When I start playing Christmas Carols every year after Thanksgiving I am transported back to grade school and the Christmas programs that we performed every year.
On the night of the performance, everyone was dressed in their finest Christmas outfits: little girls in their velvets and satins, white socks and always the black patent shoes. The boys were all dressed up in their black pants, white shirts and black ties and highly polished black shoes.
An amazing music teacher taught 1st through 8th grades in vocal and when we were in the 6th grade through 8th, we could take band. Her name was Rachel McCormick. She was very tall and slender and wore her long hair up in a bun, and I thought she was very pretty and elegant.
One of the things I remember most about her is; she always wore a dress or suit and 3 inch spike heels. She was a great music teacher and I think the whole student body respected her.
Monday after Thanksgiving we started to work on our Christmas program that would be presented on the last day of school before the Christmas break. The program was held in the gym of the high school. The parents always sat on the south side of the gym and would fill the stands to hear the program.
The students were always seated on the north side. The band had a position at the west end of the gym floor so they wouldn’t block the view of the parents. The old upright piano sat on the gym floor in front of and a little to the side of the students. It seemed to always be just a little out of tune.
But the old piano went very well with the off key singing that never seemed to faze our teacher. At the end of every song she would smile and say that was very good. Sometimes Mrs. McCormick played the piano when we sang but most of the time she directed and a high school student took over those duties.
Each class had a row on the bleachers, starting with the kindergarten on the first row and then the first grade on the second row and on up the bleachers. We usually filled 8 rows of the middle section of the bleachers.
Every class would have at least 4 or 5 songs to sing during the program and the band would play at least 4-5 songs too. Some years one of the grades had small bells to play during the songs. All eight grades sang a few songs together and at the end she would invite the parents to join in and sing a few carols with us.
The kindergarten and first graders always stole the show, with their antics and there was always one boy that would get into trouble with Mrs. McCormick. She would stop the song and call him by name and tell him to straighten up, and then she would resume the program. Their songs were the simple Christmas carols, Jingle Bells, Rudolph and Frosty the Snowman.
When the program was over we were out of school for the holiday. The next morning we could sleep in and didn’t have to go to school. We would have at least a week and sometimes two weeks off for Christmas break.
At the end of the program there was always a special visitor. Santa Claus would make an appearance. All the students were very happy to see him. Not one of the students noticed if their father was still in audience or checked out the shoes Santa was wearing.
Santa never came empty handed; he always had a sandwich size brown paper sack that was full of candy for each of the students. In the sack there was always ribbon candy in a multitude of colors. My favorite was always the red ones, because they were usually cherry.
Then the round log hard candy with the picture of a Christmas tree or Santa in the middle. It had a strange taste to me so I would trade them or throw them away. Then some hard candies that had soft centers.
There was only a couple chocolate peanut clusters and covering the bottom of the sack was salted peanuts in the shell. And a single orange sat on top of the peanuts.
My very favorite were the chocolate covered vanilla crème candies. They were shaped like a cone and I always ate them first and would trade for them if someone didn’t want theirs.
Nothing in those days was wrapped; each piece of candy was ready to eat right out of the sack. The booster club would go to the local grocery store and hand filled the sacks from large boxes of the candy and peanuts and fruit.
I wonder how Mrs. McCormick managed to keep her sanity dealing with 160 kids for these programs. The Christmas program was her crowning achievement every year though. I don’t know if she looked forward to them or not, but I was always excited.
We received a letter from Mrs. McCormick after her retirement and told me; “I know I was a real taskmaster for the rehearsals, but the students never let me down. I am glad that after leaving school some of my students figured out that even though I was mean as sin some days, I loved every child in the school.”
I still love Christmas Carols, and always think of our grade school Christmas programs and especially Mrs. McCormick when I hear them. To contact Sandy: [email protected]