Yesterday afternoon we attended the elementary school program in the little town where our granddaughter is in the third grade. We were seated half way across the gym, so snapping a picture was tough. I did get one blurry one of this little sweetie who lives in my heart. Isn't she precious?
Back in the olden days, before digital cameras, computers and Facebook, back when I attended a one room country grade school, I was in eight of those Christmas programs. Our school was a Christian Day School, a school of our Lutheran Church, where all the kids from our church attended. Therefore we had no Sunday School classes because we had religious instruction daily at our school. So the Christmas program was like a Sunday School program, but we could practice daily because we were always together. All the kids from our school were in it......all 21 or 24 students from all 8 grades. My class was made up of 3.....Diane, Sara, and me.
Oh the excitement that ran through our little school on the day that the recitations were handed out and the songs were assigned. The little kids always got to sing Away in a Manger and In a Little Stable, and their recitations were just a few words long like: Jesus was born in a stable, or I love the Baby Jesus, or Thank you God for sending Jesus. The middle grades were assigned longer recitations, probably a couple of verses from the Christmas story in Luke 2. Sometimes a whole class would recite together a section from Luke. The songs for the middle kids were a bit harder, maybe Oh Little Town of Bethlehem or Joy to the World. The upper grades had the tougher verses, maybe the prophesies from Isaiah or Micah, or longer portions of the Christmas story from Luke. And the songs were often a bit longer or unfamiliar, like Hark the Herald Angels Sing or Now Sing We Now Rejoice.
The program was always held in the evening, causing a whole long day of nervous apprehension. Late in the afternoon our mom would style our hair, me, when I was really young, with finger ringlets, and my sister, Betsy, with braids. Sometimes French braids! We would put on our new Christmas outfits, always sewn for us by our grandmother in Wisconsin, always mailed to us the week of the program, and always the perfect size! As we gathered in the church basement, and lined up with our marching partner, I always had butterflies in my stomach. Large butterflies, maybe more like birds. And I always made my escape plans. If I felt I was going to throw up while we were marching in, I could just turn and run out of the church. That wouldn't be too bad. But what if I got sick when we were sitting in the front rows of the sanctuary? Well, I thought maybe I could just bend over and puke under the pew in front of me! But what if I was up in front, in the middle of my recitation or one of our songs? Then what would I do? I don't remember what my plan was when I was little, but when I was older, and one of the tallest kids in the school and thus in the back row, then I figured I would just turn around and throw up behind the communion rail! Or if I was on the far right end of the row, I could maybe make it over behind the Christmas tree. I was really that scared of getting sick, and these plans were very seriously made, each and every year.
Therefore, I really felt sorry for the little girl who got sick at my granddaughters program yesterday!
But back to the 1950's.
We always marched into the church in pairs, down the long aisle, under the huge chandelier hanging over the center of the aisle, down to the front where the big register in the floor let the warm air from the furnace warm up the cold church just a few degrees, and into the pews on our right. As we filed in, often the congregation would be singing: Little children can you tell, do you know the story well, every girl and every boy, why the angels sang for joy, on that Christmas morning? And then all the children would proclaim: Yes, we know the story well. Listen now and hear us tell, every girl and every boy, why the angels sang for joy, on that Christmas morning.
And then began the program. I marveled at the logistics of the whole thing! Big kids up first, reciting the prophesies, the whole school then singing Oh, come, oh, come, Immanuel, big kids then returning back to their seats leaving the little ones to do their parts, then sitting down, then middle classes up to tell of the birth, then everyone up again to sing of the shepherds, then just the big kids again to tell of the angels and then the coming of the wise men...............oh, it was a long involved process, I thought. I guess it was quite simple as it was only 20 some kids! The whole group would gather again to sing Silent Night, sometimes with the older girls singing a very tentative alto part!
Finally. The end came and we could sing Jeg Er Saa Glad, a Norwegian hymn of the early 1800's, proclaiming: I am so glad when Christmas comes, the night of Jesus birth. When Bethl'em's star shone as the sun and angels sang with mirth. We would often sing this first verse, and sometimes the second verse, in Norwegian, before singing the English verses. (That probably sounds strange to you, singing in Norwegian, but this little church down in Iowa was in a very Norwegian community. Everyone was a Johnson, Knutson, Anderson, or Swenson, and more than one of the first names was Ole or Lars. In fact, the Scandinavian heritage is still very evident in this area.)
Now came the part we had been waiting for! The program was over, successfully completed once again, the butterflies had flown, and the urge to throw up was gone. Now we could relax! Presents that had been waiting under the tree were passed out. We school children would draw names, and a spending limit was declared every year, and we each got a gift. It was never anything big or expensive, maybe a deck of Authors or Old Maids, or new colored pencils, or a small book. I remember that one year my best friend had drawn my name, and I received a pair of red plaid cotton panties from her! Oh, how embarrassing to open that thin, flat box and find a pair of panties! In the church, no less! And we always received a gift from our teacher. I still have an illustrated children's book of most loved Psalms that I received when I was in 5th grade.
And now the most exciting part of the evening. The ushers would come down the aisle carrying boxes filled to overflowing with small brown paper bags. Inside those bags was the best Christmas treat ever.....a huge shiny red delicious apple, sitting in a nest of peanuts in the shell, hard candies like raspberry filled drops, and the beautiful curly ribbon candies! Oh my! Excitement reigned that night!
Soon it was time to gather everything up, your two small gifts, your bag of candy, your mittens and cap, and find your coat and boots, and brave the cold cars and hurry for home and your nice warm bed, the annual Christmas program over for another year.
And to think this long post came out of a poor little girl puking in Madison's Christmas program yesterday. And from the memories brought back by my friend, Lena's post a couple of days ago about her Christmas program.