Above, Emily DeForest used the antique baby Jesus, a celluloid bird and other unusual ornaments she found in her parents' home to decorate her first Christmas tree in Alaska.
A few years ago, members of the Kenai Historical Society took turns telling about their first Christmas in Alaska. Excerpts from some of the stories follow.
Emily DeForest, along with her husband, an elderly sister and two grandsons cut a tree from the woods and decorated it with unusual ornaments Emily had found in her parents' home. Some appeared to be made of corn cobs, some of old-fashioned celluloid.
"I cherish them," Emily said, "and I still have most of them."
Terasa Catrone and her husband were living in cramped quarters at Elmendorf in 1952 when just the two of them celebrated their first Christmas in Alaska.
"I didn't have room for a tree," she said, "So I hung tinsel around the corner and lights, and pretended it was our Christmas tree."
How do you make a Christmas tree sparkle if you don't have electricity? Betty Idleman's mother had the answer. She sent a set of little bells to tie to the branches of their two-foot tree. That was in 1956, the Idleman's first year on the homestead. Betty added a few construction paper stars to the tree and that was about it.
"I still have all but two of the bells," she said.
Kari Mohn and her husband, Jerry Hanson, bought an unfinished log house in 1968 that was perched on log pilings, not level, windows covered with Visqueen, no ceiling just a roof and insulation. They bought a bed from Dr. Pete Hansen and his wife, Karolee for $25 and borrowed a card table from Beth Wyskill. They decided to invite a serviceman from Wildwood Air Force Base to share that first Christmas dinner in Alaska with them. They used Beth's card table and three folding chairs from the Methodist church and, according to Kari, "The three of us had a grand time."
Betty Paynter solved the no furniture problem at her newly purchased house in Petersburg by setting boxes and quilts on the floor for a Christmas party. All her forest service friends and others she had invited "had a great time because hardly any of them had homes of their own and it was the first Christmas in Alaska for many of them."
Virginia Poore came to Anchorage in 1951 and spent her first Christmas in a 12 by 16-foot cabin that had outside facilities. She set up a tiny tree on a chest in the cabin. She also received a little paper angel her cousin had sent in a card.
"I've saved that angel all these years," she said.
Joanna Hollier's first Alaska Christmas in 1945 was a lonely one. She was 20, had a good job with the CAA, had a big house and made good money but she was getting absolutely no mail from her family and friends from home. She cut a little tree from the woods and had nothing to put under it so she bought a box of stationery to make sure she would have a least one present under the tree. She found out later that folks back home didn't know about using airmail stamps.
"There was three-cent stamps and eight-cent stamps," she said. "Old farmers in Wisconsin would never spend 8 cents on a stamp. Come January, I got more cards and presents than would fit into a bathtub."
This article was written by Mary Ford with the Kenai Historical Society.
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