Mennonite Heritage Village

Of Christmas Past (Part One)

Village News (December 13, 2018)

By Barry Dyck & Rebecca Kornelson


Christmas stories that take us back in time have a unique appeal. Today’s column is a two-part story written by Rebecca Kornelson for The Carillon’s annual Christmas story writing contest in a previous year. It is republished here with permission from The Carillon and Rebecca Kornelson.


Of Christmas Past (Part One)

Steinbach’s First Store

The winter winds of 1885 blew cold over the Manitoba prairie, Klass Reimer hurried into his little store on Main Street situated just east of the present corner of Reimer and Main Streets in Steinbach. This was Steinbach’s first store.

It was a morning near Christmas and the fire in the store needed to be built up for the day. Busy housewives would be arriving to buy sugar, flour, molasses, raisins, and other essentials for Christmas baking.

Maria looked at the fabric that had just been brought in by sleigh from Winnipeg. It would be nice to make an apron for each of the girls for Christmas. For her sons she had been busy knitting socks. Her youngest son, twelve years old, would love the pocketknife she spied in the glass case. Another two customers came in and Klass whistled for help to his wife through the message pipe that connected to their house. Greta sent a daughter to help.

English farmer Mooney came from Clearspring area. His list had razors (for shaving), molasses, salt, nuts, and a bag of candy for the children for Christmas, and something pretty for his wife. Ah, yes, a new handkerchief would be just the thing.  Anna’s mother sent her to get some Wonder Oil for Jakob’s toothache and some ‘burstremp’ for Dad – the large size. She had coins tied into her handkerchief to pay for the goods. She unwrapped the coins and looked at them and saw the picture of Queen Victoria. Queen Victoria was the special person who had allowed the Mennonites to come and make a new life in Canada. Anna handed the money to Klass and he handed her a letter that had come in the mail. It was from some cousins in Russia, their old home.

Christmas was celebrated simply. A few old songs telling Christ’s birth would be sung in church. Some family would gather together if they were able and eat whatever bounty the farm would provide – perhaps only fried potatoes, fried ham, ‘pluma mousse’, bread and some cookies. Few gifts would be exchanged.  Klass Reimer’s store made a few more items available for the people of this new community.

Joy of the Thirties

October 30, 1931 John C. Reimer, grandson of Klass Reimer, stepped into his school classroom in Blumenort. It was a chilly autumn morning, so he had come early enough to light a fire in the stove. Today was his 37th birthday. He wondered what the day would bring.

A teacher in charge of eight grades needed to be a bit of an acrobat. Perhaps it was time to begin practicing for the Christmas program. He would need to find a ‘Wunch’ for each child to recite. He checked his bookshelf for his Christmas books. He might have to write some simpler lines for the youngest pupils and some to send home for the preschoolers who were also a part of the school program each year. Son, Almon, was eight years old this year – just the age when young boys get very excited about Christmas events. It was a pleasure for John C. to have his sons Enoch, Almon, and Ruben in his classroom, but they had to toe the line like the other pupils. No favorites with John. C.! Closer to Christmas he would put all the boys to work cutting evergreen boughs and decorating the school with them. The girls would make lovely paper chains and decorations.

The last day of school had arrived. It was with great excitement that everyone seated themselves on the benches made of planks of wood. It was an afternoon program because the families had farm chores to do in the evening. Outside it was snowing softly, giving a hushed Christmasy feeling. The songs were sung well and the poems recited – some confidently and some apprehensively.

“Once a little baby lay,

Cradled in the fragrant hay.

Long ago on Christmas.

In the manger he was found,

And the white sheep stood around,

Long ago on Christmas.”

Each child received a red or green cheesecloth ‘tootje’ full of goodies. John C.’s wife, Maria, had busily sewed these before Christmas. As John C. closed the door behind him when the program was over, he smiled. He was pleased with how the children had performed.

Christmas Eve Almon and his brothers were eager to bring in a lot of firewood, feed the chickens, and do other chores. Then they set out plates with a name tag in it. It was difficult to fall asleep that night and they were up as early as allowed the next morning. Besides candy, peanuts and an orange they found a toy on their plate – one an airplane, one a tractor, and one a pocketknife. A teacher’s wage didn’t go far in those days.

Christmas afternoon the lively horse Frank was hitched to the sleigh and off they went to visit the grandparents. They had a lovely day of feasting and visiting. After reading the Bible, singing some songs, and saying a ‘wunch’ the children each got a small gift. Christmas was a joyful time.

Calendar of Events

*MHV Off-Season Hours: Tuesday-Saturday, 9:00 AM-5:00 PM*

December 20, Accents Concert – 7:30 PM

December 23 to January 5: Closed for Christmas and New Year’s