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Jingle Bell Rock: Taking a Fun Look At Christmas Traditions From the Past, Present, and a Look Into the Future

By Scott Jester, 12/19/21 10:21 PM

By: Scott Jester

As Christmas sits on our collective doorsteps here in Hope and the surrounding area, we cannot help but be swept up in the traditions that are not only created nationally and globally, but more importantly, the traditions each family create that may be unique to only them.

So now is a great time to take a fun glance at some of the traditions you may or may not know so much about and also draw you close to a pair of families, who welcome you into their living rooms to what makes Christmas special to them.

Now is the also the time, however, to address those who may not have the same opportunities to the kind of Christmas many of us will be able to partake. Please keep these individuals and families in your prayers, not only during this time of year, but each and every day forward. Make a Christmas present promise to yourself to continue those prayers for them and you will be surprised at what a different person you will be this time next year.

Did you know the Germans first utilized a Christmas tree in the 16th century, decorating it with fruit and nuts?

Legend has it that St. Nicholas, was a Christian Bishop, who was known for providing for the needy and less fortunate. He was also known to surprise children with gifts given in secret. So, as his story spread, the Dutch called him Sintterklaas and later a translated Santa Claus.

Did you know that the sweet carol “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” was many times looked upon as a humorous “threat” in way back yonder years? Evidently carolers, who had imbibed too much spiked egg-nog, would continue to sing then annoying tune outside your house until you plied them with more liquor to please move the merry caroling down the merry road so we can have some merry sleep.

Oh, and did you know that one in three men wait until Christmas Eve before making their purchases? Right, yeah, you already knew.

Meet Myra Prince, a Hope native, wife, mother, grandmother and retired longtime hair stylist. She is also an active local Lion member, excellent listener, advisor, and friend to many.

Myra’s the type that you’d want to be picked on your “team” when choosing sides. She possesses southern charm with a sprinkle of Arkansas “spit fire”.

She was born near the end of WWII and her Christmas memories are a wonderful walk back to a simpler time.
“In that time, we always had a fresh tree that we cut ourselves,” she began. “We usually received one gift apiece and just loved and appreciated whatever it was. It was just a happy time in our house.

“Back then, no one around here really had a lot of money,” she continued. “If they did, our family simply didn’t know it. We were middle income and we just had a “normal” Christmas.

“On Christmas Day, there was no complaining about things,” Prince says matter-of-factly.

“My father would smoke our own meat, and my Momma would begin making Christmas cookies and putting them in the freezer a couple months before Christmas to have them ready.”

No Christmas would be complete without a trip to grandma’s house.

“We would go visit my grandparents back then, and there would be relatives everywhere,” she exclaimed.

“It was always fun to go there, because they had a “party-line” and we would listen in on the “party-line” until we were told to ‘get off that phone!’” Prince recalled.

And as a side note to those who know Prince well to this day, it should not be surprising that this type of mischievous behavior bubbles to the top as a grown-up and we are all the better because of it.

And, for those who don’t know what a “party-line” was, it was an old-school set-up that allowed more than one person to use the same phone number and many times made for great “gossip” collecting while listening in on your neighbor.

In Prince’s generation, her family enjoyed plenty of fresh fruit and nuts around the house during the holidays and she vividly recalls enjoying the all-too-familiar gelled orange “wedges” and always got to enjoy a Coca-Cola as an extra treat.

“Our Christmas meal would be dressing with no turkey. We always had hens and ham,” Prince says. “We’d have all kinds of pies and Mother would make a coconut cake with freshly grated coconut.

“She also made something called a “Martha Washington” candy (an old-school round confection made of coconut, pecans, with a cherry in the center, then lastly, (wait for it!) dipped in chocolate).

Prince confesses to getting in trouble as a young child for laughing during the pre-meal blessing and recalls seeing her mother in a rocker, gently rocking a child, “because there were babies EVERYWHERE,” she exclaimed in what was another precious Christmas memory.

Now meet Christy Burns, local businesswoman, committee person, active in many facets of public life in Hope and the surrounding area, but also mom to four girls and a 21-year-old son, Gage.

If you turn to “Mama Bear” in the encyclopedia, you will probably find a picture of Christy there for the description. Meant in the most respectful of definitions, Mama Burns loves her cubs fiercely, leading a family of four girls ranging from Addison (14), Kenzi (9), Sawyer (7), and Piper (4) like a maestro conducting an orchestra with giant Mickey Mouse hands. It’s not easy, but she sure makes it look fun. Christy Burns, simply, makes looking at life fun.

“We start quite a few things a couple of weeks before Christmas,” she states in her rapid-fire explanation. “The girls always make a “Christmas Countdown” chain from construction paper and tear one of those off every night. And one of our biggest things that we HAVE to do on Christmas Eve is to “feed the Reindeer” which is a mixture of oats and glitter.

“They do get to open one gift on Christmas Eve, “she continues. It’s usually their Christmas pajamas and maybe a book to read and some hot cocoa. The rest of the evening is spent trying to get them to bed,” she says with a sigh and a heavy roll of the eyes.

One of their traditions is that she and her husband, Kris, do not wrap a Santa gift until Christmas Eve.

“It’s a fun each year,” she says with a twinkle. “It might involve a few hot toddies and we have been known to accidentally wrap the scissors because it was “so late”.

“We have Christmas movies on for the girls until they go to bed then Kris and I will put like a scary Christmas movie in on a loop because we sometimes don’t finish until 3:00 or so in the morning.

“Wrapping the gifts is special, because it gives Kris and me that “alone time” to wrap and to think together,” she says. “He wraps much better than me for some reason. I can’t cut in a straight line and my tape is never right.”

“We get a nap after that and those girls hit the ground at 6:00 a.m.

“Another reason not to put out the Santa gifts under the tree is the rush of not having seen things from Santa the night before, but miraculously, they are there the next morning.”

It is a blessed event on Christmas morning indeed because those children still truly “believe”. They are displaying the same faith of shepherds in the fields long ago, who placed trust in the angel who led them to Bethlehem to be in the presence of the newborn, who would be later known as Jesus.

“This is one of the times they’re not crying or bickering,” Burns says with a loving chuckle.

“We don’t really do a big Christmas celebration anywhere but at home anymore,” Burns continued. “That is something that changed after COVID hit, which was a blessing in disguise. There were some years that we would make four or five stops at different houses and you can’t enjoy the day as well when you have five kids doing that.

“So, we stay home, have a big breakfast, and hope for a nap,” Burns says with a smile.

“Christmas is a big deal and it’s hard to spend any quality time together at once. With these kids, we are always going so many places and, on this day, we can stay in our pajamas and enjoy the day. We spend that day TOGETHER. Just us. Together.

“To see my kids smiles and actually play together, share, go in their rooms together. It’s one of those days where it’s not hectic. It’s a totally different day.

“It’s perfect,” she concludes “It may not be perfect to someone else, but it’s like we live together in a snow globe for the day. Everything is just perfect on that day.”

And so it should be that we adults, who have seen many Christmases from the past and now in the present, owe it to the future that we learn the true meaning of Christmas. The true meaning of service to others, the true meaning of “believing” in the commandment and beginning to love your neighbor (strangers) as you would love yourself.

All these gifts and eternal life are made possible by the birth of one special baby boy born in a manger long ago.

Let us not lay down for the last time in this life without filling our hearts with the joy and experience of “giving”. Of giving not just material gifts, but giving instead, a small piece of yourself to all who come in your path, friend or stranger, all the year through. It may consist of a kind word to someone, a steadying hand to the elderly, or a simple, genuine smile. The effort and pieces you give away will be repaid to you in full and then some.

Merry Christmas everyone. Joy to the world.