Blooming Grove is the community in Hepburn Township, centering
around the old Dunkard Church, built more than a century ago. Today
there is not a member of that church living. My father, Christian
D. Heim, was the last person living who always belonged there. The
members of that church did not observe the customs and modes of
dress of the Lancaster County Dunkards. Their leaders, Dr. Haller
and later "Christly" Heim, did not think it necessary
for the men to wear the broad rimmed hats. Or the women wear the
little white caps, yet they lived simply and plain, honest in their
dealings. The old Church was seldom opened in winter. No Sunday
School was ever held in the Church. The only Sunday School was held
in the old Klump's school house, and then only in the summer time.
Therefore in that community there was no Christmas entertainment
or observance in the Church.
What I am telling now is what I remember of my own family and
our celebrating Christmas, which I suppose was typical of the families
around there. Those were the days of large families and I think
probably the Heim family was one of the largest. I am number five
in a family of seven; my father was one of ten.
Jacob and Regina Heim, who lived on a sixty-acre farm near the
old church, had five sons and five daughters. All grew up, married
and had families. So the family gatherings on Christmas Day were
not a small one.
In our own home, we lived on the farm of my maternal Grandfather
Joseph Gross, and for good measure we had, living on the farm and
boarding with Grandfather, old Doctor E.M. Adams, who was written
up in the history of "Early Doctors of Lycoming County."
The Doctor's word was law, so it seemed, but he must have thought
he was entitled to have his say since he paid his board, the sum
of thirty dollars a year, which included house rent and all his
fire wood - but that is another story.
We were not taught to believe in Santa Claus. They used to say,
"people who love you are the Kris Kringle" -much was made
of the Kris Kinder Christ Child. There was however, an old "Bels
Nickle", who was supposed to visit children with a switch if
they were not good. I can remember only once a neighbor young man
played the part to frighten my younger brothers. We must have been
good as can be "jes before Christmas".
Several days before Christmas we children made long strings of
popcorn and paper chains with which to decorate the tree our parents
brought that in on Christmas Eve. We were hustled to bed early -
but how could we sleep! The rattling of paper and voices of our
parents, auntie and Grandma kept us awake a long time! About two
weeks before, my mother had made her shopping trip to Williamsport,
Grandfather's contribution was a dollar, to be spent for candy at
"Harrington's Sugar Bowl". Many of you remember the place,
on East Third St. Especially were we to have candy canes and baskets
of red and white candy. How they helped decorate the tree and how
pretty we thought they were - seven canes and seven baskets.
Once a year the old doctor opened his purse strings to the amount
of five dollars - given to Mother to spend for the children, "but
nothing foolish." I can't remember that she ever got anything
for herself from him, but she appreciated the favors and could make
a little money go a long way. He seemed satisfied if we all got
the useful things - sometimes school books, slates or pencils, caps,
mittens or the long gray woolen stockings. Real stockings they were
- how we despised them
yet they kept us warm and the ugly colors
kept us humble, for they didn't want pride to get into our little
hearts. Once in a while, I think mother forgot the practical side
and brought home dolls for the girls and even a pop gun for the
small boys. The small doll I remember best was a little china one
- and I broke her arm off on Christmas afternoon. For several years
I dressed and undressed and cared for my little cripple. What a
lark there was with the popgun, shooting paper wads for ammunition.
Brother Joe, being left handed, we couldn't tell which way he was
going to shoot, and I rather think the old Doctor got a shot or
two - by accident, of course!
The tree was put in the center of a table and seven places, from
the oldest down, were allotted to us. No matter how early we were
awake none of us dared go into the room where the tree was until
Doctor cam. He wanted to see us enjoy our tree and gifts.
After we had enjoyed everything for a while, we all got ready
to go to Grandfather Heim's, a distance of two miles. It seems to
be we always had snow, for my recollections are of the big sled
in which we went. My older brother took his sled to go coasting
with the cousins. When we arrived and went into the house - seven
strong- it was always the same order of procedure, every family
of the ten did the same. I think we were coached at home just what
we must do, or possibly what to expect if we didn't. The old kitchen
and living room were large, with a fireplace on one side and a big
wood stove on the other. We left our warps in the bedroom just off
the kitchen, with its four-poster bed and patchwork quilt, home
made rag carpet on the floor and a real Grandfather's clock in the
corner. Then we were marched up to shake hands with Grandfather,
who was rather a stern person. By that time we were feeling a bit
shaky. All of us were to say our "Christmas Verse" to
him - "Glory to God in the highest," etc. in German. When
it came my turn I had heard it often enough I cold say it quite
easily - and it is the only German verse I could say today. Grandfather
then brought out a basket of English walnuts, something we saw only
on Christmas. Each child was given three nuts. Then Grandmother
came with her gifts. To each child a half-pound of Clear Toy candy
wrapped in pages of the German paper, "Der Weltboten,"
tied with colored carpet chain. Grandfather did some weaving and
chain was cheap.
To the older boys and girls they gave gifts. Once I recall each
boy got a quarter and we were quite impressed with such wealth.
The girls got sewing kits, needles, thimble and thread. They were
expected to be industrious and of course, couldn't manage finances
like the boys. To the small girls was given a bright colored piece
of calico, two yards in length, to be used in making quilts. Imagine
the thrill of a nine year old over a piece of calico. I never found
use for mine, and still have several pieces among my souvenirs.
After all this was over we could go out to play. Grandmother passed
out cookies; nice fat ones with a raisin in the middle, some cut
out in the shape of stars or birds. The big girls helped set the
tables and the aunties got the dinner, which was served promptly
at noon. There were a healthy lot of men and women around that first
table and the plain food was enjoyed. By the time we were called
to dinner, in spite of all the apples, cookies and walnuts, we were
ready to eat what was put before us.
Sometimes the old minister, Rev Carl Roose, who lived alone, was
invited for the day. Once I remember he asked us all if we were
good girls and boys. Some meekly said yes, they were, but when it
came to my sister Hannah, it was too much for her, and she said,
"Not always, just sometimes." That was chance for a sermonette
on always being good. For a time it looked as if she might not get
her candy after all, but I think mother defended the child, saying
she was glad she told the truth.
Another time the Doctor, who didn't like women, came in and when
he saw the group sitting around, each holding one of her offspring,
he said "Well I suppose each one of you thinks you have the
prettiest child." Dear old Grandmother said, "No Doctor,
not the prettiest, but the dearest."
Before we went home all met in the largest room and Grandfather
took down his family Bible and read the beautiful chapter, "There
were in the same country shepherds abiding in the fields,"
ect. He told of the love, peace and good will the Christ Child came
to bring, and that's why we are happy on that day.
The day was spent and we went home, perhaps some of us went to
sleep on the way. But we were happy and eagerly looked forward to
the long time till another Christmas came. We didn't seem to care
how little we had; it was just one happy day with the cousins. Once
when there forty grandchildren there, Grandmother said, "Well
children, I was glad to have you come, but I'm glad too, that you
all have your mothers to go home with." What would she and
Grandfather say if they saw the Christmas lights on our streets,
the bright trees with all the modern tinsel, could hear the radio
send out on the air, "Stille Nacht, Heilige Nacht?"
I am glad I had the opportunity of taking my parents on their
one visit to Philadelphia on a sight seeing trip and through Wanamakers's
just before Christmas. They could hardly believe anything could
be so wonderful. Have children lost something of the thrill we had?
Or does it take more for them? My young granddaughter, aged nine,
calmly looking over her gifts, perhaps more than we had all together,
said, "I still think there must be a Santa Claus, for daddy
and mother wouldn't put our so much money on us." Money seems
to have entered into the Christmas Spirit.
Our parents didn't know about the "budget". That was
a new word to them. Nor had they heard of the installment plan or
"buy now and pay next year."
I'm glad I lived to know that kind of a Christmas, but am more
thankful for the better things of now, which perhaps, we enjoy more
because we didn't have them then.
The ten children of Jacob and Regina Heim, who with their families
celebrated Christmas as described in this article, were:
Gottlieb and Sarah Marvin Heim
Frederick and Dorothy Heim Shafer
Jacob Jr. and Mary Shafer Heim
John J. and Rosina Heim Heim
Chritian D. and Elizabeth Gross Heim
John (Johnnie) and Margaret Heim Heim
John B. and Regina Heim Waltz
Joseph and Catherine Waltz Heim
Simon and Christina Heim Waltz
Samuel and Mary Heim Shafer