Remembering The Sights, Sounds and Smells of the Christmas of My Youth

There are so many memories that come rushing back to me at this time of year. Each one of my senses trigger a recollection of Christmastime. I consider these a few of MY favorite things:

* The aroma that emanates from a good old hunky kitchen as the smell of stuffed cabbage cooking mixes with the smell of nut rolls baking in the oven.
 Pine* The overwhelming fragrance of the Christmas tree as you walk into the living room. Viewing windows that have steamed-up from all of the Christmas cooking being done in the home’s kitchen.
* Looking out of your bedroom window and watching snow gently fall at night with the amber glare of the streetlights causing it to glisten and sparkle.
* The feel of the soft needles of your Christmas tree and the stickiness of the sap as it seeps out of the branches.
* Walking in a snowfall and feeling the flakes fall gently on your reddened cheeks.
* Attempting to remember and sing the Twelve Days of Christmas with your friends and NEVER getting it quite right.
* Hearing Christmas carols from the speakers at City Hall as you pass by on a snowy December evening.
* Walking between stores in McKeesport and hearing the bells ringing as Salvation Army volunteers stood guard at their red kettles.
* Lying in bed as a child and waking up you sibling or your parents cause you were convinced that you heard something or someone walking on your roof on Christmas Eve.

I remember the thrill of seeing the windows at Holy Name School after we had paintedHoly Name them with Christmas images. It was always a big debate as to what we would paint. We would do every window in the class room, using about 5 or 6 basic colors of poster paint. Red, green, blue, yellow, black and white were our color choices. I would always volunteer to paint and we would work in teams. By the end of the day, the windows began to resemble stained glass windows and we all felt an enormous sense of pride and accomplishment.

Rather than continue to describe the sights, smells and sounds of the Christmases of my youth, I thought it better to allow you to journey with me. I have provided four videos for you to watch below. To do so, all you need to do is to click on the white arrow in the middle of each screen. There might be a short commercial before the video begins, and it might take a few seconds to load, but I am confident that you’ll enjoy each one.

In A Manger LowlyThe first video is one that I produced to do along with one of my favorite Christmas carols. For those of you who attended Holy Name Grade School in Duquesne, the familiarity is especially heartwarming since the nuns who were singing were our own Sisters of St. Joseph from Baden, PA.

Beyond all other Christmas music, this song and album immediately “brings it home” for me. In the early 60’s, as a student attending Holy Name Grade School, we were charged with the job of selling a Christmas album that was recorded by the Sisters of St. Joseph in Baden, Pa. The album was titled “In A Manger Lowly” and contained primarily just the voices of the sisters at the Motherhouse in Baden and occasionally some pipe organ accompaniment.

On the back of the album, aside from the lyrics to the songs that were included, there was narrative about the origin of the title song, “In a Manger Lowly.” It reads –

The feature carol of this record, “In a Manger Lowly,” was written in 1916 by Sister M. Victoria, S.S.J., who at present is completely blind, and a patient in the Sister’s Infirmary at Baden, Pennsylvania. Although handicapped, Sister still assists in the work of the community through her apostolate of prayer and suffering. It is the wish of Sister Victoria that all who hear this carol may have a special share in her daily prayers for the needs of all Christians.

I spoke to Sister Sally, the archivist for the Sisters of St. Joseph in Baden. She gave me some interesting information regarding Sister Victoria. The Sister was born on 8-6-1869 and died on 10-27-1963, a short time after the album was released. Sister Sally indicated that Sister Victoria was born the very year that the Sisters of St. Joseph expanded into Western PA.

I visited the Sisters of St. Joseph – Baden website, again and discovered that the album was still available on CD through their Gift Shop. If you would like to get a copy for yourself, here’s how:
Click HERE for CD order form.
Click HERE to visit The Sisters of St. Joseph Motherhouse Website
Or you can call the main number, (724) 869-2151, and order by phone. Just ask to be connected to The Book Nook Gift Shop and they will take care of you. You can pay by credit card and have it mailed out immediately. As a final alternative, you can print out the order form and mail it to the Motherhouse at the following address:
The Sisters of St. Joseph
The Book Nook Gift Shop
1020 State Street
Baden, PA 15005-1338

The next audio recording is a real throwback. I can remember listing to this story when IAngel Snow was little but cannot remember when and where. It might have been at my grandfather’s house, perhaps when I was attending Holy Name School, or even in our own home. It’s the story of “The Littlest Angel.” This version was recorded in 1949 with none other than Loretta Young as the narrator!! The recording is over 17 minutes long, but worth EVERY minute. Be sure to pour yourself a nice hot cup of coffee, tea or cider to listen to this one, and be sure to light your Christmas tree as well.

Finally, I offer you two videos that are by current groups. I know, don’t roll your eyes. I am confident that you will love them. The first is a Christmas version of the current popular song “Hallelujah.” This is not the familiar Hallelujah Chorus that we all know and love. This is a totally different song. I’ve included the lyrics for you to follow along with if you would like. It is by an American group called Cloverton and was recorded at a New York coffee house. Take the time to enjoy the entire piece. It is so uplifting!

I’ve heard about this baby boy
Who’s come to earth to bring us joy
And I just want to sing this song to you
It goes like this, the fourth, the fifth
The minor fall, the major lift
With every breath I’m singing Hallelujah

A couple came to Bethlehem
Expecting child, they searched the inn
To find a place for You were coming soon
There was no room for them to stay
So in a manger filled with hay
God’s only Son was born, oh Hallelujah

The shepherds left their flocks by night
To see this baby wrapped in light
A host of angels led them all to You
It was just as the angels said
You’ll find Him in a manger bed
Immanuel and Savior, Hallelujah

A star shown bright up in the east
To Bethlehem, the wisemen three
Came many miles and journeyed long for You
And to the place at which You were
Their frankincense and gold and myrrh
They gave to You and cried out Hallelujah

I know You came to rescue me
This baby boy would grow to be
A man and one day die for me and you
My sins would drive the nails in You
That rugged cross was my cross, too
Still every breath You drew was Hallelujah

Drummer BoyFinally, one of my mother’s favorite Christmas carols was Little Drummer Boy. I remember her singing along with it while she would be cooking. I have always enjoyed the song myself and have heard it performed by countless groups. However, the version below is by a group of young people who accomplished their performance acappella. It is outstanding and so different. Take the time to enjoy this special song…. I sure did.

Peace, blessing and wishes for a fantastically Merry Christmas to all of my friends, neighbors and family who read this blog.

This entry was posted in Christmas Memories, Church and School - Holy Name, Life in General, Movies, Music, Radio and TV, Wintertime. Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Remembering The Sights, Sounds and Smells of the Christmas of My Youth

  1. Mike says:

    What I miss hearing are the distinctive sounds made by Duquesne and McKeesport. The train coming toward the fifth avenue crossing. The pipes being loaded into barges. In Duquesne I miss the boiler house steam engine whoosh that occurred about every few seconds apart. When the wind was calm, it would send steam rings into the sky. We preserved much of the past,but never thought of the sounds. Your website is great. Thanks for sharing. Mike b

  2. An says:

    Jim, God has blessed you with the ability to write, He’s blessed us with the ability to read what you write. Thank-you for the memories!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  3. Larry McConnell says:

    Hi Jim
    Thanks again for all the wonderful memories this year.Because of your time and effort I have seen names I haven’t seen in 40 years and more! Even exchanged a few memories with a few. Merry Christmas and a great New Year to you and yours, Jim.

  4. Eileen Tokar Lilley says:

    Jim, We all got a special Christmas gift with this post in all the videos and music. I thought your last post on the Christmas traditions would be your last for this season. I was so surprised to see another one AND one of the best! In each writing you help us remember some little thing that we’ve forgotten. For me, in this one, it was remembering the windows on the schools always decorated for the holidays. We all appreciate the time, effort and love you put into your blog and look forward to the next, and the next. Merry Christmas to you and your family and congratulations on passing the 300,000 mark on the blog’s hits!!

  5. Lolly says:

    Thanks for the beautiful memories, Jim, and a very merry and blessed Christmas to you and your readers. Looking forward to reading your fantastic blog in 2014!

  6. Joe Kijowski says:

    Since I wear glasses now, one of the things I remember from childhood was the feeling of snowflakes falling on my eyelashes. Now and then I take off my glasses in a snow storm to get that feeling but have to be careful I don’t run into something.

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