an excerpt from Yesterday's Hog
by Edna M. Marstad
Norfolk/Virginia Beach: The Donning Company Publishers
(c) 1985 Edna M. Marstad
Christmas on the Island
was always a festive holiday for the islanders; the women spent days making
cookies shaped like Santa Claus, with cherry icing to depict his red attire and
white sugar to make imaginary whiskers. There were wreath-shaped cookies,
colored in green and red, and some women even baked cookies that resembled
reindeers. Of course the gingerbread men were favorites, and these were hung on
the tree. For the men there were pies, filled with preserved berries from their
own gardens and delectable figs pickled during the summer. The week before
Christmas, a woman scarcely moved from her kitchen. Daily there was a fragrant
and appetizing scent from the oven. Young children loitered at the table waiting
to wipe clean the remaining ingredients, whirling their little fingers around
the inside of the bowl.
Christmas trees were axed from
the woodlands, and mostly it was the children who decorated the pine branches.
Their ornaments were handmade by the islanders; gingerbread men, strings of
paper dolls, and popcorn in long chains that laced the tips of the branches.
There were shells from the beaches dipped in glue and hung with ribbons. Cones
were gathered from the woods, and these were nestled between the limbs of the
tree. Nothing was store-bought, except the striped candy canes, which were
always eaten instantly when the tree was denuded of ornaments the second week of
January. Even the trees were not discarded. The men pinched off the branches and
severed the trunks into kindling for the fireplace. Each house had a fragrant
pine scent as the fire roared in the winter months.
Christmas dinner was similar to
the feast at Thanksgiving; a chicken was roasted for the gala holiday. Many a
mother wished the bird had more legs, for the youngsters all preferred these
pieces. It was usually the father and the eldest son who succeeded in their
choice unless the family was larger and had two fowls prepared. The stuffing was
a favorite with them with them all, so the wife always doubled the the portion,
and with the added earthenware dish of dressing there was more than enough to
satisfy the young and the old. The wishbone was given to the youngest child, and
after it was cleaned and dried it was wrapped in silve paper that came from the
father's tobacco pouch, and this too was hung on the Christmas tree.