Speak Your Piece: Schoolhouse Christmas

No holiday celebration -- no matter how large and well produced -- ever matched the jubilation of the "Christmas tree program" in northeast Oklahoma. Rudy Taylor shares the Christmas-pageant spectacular of a three-room school.

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It’s a yearly routine for this old newspaperman.

Exactly a week before Christmas, I pause and close my eyes to relive an event held each year at the country school in the hills of northeast Oklahoma where I started my education.

It was a three-room school — larger than most country schools — and all five kids in my family went to school there, as well as my parents. My mother also taught there for a short time in the 1920s.

My two grandfathers built the schoolhouse, which no longer exists.

We called it the Christmas tree program, and everybody who lived in the area attended.

Money to pay for it had been raised at the fall pie supper, and everyone knew they would leave the Christmas tree program with a paper bag stuffed with chocolate candy, peppermint canes, an apple and an orange.

We kids weren’t accustomed to seeing our school at night, so it looked majestic as our family drove into the school yard, lights glowing from the long line of windows on each side.

Smoke from the two big coal stoves billowed into the air. The excitement built as we trudged toward the door, knowing there would be plenty of fun inside.

With a turn of the door knob came a rush of jubilant sounds from inside — neighbors laughing and greeting one another. We kids found our way to familiar areas, and of course, our own desks.

One big cedar tree graced the center of the building, and simple decorations made it look so festive. There were no lights on the tree. We didn’t know they existed. Strings of popcorn, tinsel and student-crafted ornaments created more than one gasp as folks stared at it.

Santa Claus made his appearance, entering through a side door from the cold darkness. Little children sat on his lap and nervously told what they wanted for Christmas.

A tiny stage at the front of the room turned into our performing arts center as we sang carols. One special little girl was given the honor of carrying a China doll, gazing into its eyes all the while. There was no doubt in that schoolhouse on a hilltop in the country who we adored that night. It was the baby Jesus who was the center of attention as we sang, “Silent Night, Holy Night,” and “Oh Little Town of Bethlehem.”

The characters in the Christmas play were tattered. Halos bounced on angels’ heads like springy loops. Our teacher gave us pats on the back for sounding like the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.

Over my 69 years of living, I have participated in many Christmas pageants and sat in the audience to hear wonderful holiday performances. But I don’t think I ever experienced the jubilation that I felt in that old schoolhouse, with common folks packed wall to wall and everyone united in thought for one evening.

While that hilltop was far from being a mountain, I can’t keep from hearing the George Huff carol that has become a Christmas season standard.

Go, tell it on the mountain.
Over the hills and everywhere.
Go, tell it on the mountain,
That Jesus Christ is born.

Rudy Taylor and his family publish three weekly newspapers in southeast Kansas, with offices in Sedan, Caney, Cherryvale, Independence and Oswego.

 

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