A Nostalgic Look at Christmas Past

Frieda’s Files are a collection of historical short stories about Carson Valley by Frieda Cordes Godecke, published in The Record-Courier. Reproduced here with permission from the Cordes Cousins, and their book “Frieda’s Files”.

December 23, 1976: A nostalgic look at Christmas Past

Christmas Eve! To a six-year-old it seemed it would never come, but at last it was here!

Mama was hustling and bustling about, wrapping hot bricks in blankets, stopping now and then to buckle an overshoe, look for a lost mitten, or button up a warm coat or sweater.

We could hear the creak of the wheels on the frosted snow as Papa drove up to tie Nellie and Fanny to the hitching pole. He hurried in to help Mama get us all on the spring wagon for the three-mile ride to the little white church on the banks of the river near Gardnerville.

A heap of kindling was left ready to start a quick fire upon our return from church, dampers on the stove were turned down, and kerosene lamps were put out before we left the house.

The two smallest children sat on the front seat with Papa, and Mama and the rest of us huddled on the back seat or in between, cozy and content under blankets kept warm by the hot bricks Mama had provided for the ride.

Despite the cold, we were kept warm, dressed in the caps, mittens, and stockings Mama and Papa knitted during the long winter evenings when we were asleep in our feather beds.

Papa was an expert at knitting. He had learned to knit when he was a shepherd boy in Germany. There, boys did not sit idly by and watch their sheep graze in the meadow. They were required to finish a certain amount of knitting each day or they went to bed without their supper.

We children all had a part in the “program” at the church and each part was rehearsed over and over on the ride. Mama’s clear, sweet voice led us, too, in the Christmas carol we were to sing, and just for variety, she would break forth now and then with “Jingle Bells.” It was her favorite and we loved it, too. The singing usually ended with “Silent Night” about the time we reached the old wooden bridge that spanned the river near the church.

Papa slowed the horses a bit so we could look down and see the glistening ice on the river’s edge, and then, on the clear, still air came the lovely sounds of the church bell telling all it was once again Christmas Eve!

Inside the church, wonder of wonders! There stood the most beautiful Christmas tree in the world. In the glow of the lamps fastened to the walls of the building on either side, the big red and green balls on the tree shone like jewels. Lovely spun glass angels, the most beautiful of which was at the very top of the tree, made it seem like something from fairylands.

Real live candles on snap-on holders covered the tree and were lit from a light on the end of a long bamboo pole. They were watched very carefully and were put out in a similar manner – a wet sponge on a long pole. Piled high under the tree were beautifully wrapped gifts to be distributed later.

We children sat near the front, but how difficult it was to keep your mind on what was being said when there was so much beauty to enjoy!

Suddenly, someone said your name, and was your turn to “speak your piece.” In a daze you stepped up to the altar, turned, made your bow, and then looked down on the vast sea of faces. Somehow you waded through the first verse. Suddenly, your mind was a complete blank. Frantically you groped for a word, but you just couldn’t remember if the next verse was the angel or the shepherd verse.

And then out there you saw her – your mother’s face. She whispered just one word – “Angels.” That was all you needed, and your eyes never left her face until you had safely said the last line of your “piece.”

How proud you were to walk up to the tree and receive your gift when your name was called. Mama always made sure that none of her brood went home without a small gift.

Truly, you felt that heaven couldn’t be more wonderful than that little white church on Christmas Eve!

Going home, you again snuggled under the warm blankets, and before long you were in dreamland where shepherds and angels passed out gifts in the light of glowing candles, and in the distance, you heard the chimes of the church bells telling of the joy and peace of Christmas.

Carson Valley Christmas
The above painting by Mimi Jobe of Gardnerville captured the magic of childhood Christmas memories in turn-of-the-century Carson Valley. Collaborating with Frieda Godecke, Ms. Jobe depicted the old Trinity Lutheran Church on Christmas Eve. Shown in the painting are Fritz and Lena Cordes and their seven children. Fritz is seated in the buggy with five of his children. By the side of the church a son holds his horse while Lena speaks with the Pastor. The little girl coming out of the church is Frieda.


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