Why were the Parlor Doors Closed?

Christmas 1953, Me and the tree

When I was a child Christmas Eve was always pretty exciting because that was when the tree went up in the front room. After it was decorated, we got ready for church. Then some ruse was created by my parents. Usually we would all be going out to the car and my Mother would have to run back in for something she forgot. That’s when she would quickly put the packages under the tree.  Of course, later when we came home from church, we thought Santa had come! What a miracle! We were completely fooled and even to this day I had to ask my mother when and how she managed to get those presents under the tree.

Look what we got! 1955

Christmas 1955, Get that coat off and have at those packages!!

This tradition of putting up the tree on Christmas Eve goes back to my German heritage and my Mother’s experience at her house when she was a child. Her father (my grandfather) died when she was five. Because there was little money back then, she, her brother and her mother had to move into her Grandmother’s house (my Great Grandmother). A bachelor uncle, Henry, also lived there. These were stern old Germans. There are few smiles in the pictures I’ve seen of them.

Great Grandma, 1940

Overall it was a very strict household but at Christmas they “lightened up” a little bit. The kids hung their stockings and always got an orange or an apple and a package down in the toe which every year was a foot from the goose they were having later for dinner. My mother said she got fooled by that foot every year, probably hoping that maybe one time it would be a nice present.

Now before I continue this story I have to describe the house. Rooms with nine foot ceilings were laid out in a row starting in the back with the kitchen which led into the formal dining room followed by the parlor, or sitting room. The bedrooms were upstairs. The dining room and the parlor were separated by large wooden sliding doors which were hidden in the door frame. These doors were always open except on the morning of Christmas Eve.  My Mother remembers they already were mysteriously closed by the time she came down for breakfast. She told me her little brother would try to peek through the cracks but those doors were darn solid.  All day they remained tightly closed.  In the evening everyone dressed in their best for church and left the house by the back door in the kitchen.

Uncle Henry, 1927

Upon returning from church the doors were miraculously open, the tree was up and decorated. One or two presents for each member of the family were under the tree. A miracle created by the adults in the family, probably Uncle Henry, coming in the front door with tree and ornaments and gifts during the day.

Great Grandma in parlor, 1937

I don’t have a parlor much less magic sliding doors but I still hold to the tradition of putting up my tree on Christmas Eve. Sometimes the tree comes into the house the night before to warm up but it is always decorated on Christmas Eve and the presents are put beneath. Then, just like in my Mother’s house, we all go to church and return later to open our gifts, many more than my Great Grandmother would probably have approved of.

I guess we could wrap up the goose feet for her.

My tree, naked.

My tree, w/lights

My tree, w/decorations

My tree, w/presents


7 thoughts on “Why were the Parlor Doors Closed?

  1. Hi Jeanne:

    I’m about 3/4 German heritage as well…lots of stern-looking people in my family history! Strong stock though! Enjoyed your photos!

    I hope you’re having a wonderful Christmas Day!


  2. Wow, what precious memories. I like the tradition of putting the tree up on Christmas Eve—so many people now start decorating around Thanksgiving, and by Christmas Eve, they are getting tired of it. The imagery of the “magic” doors is so beautiful. I enjoyed the photos of you…isn’t it great to be able to scan old photos and post them so they can be appreciated even more?

  3. I loved this story! I haven’t heard anyone use the word “parlor” since my Grandmother was around. You really took me back .. back to a time when we got an orange, some nuts in the shell, and maybe a candy cane in our stockings. My Grandmother’s house had one of those heavy “hidden” doors you wrote of. Love the idea of putting up the tree on Christmas eve .. magical. Cheers for the season!

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