O Christmas Tree! O Christmas Tree!
You may be reading this the day after Christmas. Most people are still surrounded by some wrapping paper scraps, gifts sticking out of boxes, and the many, many decorations that adorn most houses at this time of the year. As I went through some old photo slides the other day, I pulled out a few that had Christmas tree images from days gone by. However, one of them especially stood out and then I found another slide of the same tree, maybe the same day, from a different angle.
There have already been articles written about my Aunt Ellen, my father’s sister, who was an avid photographer most of her life. Ellen Lucille Hagenbuch was born in 1926 and died in 2018. She left a legacy of photos and slides, along with her love of flowers and family. I believe on Thursday, December 25th or on Friday, December 26th of 1958 she stopped in at the farm house where we lived. She then proceeded to take the photos featured in this article.
My brothers, Bobby and David (or Bob and Dave, as they are now known), were told to sit by the Christmas tree with me. Our presents were laid out around the tree. Maybe some had been scattered around the house already and those gifts had to be rounded up. Aunt Ellen took two photos: one of us three boys with presents and the other with just the presents. I will say that we must have been good boys as Santa left us a full bounty!
As an aside, it’s always been interesting to me that children at this time could separate the true meaning of Christmas, the birth of the Christ Child, with the fabled story of Santa Claus. We were a religious family and would have attended midnight Christmas Eve services the night before these photos were taken. It was always a solemn service held at Oak Grove Lutheran Church, ending with the singing of “Silent Night” by candlelight. We children were in a hurry to get to bed afterwards, so that Santa Claus could bring our presents. Santa had nothing to do with baby Jesus. They were separate entities. As a boy with a full blown imagination I believed in Santa, but knew that the real Christmas was the important story of Jesus’ birth.
Aunt Ellen and Mom (Irene) got us boys situated by the tree. I was five years old, David was 10, and Bobby was 14. David and I are posing and Bobby’s look seems to say, “Okay, take the picture. I have other things to do.” Our sister Barbara is not in the photo, other than her graduation picture visible on the book case. Checking with Barb, she confirmed that graduation photos for her 1959 graduation from Warrior Run High School were taken in the fall of 1958. She was 17 years old and probably doing other things that a teenaged girl was interested in.
There are a large number of gifts displayed. I am playing a toy accordion, as I wear my new cowboy hat. I don’t remember those two items, but I sure wish I had them now. David is holding what looks like a toy man, possibly the driver of the brown, toy stagecoach to my left. He is wearing fringed cowboy gloves with a popular character on them: Roy Rogers on his horse, Trigger. David’s right hand rests on an instrument case. Checking with Bob, it was a cornet which he was learning to play for the high school band. He is looking at a set of skis—his first ones. Bob always enjoyed skiing and would continue that activity with more advanced skis in years to come.
Look at that tree! It is decorated with the then-popular silver tinsel and gold garland. Hanging from limbs are decorations that I remember: the cardboard Santa, the swirly glass balls, and most noticeable are the Christmas cards. This is something that is not done today, using Christmas cards to decorate the tree. I also see a few of those large electric bulbs colored blue, green, yellow, and red. The tree stump is stuck in a bucket which we always filled with coal.
Our living room is much as I remember it. On the right is the black oil stove which heated that room. The book case was built by my mother’s brother, Elmer Faus. Linda and I still have this piece of memorable furniture. I believe I may still have a few of the books that are visible, as I tend to collect almost everything! The flowered wall paper and curtains are familiar. There is so much in this photo to bring back warm thoughts. What is not visible is the “manger scene” which Mom put on the television each year.
Imagination time again as I see Aunt Ellen now taking another photo. This time without us brothers and from a bit of a different angle. It’s as if the presents in the first photo were removed and the ones in this photo are stashed under the tree to show them off. There is a book with a yellow spine. It is most likely the 1958 “Best in Children’s Books.” My mother was a huge proponent of reading. She belonged to a book club, and she bought books for us. I still have many of the books she bought me when I was young. What looks like a book with a red spine may be a box. Andrew and his wife, Sara, believe it may read “New Year” and could contain a calendar or religious devotions.
I seem to remember the red hobby horse. Thanks again to Andrew who found it on the internet listed as from the 1950s and being sold for $25! The hobby horse is marked “Romper Room Bronc.” There are two trucks, some unopened presents perhaps for neighbors or a party, and a doll. Barb remembers the doll and believes it might have been a collectable Danish doll. Other details stump me. For example, something blue is visible to the left of the yellow truck; there appear to be perfume bottles behind the truck; and I see a wooden frame with colored pegs or marbles on it. I can identify decorations and Christmas cards from the previous photo, but since the second photo captures the whole tree we can now see a paper star and an angel at the top.
I sent these two photos to Barb, Bob, and Dave and asked what they may have remembered. As mentioned previously, Barb seems to remember the doll. Bob remembers the cornet and skis. Dave remembers the stagecoach. They were all grateful that I had published the photos. There are a myriad of details within the photos: gifts, decorations, household items that we now wish we knew more about.
Although these photos may only be meaningful to my siblings and me, some readers are thinking, “What does this have to do with genealogy?” Interestingly, the photos and details tie in with Andrew’s previous article about our first American family and their lack of a Christmas tree. While the real meaning of Christmas was paramount in our house, as it was to Andreas and Maria Magdalena (Schmutz) Hagenbuch in 1737, the Christmas tree and gifts are more than secular traditions. The tree is a symbol of the everlasting life, which God through Christ promises us. The gifts have a two fold meaning. First, they symbolize the presents given by the Three Kings to the baby Jesus. Second, they signify the gifts the original Saint Nicholas from the 4th century handed out to the needy.
These Christmas tree photos take us back to a simpler time. We are reminded of how our lives have changed from 1737 to 1958 to 2023. The Christmas tree and the gifts symbolize more than just the secular Christmas, but also the religious aspect. O Christmas Tree! How lovely are your branches! As I finish this article on December 18th, one week until the celebration of the Holy Child’s birth, Linda and I wish you all a Merry Christmas and a New Year filled with blessings.