History Leaves of the Methodist Tree
Compiled by Johnny Cordell
“Christmas at Chapel Hill”
In the 1950’s Christmas was a special time for the children at Chapel Hill Church. About ten days or so before the Christmas program, one or more of the adults would select and harvest a large cedar tree to be located in front of the sanctuary behind the pulpit. The tree would reach to the ceiling and the aromatic cedarwood fragrance would waft gently upon the air as it moved among the parishioners. We knew that Christmas was just around the corner with the advent of traditional Christmas carols, the reading of the Christmas story about the Baby Jesus in the manger, and memorization of Bible verses and short stories to be recited in front of the congregation. Also the secular songs such as Gene Autry’s “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer” and “Frosty the Snowman” were favorites on the radio, or Mel Torme’s “Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire”. The 1950’s unveiled a new medium with television featuring crooners Bing Crosby, Andy Williams, and Perry Como singing “White Christmas”, and who could forget the many poetic renditions of “’Twas the Night Before Christmas”. My friends and I had our own version of “Jingle Bells” which I remember went something like this:
Jingle Bells, shotgun Shells
Rabbits all the way.
Oh what fun it is to ride
In a brand new Chevrolet.
Oh well, we didn’t copyright it, so I guess we missed our opportunity for fame and riches.
In those days all of the Sunday School Classes picked names to exchange Christmas presents. Occasionally if a young child’s family could not afford a gift or the child would forget to bring a gift, the Sunday School teacher would always have backup presents so no child would be without a Christmas gift. When Santa Claus was not able to personally attend our program, one of the adults would don the appropriate attire as a surrogate Santa. One of our favorite substitute Santa was T. H. Austin who I think enjoyed the activity just as much as the kids. Some of the adults enjoyed the gift swapping as well, especially the class known today as the “Kenneth Wilson” class. I always wondered what the merriment and laughter was about, but we were never allowed to see those particular Christmas gifts. Maybe Liz Wilson and Betty Jones can enlighten us on that subject today?
One year the Children’s Choir wore all white and red. The girls wore white blouses and red skirts and the boys wore white shirts and red pants. Claudia Rogers provided the outfits from her “Dress Shoppe”, and again those who couldn’t afford the apparel were taken care of in a quiet and respectful manner. One year we were convinced that Santa was not an imitation and because there was a two inch snow on the ground, we rushed outside after the program to check for reindeer and sleigh tracks. We could not locate any evidence on the ground so we checked the roof. The heat from the church had melted the rooftop snow so we concluded that Santa must have utilized this area for his landing and takeoff. The mystery was solved and all was right with the world.
Today in a pessimistic and uncertain world, I harken back to those days and although Santa may not be a physical manifestation, he exist as certain as love, generosity, and devotion. You know that they abound and give your life its highest beauty and joy. As the New York Sun Editor Francis Church stated in response to a query to eight year old Virginia O’Hanlon, “Yes Virginia, there is a Santa Claus”.
May he continue to make glad the heart of childhood!
Last month’s question: in 1952 Chapel Hill celebrated its centennial and Col. Creed F. Bates assisted in the church service. What was his historical connection to Chapel Hill Church? He was the grandson of John Henniger, the namesake of the original church.
Next month’s question: What are the two oldest Methodist Churches in present day Bledsoe County?