressed up as Christmas fools and rode around the neighborhood. We stopped at George Olson’s, Clifford Hanson’s, Rueben Halvorson’s, and Clinton Jenson’s.

We sang Christmas songs all the way. It was so much fun.

Christmas trees

In the fall of 1953, road construction began to blacktop and straighten Highway N that went by our farm.

Several beautiful blue spruce trees were being cut down, and they said we could have one. It was the most beautiful tree we ever had.

From that point on, we always cut our Christmas tree, usually from a neighbor’s forest. We would make the trunk fit into an old pulley from the tractor, and place it in a crock filled with water. It was so heavy, and we never had a problem with it tipping over.

It usually started new sprouts, too, and was more beautiful than when we first cut it.

In December 1969, Marsha was in seventh grade and in the hospital having another surgery on her ear.

Jack was getting ready to go visit her in the hospital and fell down the steps to the basement and broke his ankle.

After that, it was up to me to do all the chores, including cleaning the barn and driving the bus route, so I didn’t have time to cut a Christmas tree.

That year I decided to buy an artificial tree. I paid $35 for it at Wild Bill’s Auction in Albertville, which was a lot of money then.

But it was a beautiful tree, and it looked so real. That tree lasted us 35 years.