Thursday, December 19, 2013

Christmas in the parsonage

This appeared as a column in  the Issaquah Press on 12/18/13

Alyene Porter published “Papa was a Preacher” in 1944 and it has been on my reading list for years. This will be the year it gets scratched from the list, as I just ordered it from Dad was a preacher, and I look forward to commiserating with Porter as I read about her life of growing up in a parsonage, especially at Christmas time.

Dad pastored small town churches in places like Roslyn, Cle Elum, and Eatonville. No single childhood Christmas memory stands out, but the ambience of the season does. Dad was a poor preacher. I don’t mean he couldn’t preach; I mean he didn’t have much money, so presents were no big deal: socks, underwear, a new pair of trousers for school; the norm for poor kids of the era.

Mom often made my brothers (there were five of us at that time, more later) and I a pair of pajamas for Christmas. She thought that was the item that separated civilized people from the boorish masses.

They got worn until the first washing and promptly abandoned, as we all returned to our boorish ways. This was a good thing, since we were all destined for the military in the 60s, which featured open bay barracks. No self-respecting soldier would lounge around in PJs.

But I digress: back to life at Christmas time in the parsonage.

The Christmas program dominated the season. (For the best description ever of Christmas programs and their preparation, read “A Prayer for Owen Meany,” by John Irving.) Who will get stuck with the embarrassment of appearing before the congregation in a bathrobe, while pretending to be a shepherd or Joseph? At least the magi got elaborate costumes.

Participants in the nativity scene escaped the torture of spoken parts. Getting tagged for a part in the Christmas play meant you prayed for short lines and few of them. If there were more girl parts than girls, and you were the preacher’s kid and your mother was the play director, it was goodbye male ego.

Christmas programs ended with treats, and at Christmas time, the parsonage became mother’s candy factory. There was fudge, something similar to Applets and Cotlets, divinity and something Mom made by dipping cornflakes, marshmallow chunks, raisins and walnuts in melted chocolate and putting them in clusters to harden. It all had to be taste tested by the preacher’s kids.

In Roslyn, the season also included a big sledding party, followed by hot chocolate and chili. To put a crown on the season, Dad rounded up all who could, and many who couldn’t, sing to walk the town singing Christmas carols for those who couldn’t get out and take in community celebrations. To this day, real caroling requires at least two feet of fresh snow.

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