Memories of Christmas concerts in one-room schools

 In Opinion

Miss Polly had a dolly who was sick, sick, sick,

And she called for the doctor to come quick, quick, quick.

The doctor came with his bag and his hat

And he knocked on the door with a rata-tat-tat.

He looked at the dolly and he shook his head.

He said, “Miss Polly, put her right to bed.”

He wrote on the paper for a pill, pill, pill.

“I’ll be back in the morning with the bill, bill, bill.”

The scene takes place in a one- room country school. On stage are the Grades 1-2 reciting the old nursery rhyme. Beatrice from Grade 1 is Miss Polly. Leo from Grade 2 is the doctor. Behind the scene is Miss Emmett, now transformed into your author.

Christmas concerts in one-room schools happened by the thousands across Canada in the rural areas.

The children looked forward to them.

The teachers were in a flurry to find something original or perhaps to repeat an old favourite.

The school board members brought in a temporary stage, a wire was strung across the room for curtains of sheets. The teacher was responsible for finding Santa Claus, no easy task. The evening is best summed up in the history of Bayview School written byMrs. F. Giffen, and found in the book, Has the Bell Rung Yet?

“The Christmas Concert was a night of delightful excitement. The school room became a world of beauty under the magic touch of Christmas. Towards this event all school life moved and its approach was attended by a deepening excitement by the children and parents alike. The children came in their best Sunday clothes. The sleighs were driven up to the school with a jingle of bells and the school room was packed.”

Christmas concerts were everywhere in December. The Sunday Schools in all four Creemore churches had one. I speak only forthe Baptist Sunday School which I attended. No doubt all were similar. Unlike in the public schools there was little time for practising, given the school was only for one hour a week. Among the young children the usual practice was to give each child a verse to memorize and recite. Most little ones were very shy and had soft voices but when they performed everyone received enthusiastic applause.

The highlight of the evening was the manger scene accompanied by the reading of the Christmas Story and the old favourite Christmas carols.

One play my Sunday School teacher, Mrs. Fraser, liked the older girls to act out was from the book, Little Women. It is about generosity amid poverty.

At the end of the concert suddenly Santa Claus burst through the front doors. He happily gave gifts to all the children. Though it may seem hard to believe now the added gift of a bag containing an orange and some candies and nuts was a great treasure.

Meanwhile, at the public school on Caroline Street the daily schedule of classes was thrown to the wind. Time was spent practising choir pieces, plays, recitations and little vignettes. I had no musical talent and no flair for acting so my experiences on the stage were limited to taking part in the choirs. At first, the concerts were held in the school, then moved to the Orange Hall on Edward Street, now a residence, and about 1939 to the Town Hall on Mill Street. This hall has been renovated into store fronts.

My most outstanding memory of those concerts was how we were marched from the school to the hall for the final rehearsal. We sat on wooden chairs. Being normal children we found it hard to sit still. The wooden chairs scraped the floor causing harried teachers to give us many warnings.

Somehow all was practised and the great night finally came. What a thrill it was to stand on the stage behind the dark brown velvet curtains and when they opened there was the crowd in front of us that seemed to go on forever.

Suddenly the concert was over, the hall cleared out and we went home to bed. It was time to get ready for the really important day: Christmas itself.

Helen Blackburn is a retired teacher, avid gardener and a long- time contributor to The Creemore Echo. She writes about local history.

Photo: Madills School Christmas Concert 1957: Allan Taylor, Joan Campbell, John Chipchase, Herb Campbell, Lola Taylor, Ruth Chipchase, Mary McCann, Elva Weatherall, Esther Taylor and Paula du Maresq (not shown).

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