Christmas in eastern Cabarrus used to be simpler

I've devoted a lot of columns this year to history: several churches celebrating milestones, young people learning about local history, and the efforts of many people to preserve our past.

Maybe that's why I've been wondering about what Christmas was like here in eastern Cabarrus county decades ago, when our oldest friends and relatives were children.

So I talked with some of my Georgeville neighbors, including John Barrier, who at 93, is the oldest person I know. Except for the time he served during World War II, Barrier has lived here his entire life, and he remembers Christmas being a much simpler celebration when he was a boy.

In those days, he says, he felt lucky to get fruit for Christmas; an apple or an orange was a real treat and the only gift he usually received.

His family didn't put up a tree or decorate, but they would have a special Christmas dinner, generally featuring whatever someone had killed. He spoke fondly of possum and sweet potatoes: "That was good eating."

He and his father would trap the possum and fatten it up in advance of the holiday feast. His mother would make cakes and they'd visit with family.

Aleen Smith, 82, also remembers getting fruit, and maybe a piece of candy, for Christmas. She says life was much harder when she was a girl. Her family home had no electricity or running water and they had to cut wood for heat. She said her Christmas treats were usually given to her at church. Church leaders knew that many children wouldn't get anything for Christmas, so they made sure that everyone got a treat bag on Christmas Eve.

Smith's family would put up a Christmas tree and, like many of the other folks I talked to, made their own decorations: paper chains, popcorn on a string, crepe paper and no lights.

Everyone remembered time spent with family, either visiting or eating together.

Leola Love, 79, and Edward Hartsell, 81, recalled listening to the radio - the whole family together - to hear Christmas music or stories.

And most everyone talked about hearing the Christmas story read from the Bible either at home or at church.

All the folks I talked with agree that Christmas was very different when they were children.

As John Barrier said, "Today people think they need everything." But back then, you had to make do with what you had. There were no lights, no commercialization, no frantic build-up to the big day.

Talking with these friends has helped to remind me what's important about Christmas: time spent with family and friends, and being thankful for the gifts of life and love.

However you are spending this Christmas Day, I hope that it is merry and blessed.