Do you remember picking out Christmas wishes from the Sears Roebuck Catalogue?

My Childhood Christmas Memories


Jean Butterworth

It is almost Christmas time and memories come flooding back remembering the simple Christmas celebrations my family had in the early 1940’s. My dad and brother would go into the nearby woods to cut a cedar tree. This would be our Christmas tree which would be placed in the living room.

Coal stove

Our living room contained a big coal burning stove in our WWII rented government housing project in Childersburg, Alabama. The tree was then decorated with strips of colorful construction paper glued together as loops. Tinsel was added along with some fragile red balls. A paper star was placed on top. At this time colored electric light were just gradually being used. And for sure, not at night when the town’s lights were blacked out on occasions during WWII.

On Christmas Eve Dad would go out to the coal bin connected to the house and bring in coal in a coal scuttle. He would prepare the fire for Christmas Morning by laying some small sticks on top of the coal. Early before my brother and I got up he would light the coal so the room would be warm on Christmas morning. We would wake up early and be so excited. We also noted if Santa had eaten the cake we left out for him on the kitchen table.

Sears and Roebuck catalog

The Sears and Roebuck catalog had many turned down pages tagging our wish list for Christmas. Presents were few as compared today but I remember getting a big baby doll and my brother a play gun and holster set along with some tinker toys. Also a pair of gloves for me and an airman’s hat with flaps for my brother. There were also oranges, apples and candy.sears1940baby_marie_doll

My friend, Jeanelle told me that she celebrated Christmas in North Georgia. Their tree would be decorated with ice icicles, and red and white rope. One year she got a Shirley Temple doll. Their ritual for Christmas was to place six chairs around the Christmas tree and each of the six children would put a shoe box in the chair for Santa to fill with present, toys fruit and nuts. When the children went to bed on Christmas Eve they would listen to noises made by Santa. In reality, it was their Dad bringing the Santa toys out from the loft in the barn into the house. They did not hang stockings.christmas tree2

Christmas Play

Our small church always had a Christmas Play. My dad was always selected to be the Joseph in the pageant. The play followed the story in the Bible. There was a manger scene, the Shepard’s and the Wise men from the Far East. Angels wore gowns made from bed sheets and halos from gold tinsel and coat hangers.

Costumes consisted of faded dark bathrobes and towels for head coverings for the Shepards. Gold paper crowns were made and paper covered cigar boxes were used as the presents from the Wise men. After the Christmas play we would all sing Christmas carols. So simple, but so meaningful.Cast_of_the_childrens_Christmas_pageant_at_First_Baptist_Church_in_Montgomery_Alabama

My dad was a hunter and my mother was delighted that he enjoyed this sport. Often in the Christmas season he would go hunting in the woods for squirrels or to the fields to shoot dove. I can remember many times when he came in from the hunt that I would run up to him just to count the doves in his inside hunting coat. The supper that night would be fried dove. Delicious!

Today, I look at my decorated Christmas tree in my den with all those pretty ornaments I had collected from all over the world. But then, I think of my childhood Christmas around a simple cedar Christmas tree in a coal-heated room and I feel the joy of remembering childhood Christmases!

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Chinaberries and Other Memories of Alabama by Jean Butterworth



  1. My major memory of Christmas in Alabama during the 1940s, was that there were more firecrackers set off than during July 4th. There was also the tradition of carrying a pocket full of pecans so you had something to give if someone said, “Christmas gift!”

    1. Hugh, I enjoyed your comments about the phrase “Christmas Gift”. My grandmother always said “Christmas Gift” . She was born in 1902 and lived to be 96 years old. I still greet people that way. Most folks don’t have a clue about this old tradition. You may my day.

  2. Those “birds” in your daddy’s coat were most likely bobwhite quail. They were plentiful in old fields back in the 40’s and were very delicious all fried up & brown.
    Good memories!

  3. Thank you for bringing back memories from my Christmases at my grandmother’s farm. I remember getting the tree from the many cedars growing there and the paper decorations, the pot bellied stove, and my Mother warming a blanket and placing it over me when I got in bed.
    On the round table was all the delicious food plus cakes, pies and homegrown peaches which were pickled.
    What simpler and wonderful times those were.
    Thank you again.

  4. Thanks for the memories of the 40s. Our Christmas in south AL was the same as above. My mother always baked the most delicious Fruitcake (sometimes referred to as Japanese fruitcake) and Lane’s Cake at Christmas. I wish I could find her type recipes to pass the tradition on to my family now.
    Thank you again.

  5. I loved going into the woods on our farm with Daddy to find the perfect holly with berries for our Christmas tree! 1940’s

  6. Love this. We still cut down a cedar and it is so fun. It has became a meaningful tradition for my husband and I.

  7. I loved the old Xmas lights we had, icicles that looked like they had colored water running thru them like they were dripping, and a glass train that had colored water going thru them. Of course, we made the construction paper garland, and popcorn strings. As the younger ones got older, my Dad would set up the train to go around the tree, chugging and puffing and whistle blowing at stops. We uses to sit in the dark with just the tree lights on and watch them twinkle. of course this was in the 50-60’s but still Xmas memories

  8. My brothers went into the woods and cut our tree, my Mother would mix flour and water, then she would dip the end of each branch in the mixture and then it had to dry before we decorated the tree, we made paper chains, pop corn strings, cut out stars and color them, strings of cranberries, it was beautiful!

  9. Loved the old traditions