Christmas in Early Heilwood

Hand-made Christmas skis

Hand-made Christmas skis

The wages in the coal mines in the early part of the 20th century did not permit many extras beyond the payment of the company store bill and the monthly house rent.  Little if anything was left to the family for gifts for the children at Christmas time.  Possibly sensing this, the mother and father made the Christmas holiday a time of family, food, and church.

The father quite possibly would make gifts for family members.  It might be a simple whistle, a carved animal or something as elaborate as skis. (see photo)  In talking to a resident of the Heilwood area, she mentioned that on Christmas morning she might find a stocking with some nuts, a piece of fruit and a single nickle.  She said that “I was darn lucky to get it”.  It should be mentioned that few if any miner’s families had a Christmas tree in the house and in some cases, the day just past as any other-nothing special.

The mother would prepare the food for the day’s meals.  It might be a simple chicken, a woodlands animal or possibly the family goose.  The meal would be supplemented by various canned vegetables from the family garden that had been put up the previous fall.  Sometimes, even a simple dessert like honey cookies would brighten the table for all to enjoy.

It was a practice of the coal company that the children of the miners would all be given a treat for the Christmas holiday.  Each miner’s child would receive a small box of assorted candy and a piece of fruit-in many cases, an orange.  In an interview with a long time resident of Heilwood, he recalled that small box of candy and referred to it as a ‘suitcase’ since it was rectangular in size and had a woven handle with which to carry it-much like a suitcase.  Another resident, although not a miner’s child, remembers somehow receiving the same treat as the other children and eating the entire orange-skins and all-such a treat that nothing would be wasted.

Another important part of the holidays that many families participated in was to attend midnight mass at the local Catholic Church or attending services at the Presbyterian Church.