Chris Rice Cooper

Chris Rice Cooper
Chris on July 28, 2017

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

In 1949 Four Foreign-born Wives of Air Force Officers Tell Mystery of Christmas In Other Lands . . .

Christal Cooper  1,228 Words
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*The below article, written by Nancy Soretore, was originally published in the AIR UNIVERSITY DISPATCH of Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery, Alabama for the Christmas Edition in 1949. Craig Air Force Base was located in Alabama but is no longer in existence.


Foreign-born Wives of Air Force Officers
Tell Mystery of Christmas In Other Lands

If he is called Pere Noel, Kris Kringle, St. Nicholas, or plain old Santa Claus, the idea of Christmas the world over seems to be much the same.





Several foreign-born wives of Craigsters shared their memories of the holiday, and found that their observances of the day varied in only minor details.


Lissa Mandell, wife of Major Leo Mandell, was born in a beautiful little fishing village in Denmark.


Her early memories are of “Father Christmas” and of the entire family dancing around a Christmas tree ablaze with candles.


Mrs. Mandell said she never saw electric lights on a tree in Denmark. They believe the “living light” of the candles is more in the spirit of Christmas. One entire room is given over to the tree. All the furniture is moved out, and the tree placed in the center of the room, with the presents piled beneath. The shades are drawn, and the candles lighted, before the children are led in to view the tree. Everyone dances around the tree, singing Christmas carols.


The traditional Christmas dinner, she remembers, was always started off with a tiny dish of rice pudding, sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar. In the making of the pudding one almond is inserted. Whoever finds the almond wins a marzipan pig, which is supposed to bring them luck.



The night before Christmas a dish of the rice pudding is always placed outside the door for the elves of Denmark, who are called “nisse.”  The dish of rice pudding on Christmas is supposed to insure their good will for the remainder of the year.


The rest of the Christmas dinner is composed of roast goose or duck stuffed with prunes and apples, many trimmings, and ended with an apple cake and gobs of whipped cream.


Eileen Leighton, wife of Major Edward Leighton, remembers Christmas in England, but says that she had much rather remembered Christmas as it was before the war. The English Christmas is much like that in America, with all the shops decorating their windows.


People would come from all over England every year, she says, to see the decorations in the big London store, Selfridges.  The shops stay open as late as they wish on Christmas Eve, and there is much scurrying around buying last minute gifts, particularly in the small neighborhood stores. 


Late on Christmas Eve, there is always an auction of the left over turkeys, and she remembers long rows of the plucked birds strung up in the market. 


Christmas Day is marked by the giving of presents, a sin our country, with the big Christmas dinner complete with turkey.  Cranberry sauce, however, doesn’t appear on the tables in any country but America, as this seems to be a typically American dish.


The English dinner is climaxed by a huge pudding, which has been made two months before.  The entire family helps in the preparation of this pudding, and when all the ingredients are in, each member takes a final stir for luck.  Included in the pudding are various tiny objects, such as silver thimbles, small harps, and always a three-penny bit, which, Eileen says, is always prized by the children.  She still carries one, which she got one holiday from the pudding     




       Christmas Day itself is much more of a religious day.  The children’s real celebration starts the day after Christmas, a traditional English holiday called “Boxing Day.”  The huge Bertram-Mills circus and all the famous pantomime shows open in London.  Eileen remembers that they were so amused at the Americans, who went around saying “Merry Christmas and Happy Boxing Day.”  We were accustomed to the ‘Merry Christmas’ but had never thought to take on the “Happy Boxing Day.”



       Marcelle Yeager, the wife of 1st Lt. Randell Yeager, is a native of French Morocco, and has been in the United States for two years. 


Her childhood memories are of Pere Noel, who comes down the chimney and fills the shoes of all good little children with gifts and fruits and candy.  The traditional Christmas tree is almost unknown there, and instead of hanging up their stockings, the children put their shoes in front of the fireplace, and always a bit of food for Pere Noel.



       In place of the Christmas tree the family always gives one corner of the room to a miniature manger, depicting the birth of Christ, and the three Wise Men bearing their gifts. 


The entire family goes to Mass at midnight, and after their return home, eat their Christmas feast.  Christmas is entirely for the children.   The adults wait until New Years to exchange their presents.


       Marie Gerber, wife of Capt. Norris Gerber, was born in Connecticut, but lived in Italy with her father’s people from the time she was two years old until she was ten.  All of her childhood memories are of an Italian Christmas.


       In Italy a mythical woman, “La Befana,” takes the place of Santa Claus.  La Befana is not the jolly saint, as we would think.  She is supposed to be a stern person of forbidding appearance, and the children have no wish to see her.  On the “Twelfth Night” or the Eve of Epiphany, she enters the chimney carrying a cane in one hand, and announces her coming with a bell.  As soon as the children hear the bell they scurry off to bed.  If they have been good, they receive nuts, fruit and candy but if not, their share will be pieces of coal and bits of ion.  Very often even a good child will get an onion or two just to remind him that “La Befana” knows he wasn’t always good.


       Candies and flowers are used for decorations instead of evergreens, and music is heard everywhere.  On the streets children sing and recite poems for coins, which are thrown to them.


       Christmas in Italy is a solemn religious observance, and begins with a fast day, the day before Christmas.  The people attend early mass on fast day, and spend the remainder of the day quietly in their homes.  At two o‘clock in the afternoon the Yule log or “Ceppo” is lighted, and, in the same room is the miniature manger or “Prespio.”  After the figure of the Baby Christ is placed in the manger, the family gathers around for prayers and the twenty-four hour fast is then broken with a banquet of many delicacies, including dishes of eels and larks.




       After the meal a large urn, called the Urn of Fate, is brought in containing gifts for all.  The mother of the family always draws her gift first.  Some of the packages are blank, and a person may have to draw several times before receiving his gift.


       In the evening the family attends Christmas Eve services.  At midnight the figure of the Christ Child is placed in a manger in front of the altar, the choir sings and the church bells ring.


       On Christmas Day the family goes to church again.  From Christmas Eve until the Eve of Epiphany of Christ Day Eve, the observance is entirely religious.  But on Christmas Day Eve the children place their shoes on the hearth and wait with shivers for the sound of “La Befana’s” bell when they scurry off to bed and wait for her to leave her gifts. 


        
Photograph Description and Copyright Information

Photo 1
Title Page of the Air University Dispatch from the 1949 Christmas edition.

Photo 2a
Pere Noel from a 1910 postcard
Public Domain

Photo 2b
Still from Miracle On 24th Street with Edmund Gween as Kris Kringle.
1947
Fair Use Under The United States Copyright law

Photo 2c
Russian icon of Saint Nicholas form the 18th Century.
Public Domain

Photo 2d
Thomas Nast's most famous drawing, "Merry Old Santa Claus", from the January 1, 1881 edition of Harper's Weekly. Thomas Nast immortalized Santa Claus' current look with an initial illustration in an 1863 issue of Harper's Weekly, as part of a large illustration titled "A Christmas Furlough" in which Nast set aside his regular news and political coverage to do a Santa Claus drawing. The popularity of that image prompted him to create another illustration in 1881.

Photo 3
Image of the foreign-born American officer wives originally posted in the 1949 Christmas edition of the Air University Dispatch.
From left:  Lissa Mandell, Marie Gerber, Marcelle Yeager, and Eileen Leighton.

Photo 4
Cropped image of Lissa Mandell

Photo 5
Folk tale depicting Father Christmas riding a goal
Public Domain

Photo 6
Glade Jul by Viggo Johanson painted in 1891.
Public Domain

Photo 7a
Danish rice pudding with the almond in the center.
Public Domain

Photo 7b
Photo of the danish traditional price to the winner of the almond at the Christmas dinner. The price is molded as a pig in Marzipan. 
Photograph of pig taken on December 24, 2004
Photograph attributed to Malene Thyssen
GNU Free DL and CCASA 2.5 Generic

Photo 8
Painting of Nisse by Jenny Nystrom (June 15, 1854 – January 17, 1946)
Public Domain

Photo 9
Danish Christmas dinner with traditional Christmas dishes: Duck with stuffing made of apples and prunes, roast pork with crackling, potatoes fried in caramel, sweet and sour red cabbage and gravy. The traditional Christmas decoration colors are red, gold and white. The dessert is a traditional dish called risalamande.
Photograph attributed to Malene Thyssen
GNU Free DL and CCASA 2.5 Generic

Photo 10
Cropped image of Eileen Leighton

Photo 11
Christmas in wartime: Sandbags are placed outside the shop window at Selfridges to protect it during the first Christmas of World War II in 1939
Public Domain

Photo 12
Vintage photograph of a butcher market in England.
Public Domain

Photo 13
Wartime photo of a group of children having a Christmas dinner in England.
Public Domain

Photo 14a
Vintage postcard of Mother and Daughter stirring the pudding.
Public Domain

Photo 14b
A traditional bag boiled Christmas pudding still showing its skin
December 2007
GNU Free Documentation License

Photo 14c
1943 Three-penny bit
Public Domain

Photo 15a
Vintage illustration depicting “Boxing Day”
Public Domain

Photo 15b
Patricia Bourne training lions to stand on their hind legs in the annual Bertram Mills Circus at Olympia, London, 1935.
Public Domain

Photo 16
Cropped photo of Marcelle Yeager

Photo 17a
French Christmas post card of Pere Noel from the 1920s.
Public Domain

Photo 17b
Vintage card of Pere Noel about to fill the children’s shoes with Christmas goodies. 
Public Domain

Photo 18
1940s Vintage postcard depicting the Wisemen presenting their gifts to Baby Jesus.
Attributed to Charlot Byj
Public Domain

Photo 19
Vintage watercolor postcard of children going to Christmas Mass in French church.
Attributed to Howard Blanchfield
1940s.
Public Domain

Photo 20
Cropped image of Marie Gerber


Photo 22
18th Century engraving of La Befana and the townspeople.
Public Domain

Photo 23
Italian-American children singing and reciting poems for coins.
1940s
Attribution Unknown
Public Domain

Photo 24a.
Christmas vintage card of children carrying the Yule Log
Public Domain

Photo 24b
Neapolitan Prespio of Malori, Italy.
CCASA 1.0

Photo 24c
Julaftonen
By Carl Larsson
1904-1905
CCASA 3.0 Unported

Photo 25
Watercolor of Urn of Fate
Public Domain

Photo 26
1978 Christmas stamp of 18th Century individuals singing and playing instruments to Christmas Carols.

Photo 27
Vintage painting of La Befana and the children running off to bed.
Attribution unknown
Public Domain 

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