Christmas traditions of the past: Why red ribbon meant so much


From displaying the mischievous Elf on the Shelf and pouring reindeer food all over the backyard to building an elaborate gingerbread house and making sure your entire family has a matching set of PJs for Christmas morning, there is no shortage of Christmas traditions to choose from these days — especially with Pinterest spewing forth so many holiday ideas.

But long before Pinterest and creating those Instagram-worthy moments, we enjoyed much more simplistic Christmas traditions across rural America. Some were passed down from generation to generation, while others got lost along the busy holiday shuffle over the years.

My family had one of those Christmas stories that didn’t quite make it’s way down to me. After all, it happened more than 70 years ago.

When my mother’s family was forced to leave the farm in South Dakota during the Dust Bowl and move to California, my grandfather worked any job he could find — from picking in the fields of Imperial Valley and working in a greenhouse to making felt hats and becoming a fireman at Camp Pendleton during World War II. He must have felt he needed to make the holidays special for his family, because it was during this time my mother recalls one of her favorite childhood Christmas memories.

When she was just five and her brother three, my grandfather took them out for a Christmas Eve drive to see if they could find Santa and his reindeer. They searched the night sky and through the fields for tracks with no such luck. But just before they reached the orange grove where they lived, my grandfather excitedly pointed out a bit of red ribbon caught on the fence and told my mom and her brother that Santa must have been by. They hurried home to find Santa had indeed been there as several presents were now lined up under the tree.

While my mom now believes Santa’s helpers (my grandmother and my mom’s two older sisters) had something to do with it that night, it’s a Christmas memory she will never forget.

Who knows, maybe on the drive home from this year’s Christmas Eve mass, I’ll bring back this simple tradition and send my kids searching for just the smallest signs of Santa. After all, it’s the little moments that make life big.

So tell us, what’s your family’s best Christmas tradition out on the farm?

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