Fremont County, Iowa

Christmas in Sunnyside School
by Nadine Elwers

View from the Attic ~ A Weekly Series
Fremont County Historical Society
Week of December 13, 2010

The one room in Sunnyside school was decorated for Christmas during the time I attended there with swags of evergreen branches forming a large X overhead. Four such ropes began at and reached height in each corner meeting in the middle overhead. Here a big red paper fold out bell hung in a splendid display of intricate diamonds. I could never figure out how someone put that bell together.

Sunnyside school was just west of Waubonsie State Park and was snuggled up against the Loess hills and thus provided a choice of cedar trees. The students and teacher harvested one of the large ones and installed it in the far right corner of the one-room school. It reached heights far taller than the blackboards and perfumed our classroom with its rich scents. I will forever associate the odor of cedar with Christmas.

We all saved the tin foil from our various treats and chewing gum and these we shaped into "beads" and strung them on thread with a needle to festoon the branches of our tree. We made a tinfoil covered star to put on the top of the tree. We brought popcorn, and a popper to school and popped a batch of popcorn over the big wood stove. The girls brought needles and thread and the task of stringing popcorn began. We folded narrow strips of colored paper and glued them in circles to make into paper chains. If we didn't have colored paper we took white paper and colored it with our crayons to use to make the paper chains. We used flour and water to make the paste to glue the little loops of colored paper into chains to hang around the tree. There were no lights on the tree because the school had no electricity. We sometimes fastened candles to the branches and lit them during the school's Christmas program. No reports of fires from those candles was ever reported in my childhood.

Always there was a Christmas play. All the children in the school were involved. A teacher's magazine, "The Normal Instructor and Primary Plans," gave a lot of good ideas for programs. Some children sang in groups or recited a poem or had a part in the play. The community was always invited and even those people without children at home attended and enjoyed watching the children perform.

Gift exchanges were not done much because people did not have much money. If they did an exchange the gifts were something useful like caps or mittens or scarves. The teacher sometimes gave each child some hard ribbon candy or the treat of an orange, something we had very seldom in the wintertime.

Christmas vacation was often only one or two days, three at the most. Christmas was looked forward to with great anticipation for it was a time of caring and sharing talents and gifts of love and kindness with one another. For the children in one-room school houses Christmas was a magical time of the year.

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Page updated on June 22, 2023 by Karyn Techau