A Neifert Christmas

My mother’s parents were Emerson C. Neifert (1899-1990) and Mary Irene Weaver (1898-1967). They lived in Tamaqua, Pennsylvania, in the Elwood Apartments, a building built in the early 1900s by my grandmother’s father Edward Elwood Weaver (1870-1929), who was a builder, contractor, and lumber dealer. Edward died when he was only 60; Emerson and Irene, with their only daughter Lois, lived with his widow Mary Trewren (1871-1948) until her death in the house Edward built on East Broad Street.

That house was a large Queen Anne-style Victorian. My mother’s recollection of Christmas there was that after Thanksgiving the pocket doors of the music room that housed my great-grandmother’s grand piano, were closed until Christmas, when the tree and its Christmas yard were unveiled. (Mom always enjoyed not having to practice the piano during this period.) I don’t know what the Weavers’ Christmas tree looked like. I suspect it was trimmed with German-style glass ornaments like this one that still survives on my tree, possibly candles (though the Weavers were terribly up to date and could well have had electric tree lights), and paper or popcorn garlands.

My mother (soprano), my grandmother (mezzo-soprano and organ), and my great-grandmother (alto and organ) were all involved in the choir of the Tamaqua Methodist church, which meant that they provided music for the Christmas Eve and Christmas morning services. After services they enjoyed Christmas dinner.

My first Christmas, with my father serving in Korea, was spent at my Neifert grandparents’ apartment in Tamaqua. They had Christmas trees that I remember as little, fat ones, trimmed with glass ornaments, bubbly lights, and tinsel. As you can see from the 1951 photos at the top of this post, there was also a cardboard tree into which Christmas cards were stuck, and a crepe paper fireplace that was draped over one of the steam radiators. I don’t know how Santa managed to get into that fireplace using radiator pipes instead of a chimney, but he did.

My grandmother served turkey with Pennsylvania Dutch-style bread and potato stuffing that was referred to as “dressing” or “filling.” There were also Christmas cookies. One of the favorites has always been cutout cookies. We have a large collection of cookie cutters, including the tin ones below, made by my great-grandfather Edward Weaver. My great-grandmother Mary Trewren’s cutout cookie recipe, in my mother’s writing, is also here. The dough is very rich and sticky and must be rolled very thin, between an eighth and a sixteenth of an inch. The cookies should be thin, crisp, and lightly browned on the edges.