Growing up, Christmas was always my favorite holiday. It’s not a total shock, right? Most small children love Christmas because of that feeling of waking up on Christmas morning to see if Santa ate the cookies they left out and to see the gifts that he dropped off under the tree.
Christmas a little different for me, though. The days leading up to Christmas, my parents and I headed to Hobgood, NC to my grandparents’ farm to see Santa Claus. This Santa took children and adults alike on a sleigh ride pulled by a John Deere tractor around the farm singing Jingle Bells and looking at all the Christmas decorations strategically placed on this sweet little farm path.
My tough cotton and tobacco farming grandfather, Arthur Davis, began dressing up as Santa and hosting a Christmas Open House at their farm house in Hobgood. He turned down offers at local department stores to be their Santa because he loved being able to host at the farm. It was something different and he loved showing off the new additions from the previous year’s decorations. Every year, the decorations got a little bit bigger and he started decorating earlier and earlier. One of my favorite memories of helping decorate was when we would set up the Nativity scene. We spent hours getting the scene set just right, and hanging the North Star in the tree was always the most time consuming one. He wanted it to be just perfect and devoted tireless time and energy to ensure that.
Every room in their house had a different theme, including a room decorated with teddy bears, which was always a crowd favorite. While some rooms had trendy decorations with modern displays of singing toys, my grandmother kept the living room decorated classic with a white Christmas tree with white crocheted ornaments that was definitely a showpiece. She also set the best Christmas village scene. My grandmother would diligently arrange the village and would make it so the scene told a story. She would buy gorgeous light-up houses and decorative pieces from Josey Brothers in Scotland Neck, and I used to love attending the Holiday Open House to help pick out the decorations.
It was a huge process of cleaning, decorating, making sure the flow of the decorations was correct inside and out, and electrical taping cords on favorite holiday decorations. I loved being able to bring friends to visit Santa Claus at the farm. I mean, just think about it. Santa made a special trip to my grandparents’ house for three whole days leading up to Christmas Eve. It was quite the honor, and my neighborhood friends all got to see it and loved being able to tell Santa what they wanted while taking a ride around the farm.
Another favorite memory of mine from these Santa Claus visits to Hobgood was the fudge that my grandmother would make. She would have an assortment of snacks and punch, but I always snuck extra fudge. It was a treat that I only got once a year during that time, and it became something else I’d look forward to on our visit. I’ve included the recipe at the bottom of this article if you need something to take a holiday party this year.
My grandfather also dressed as Santa Claus in the Scotland Neck Christmas parade for years, and when I was in elementary school, I joined in by riding Champ, the resident pony on their farm, with a covered wagon he built specifically for the parade. It was such a fun thing that we did together and these are fond memories that I cherish about my grandparents now.
The joy that my grandparents had in sharing their love of Christmas and the generosity they expressed by opening up their home to friends, didn’t end there. Strangers would stop to participate and would leave as friends. And then, they’d come back the next year, with their friends in tow. It was such a unique scene: a tractor driven sleigh full of snow and bells all right in the middle of the country. My grandparents loved entertaining for the community in this way, and my grandfather was smitten with children’s excitement over Santa Claus.
One of my most treasured gifts from my grandparents was a vintage village scene of snow covered houses. At my grandparents’ house, it was positioned in the living room, on a mirror because nothing was left undecorated. I used it in my dorm and apartment in college, and now it’s the first decoration I put out. In our first house, it went in our window sill in the kitchen and in this house, it goes on the table in our foyer. It’s my favorite decoration, and the electrical tape on the cord always gives me a chuckle when I think back to days of helping my grandfather decorate outside on the weekends leading up to the open house.
The joy that my grandfather had was evident when he would wave to the road when cars would ride past and honk. The look of pride and satisfaction that my grandparents had when the house was finally finished decorating. But the sheer joy that I had when I got to ride around the farm with him, enjoying time with him doing what he loved. These are some of the things I look back on fondly when I think of what Christmas means to my family and me.
Here is the recipe my grandmother used for her fudge:
The key when she made it, she used an 11 x 16 in baking pan to make it thinner than what the recipe called for:
3 cups sugar
1/4 stick margarine
1 cup evaporated milk
1 (12 oz) pkg semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 (7 oz) jar marshmallow creme (Kraft)
1 cup chopped nuts (optional) (she would use pecans)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Pinch of salt
Mix sugar, evaporated milk, and margarine together and cook until the mixture comes to a boil, stirring frequently. Boil for 5 minutes, stirring constantly. (She would spoon a drop of mixture into a cup of water and if it formed a little ball, the mixture was ready) Remove from heat, and stir in chocolate chips and marshmallow creme until blended.
Pour mixture into a greased 11 x 16 in pan. Allow to cool, and cut into squares.
This article first appeared in Eastern Living November/December 2016 Edition.