Christmas customs in Small Town, USA

Christmas customs in small town U.S.A. have not really changed all that much in the last thirty years or so. The customs that we hold near and dear are much the same.

Each small community keeps the traditions alive that we grew up with. I grew up participating in a program at church. If you watch the local papers you will see programs advertised in many of the churches. Children are cute so doting parents and grandparents eagerly attend the programs to see the next generation perform. If you do not have a young person participating go anyway. You will be blessed.

I have fond memories of past programs that the children and grandchildren were a part of. Sometimes the results were humorous, other times they were strictly serious. I recall the year that my granddaughter was an angel in the manger scene. Her mother was Mary. She lovingly picked up baby Jesus from the manger and proceeded to give him a kiss and pretend to bathe him. She was oblivious of the whole audience watching her. Another time her brother played the part of the young Jesus growing up in the home of a carpenter. He took his little wooden and plastic tools and pretended to do exactly as his father did.

Then, there were the Christmas carols. Groups of children/adults gathered to share the carols with their neighbors. Once again because I live in the country I had to drive to get to the homes where we caroled. That is a tradition that is still alive and well. Shut-ins enjoy company. They welcome those who carol outside their door. One lady we go to see usually has a tray of goodies waiting for us. It is sad that our list of shut-ins is shorter than ever. Since last season several of our members have gone on to their eternal reward.

How I miss the days when we had a big group of youth who were eager to sing. One year we joined with the adults to present a Christmas cantata. We had a wonderful time rehearsing. By that time the youth choir was quite talented and could easily keep up with the adults.

Visiting Santa is another tradition. When I was young we often made a trip to Buffalo to see the decorated store windows and shop. I usually got to go see Santa even if it meant that we stood in a long line. In those days the stores gave out little games. I remember receiving a game of Chinese checkers that hung around for many years. My grandchildren usually went to the corner store to see Santa. The Santa there was very friendly much better than some of the Santas in the larger stores. The store owner took a photo to document the occasion.

When I was old enough to work in a store over Christmas I was actually friends with the fellow who played Santa. In spite of being a robust Jewish fellow, he made a wonderful Santa. The children loved him. Maybe it helped that he was training to be a teacher.

Christmas in the small towns of this great nation of ours seems to be more intimate and personal. During the holiday season people are friendlier. Whether you are attending a school or church program the atmosphere is one of joy. This year I have two concerts to attend. Each of the grandsons will be in a program and I have made arrangements to be able to attend. I absolutely love the Christmas songs. It is invigorating to see the young people do their best to entertain their families.

Our local hospital has an angel tree. You can fill out a form to give an angel in memory or in honor of someone near and dear to you. That tree went up just before Thanksgiving to provide time for people to get their donations in. Names will be written into a book and placed near the tree.

I grew up in a town just a little larger than Warren, PA. The stores in town were mostly family owned. I worked in a department store called Sidey’s. The family not only owned it, they operated it as well devoting much of their time to the business. This part of Christmas has gone by the wayside. Today everyone shops at the big box stores in the guise that they save money. The little guy cannot make it in this world of fierce competition. They have either sold out or simply closed their doors. I really miss this more intimate shopping experience where the clerks and the store owners know your name.

I fondly recall days of shopping in the stores that were in the downtown section of Warren and Jamestown. All of my shopping was done locally. How I loved those old stores. You always knew where to find the things that you were looking for. I learned to shop because I traveled with my grandmother since my mother was at work. It was a treat to be part of the shopping expedition along with grandma’s sisters. As the youngest one I usually got a treat of some kind from one of the great-aunts if I was good.

Today downtowns have become ghost towns. What that really means folks is that there is less competition so the surviving stores do not worry about being overpriced. It is difficult to compare prices from days of old. The whole economy is different.

I remember seeing a cartoon years ago that showed someone bringing a cart full of money to the store. That has nearly come true. We now buy less for more. Package sizes change with the times so the prices are not raised, but the amount in the package is less making the cost more per pound.

Be sure to do your part to maintain the traditions that you hold dear. We take all of these things for granted, but they should not be. It is a privilege to be able to celebrate our Christian heritage openly.

Ann Swanson writes from her home in Russell, PA. Contact at