Yesterday's Magazette

9 – Christmas Mornings In The WWII Years

Christmas Mornings

In The WW II Years

By Knick and Lyn Pyles

During the World War II years, we celebrated almost every Christmas at the home of my maternal grandparents, Tom (Tom) and Muriel (Gram) Smith. They lived in a Yorkshire style two story, stucco and exposed beam house on Hillcrest Road in Berkeley, California. On Christmas Eve the house would be full of family members sleeping upstairs where all the bedrooms were located. When we woke up early Christmas morning we were made to stay in our rooms while Tom got a big roaring fire going in the fireplace, lit the lights on the Christmas tree, and produced pots of coffee and hot chocolate. Gram would guard the top of the stairs to make sure none of us youngsters could go down ahead of time.

As we anxiously waited for the moment when we could descend the stairs and find all the Christmas wonders, we could hear Tom hustling around and finally heard the whistling of the tea kettle, alerting us that the big moment was finally almost here.

Gram would have us all line up in the hallway, youngest grandchild first, followed by the next in age until my father, or the oldest uncle, and Gram would bring up the end of the procession. Tom would pound a big kitchen spoon on a cast iron frying pan, making a clanging ring that filled the whole house. Then we would all file down the staircase and descend upon the area around the Christmas tree where the presents were piled. After the fun and excitement of the first moments we children enjoyed our hot chocolate while the grown-ups enjoyed their coffee. Before long it was time for a hearty breakfast prepared by Gram, my mother, and the aunts who were there that year. ympylesxmasart

A few times over the years, when we lived in a two story house and our children were young, I have attempted to recreate the well remembered scene of those far away years. Though fun, the celebration could never be quite the same, as we never had the same number of people or the grand fireplace and large living room of my grandparent’s house that really set the scene. Also, affecting the magic-on a couple of occasions our kids got up in the wee dark hours of Christmas morning and snuck downstairs before I even woke up. When I did, I found them happily eating the candy out of their stockings!

In telling the story of Tom’s exciting clanging of the big mixing spoon on the frying pan and other details, I have never found anyone else who had celebrated Christmas morning in the same way as we did at Tom and Gram’s house.

Now some 65+ years later, Lyn started cataloging old postcards and Christmas cards that were saved by her great-grandparents, grandmother, and great-aunt during the first years of the 20th Century.

Among them was the 1904 Christmas card, reproduced above, showing two little girls followed by a teenage lass and a youth or an adult descending a staircase. Is this card a view of a Christmas celebration wherein everyone marches down the stairs in order of their ages?

The card is embossed with the logo of Havergal College, a girls’ boarding and day school in Toronto, Ontario, founded in the 1890s. It is still a live institution, educating some 900 or more young ladies from kindergarten till the end of the high school years.

The archivist at Havergal College was very happy to receive a photocopy of the card for the school’s files. However, she was unable to shed any light on the exact reason the figures are trooping down the stair case in the way they are. It appears the girl slightly to the left is gesturing to those further up the staircase and out of view. Maybe the card does show a scene reminiscent of one of ours in Berkeley in the 1940s. The caption, “CHRISTMAS UNITES WHOM DISTANCE SEVERS,” though poignant enough, sheds no light on the activity depicted in the scene.

(Does any gentle reader of YESTERDAY’S MAGAZEITE have a Christmas memory similar to mine or acquaintance with the scene in the Havergal College Christmas card?)


California natives, Knick and Lyn have lived most of their married life in the Pacific Northwest. After raising three and a half children through the college years, they sailed away from Seattle to fulfill a lifetime dream. The dream has continued as they spend part of each year living in Los Morros de Coliumo, Chile and Point Roberts, Washington State. Visits to family, including five grandchildren, are part of each year, as well.

Vol. 36 No. 4 – Yesterday’s Magazette – Winter – 2009-2010

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