A Story and a Recipe

By Dorothy Johnson


I have spoken to some of our senior citizens and asked them about Christmases past and what they remember. No matter what kind of family they had, rich or poor, big or small, each of them could remember something that had stuck with them through the years.  One farm family had a large dairy farm and no money.  Their big day consisted of stockings for all five kids.  The stockings were filled with oranges, apples, nuts, some Christmas candy and a pair of mittens.  Kids today would be disappointed with this kind of present, but for these kids this was a big treat.  Another treat they remembered was to take a ride and have their Dad stop at a store and buy two candy bars, which he divided into seven pieces. Everyone in the car received one piece of the candy bars. These family members, in spite of their lack of available funds, had their eyes on their goals.  Everyone of these kids earned a college degree.

My aunts and mother talked about stringing popcorn and cranberries for the tree and decorating with bows and tiny bells.  My mother told me they actually put lighted candles on the tree.  These were not the electrical lights we have today, but candles with flames on them. My grandmother was scared of fire so she must have wanted a glowing tree for her to let this happen.

Ninety- year- old Alice remembers the food her family had available on Christmas Day.  Turkey was out of the question because it was too expensive, but one of the boys would kill the pet rooster and that would be the meal along with the vegetables left from the garden: potatoes, turnip, squash and pickled beets. Dessert was dried apple pies. This meal, not opening presents, was the centerpiece of their Christmas. Alice remembers, “Presents were few.  The boys would each get a pair of wool stockings to wear in their big rubber boots.  Gramma usually knit the socks because my mother never learned to do the heels. The girls would receive one homemade skirt or dress.  Mama knew how to sew so she usually found time to make each of us a new dress for church or school. One year I had no coat so Mama took an old coat of Gramma’s and cut it down so I could have a short, warm jacket and Gramma could also have a short, warm jacket.  I was so happy to have a jacket just like Gramma’s.

Lester remembered the year he learned to whittle and he was able to make a toy for his brothers and sisters. “I learned to whittle from my Dad when he was unable to go to work in the woods.  He showed me how to find just the right piece of wood and how to make rough lines for the form of what I was doing.  I did not do anything too elaborate, but I made Phil a whistle, Tommy a small dog, Joyce and Rena both got birds.  I was not talented enough to determine what kinds of birds they were, but the girls liked them anyway. My Dad had been working while I was doing chores, and he made me a yo-yo that really worked.  I still have that yo-yo somewhere today.”

These Christmases were nothing like the Christmases that the kids have today.  Most of my friends’ kids have more electronics than the Best Buy stores. The kids are inundated with television advertising and are asking for Legos, the Incredible Hulk, Hello, Kitty brand toys and remote-control cars, trucks and airplanes. The school kids are requesting real snowmobiles and four-wheelers, computers and Kindles.

When the kids in Ma’s family wanted skis, they took an old barrel apart and used the barrel staves with some sort of hand-made lacings. Their first sled was an old toboggan that her father used to haul baskets of clams off the flats to have a little actual cash.  Still, they made it work.

The senior citizens I interviewed did not have any complaints about their Christmases past.  They admit that their families did not have much, but they had no complaints about what they had.  Perhaps in days of old, the kids had a better idea of how hard things were and they appreciated what little they received.  Of course, they were not overwhelmed with the commercialism that kids today are subjected to. They did not have to want what the kid next door received because that kid’s family did not have anything either. Maybe the senior citizens just have selective amnesia.

As we watch the Christmas specials, let us remember that for many kids their Christmases are not all happy with happy endings. Many kids have to figure out how much time they get with Mom on Christmas Eve and when they have to leave their presents and go to Dad’s house. If we can all share the Christmas spirit as it was on the first Christmas, without million dollar ads and big holiday bowl games, perhaps we would get through the holidays without the headaches, depressions and disappointments.


This week’s recipe is for a quick and easy lasagna to have for company or family gatherings. I chose this recipe because it can be made a day ahead and popped in the oven just before serving to avoid the last minute rush. Using premade spaghetti sauce and noodles that are not pre-boiled make preparation especially fast. This recipe, No- Fuss Lasagna, was found in a Taste of Home family Favorites Book.

No-Fuss Lasagna



One and a half pounds lean ground beef, One can (12 ounces) tomato paste

Three cups water, Two packages (one and a half ounces each) spaghetti sauce mix

One tablespoon sugar, Four tablespoons dried parsley flakes

One-half teaspoon salt (optional), One-half teaspoon garlic powder

One-fourth teaspoon pepper, Two eggs, eaten

One carton (16 ounces) dry cottage cheese

Two cups (8 ounces) shredded cheddar cheese, divided

Two cps (8 ounces) shredded mozzarella cheese, divided

One package (16 ounces) lasagna noodles, uncooked

Method: In a large saucepan, brown ground beef; drain. Add tomato paste, water, spaghetti sauce mix, sugar, parsley, salt, garlic powder and pepper.

Simmer, partially covered, for 20 minutes. Stir occasionally. In a bowl, combine eggs with cottage cheese, half the cheddar cheese and half the mozzarella. Set aside. Spoon one-third of the meat sauce into a 13-in. by 9-in. by 2 in. baking pan.

 Place half of the uncooked noodles over sauce. Top with one-third of meat sauce and press down. Spoon cottage cheese mixture over all. Cover with remaining noodles and meat sauce.

Cover and refrigerate overnight.

Bake, covered, at 350 degrees for one hour. 

Uncover; sprinkle with remaining cheddar and mozzarella cheeses.

Bake an additional 15 minutes.


Let stand 10 minutes before cutting.  Yield: 8 servings.