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Christmases past: Mowry recalls Christmas in the ‘30s
December 25, 2014 Jerry Purvis   

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Courtesy Photo - Three-year-old Wanda Steffensmeier takes her doll for a wagon ride at their home northeast of McGrew.

As our culture is increasingly bombarded earlier and earlier with Christmas related programming, some in our community remember when the celebration was much simpler.

“I must have been about three years old when I remember the very first Christmas tree in our house,” said Gering resident Wanda Mowry.

“It had lit candles on it and my eyes about popped because I had never seen anything like it. That must have been about 1929 and there was a doll under the tree for me.”

Wanda lived on a farm northeast of McGrew until about 1929, when the family moved to another place north of McGrew on the north side of the river, which was also closer to the Snell No. 25 rural school where she attended.

“I walked to school every day and I really enjoyed attending,” Wanda said. “The school always had a program at Christmas and we got treats that night. That was big issue.”

Treats usually consisted of a small brown paper bag, containing an orange or other piece of fruit, some nuts and penny candies.
The Christmas programs at Snell school weren’t big productions, but all the students got involved, either singing or a part in the play or holding up letters spelling out Merry Christmas.

“There was no big buildup for Santa coming,” she said. “I don’t remember ever hanging a stocking.”
Wanda’s mother came from a big family and they usually got together during the summer. So there weren’t many visitors at Christmas. “When my mother was alive, the celebration was always on Christmas Day, not Christmas Eve,” she said.

On the farm, they ate what they raised. Beef was the staple for all meals during the year, along with potatoes. But at Christmas time, Wanda’s father always liked to have ham. So he raised just enough pigs for ham and bacon during the winter months. And another special dish for Christmas was oyster stew.

“During that time, the kids only got one gift,” she said. “It was never wrapped. It was under the tree on Christmas morning when we got up.”

On that first year, Wanda got a doll. A buggy followed the next year, then small tables and chairs her uncle made by hand. And another year she got a broom and dustpan.

Wanda’s mother died when she was 14 and along with many changes, the Christmas celebrations changed as well.
“My father remarried a year later and she was more of German descent,” she said. “Her family came on Christmas Eve and she had a big dinner. And her brother played Santa Claus to her nieces and nephews.”

Wanda said Christmas was much simpler when she was growing up. There was no unwrapping of gifts. Christmas was a special day, but chores still needed to be done, along with all the other activities that kept the household running – just like every other day.
The simplest of gifts then were special. Wanda remembered the family receiving a package from their aunt and uncle, who lived in Montana.

“Aunt Frances gave me a handmade pin cushion and my mother got a tablecloth,” she said. “They were simple gifts, but they came all the way from Montana, and that was really special.”

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