Christmas Memories

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Merry Christmas from Pat and Charles Johnston Churchman, Jr.  Charles remembers Christmas at Chapel Hill.

Chapel Hill, built by John Knight Churchman c.1819 in Augusta County, Virginia, is presently occupied by Margaret Churchman Moffett and Robert W. Moffett. I (Charles Johnston Churchman, Jr.) grew up there from 1929 through 1950, and my memories of Christmas at Chapel Hill are deep and, I feel, unique.

Traditionally at Christmas, we decorated the tree on Christmas eve, placing it always in the corner of the large, twelve foot ceilinged living room. We always lit a candle to put in the window to guide the Christ child or a wayfaring stranger through the night. We had no electricity on our rural route until I was about ten years of age. We four children (I have three older sisters) suspended our stockings from tacks on the large mantelpiece over the fireplace. The most exciting Christmas occurrence was hearing Santaís bells far off in the meadow near the creek. We didnít know then that Mother had arranged with Mr. Gayhart, our farm renter (my father, a lawyer in Staunton died when I was three in 1932), to ring the old sleigh bells (my grandfather ís old basket sled still remained above the corncrib rafters). The first ringing of the bells signaled that we children must get ready for bed. The second ringing, much closer, signaled that we had to be in bed; however, one Christmas my older sister, who must have harbored some suspicions as to the authenticity of the bell ringer, went to the door to get a view of Santa.

This struck terror in my heart. I knew that Santa would not come if anybody actually viewed him, so I tugged desperately on her nightgown insisting that she come in (which, fortunately, she did). Even though my widowed mother never had much money, and we scrimped and saved, the farm kept us going and Christmas and gift giving delighted her.

On Christmas morning we would have to line up outside the door in the cold hallway according to age, waiting until my grandparents had arrived from their apartment upstairs. After everyone had finally assembled, mother would go in first to discover whether or not Santa had actually come, returning to announce his apparent visit. At this point we excitedly ran in to open our stockings, which were always long knee socks from my grandfatherís drawer. Mother had two childless married sisters who, along with a whole slew of other relatives, showered gifts upon us. We always had a mound of presents, but had to open them in an orderly fashion being sure to note the givers.

Mother died in 1983, but generations of children have wonderful memories of Christmas at Chapel Hill. It has been a centerpoint for the Churchman family through two and a half centuries.

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