Cherished Christmas Memories Of “Bell Snickling”

Pry Family Quilt

By Keedysville Resident, Charles Mahone

Time was when “bell snickling” was a happy tradition at Christmas. All the young boys who worked and lived on farms participated in their own neighborhood or community.

Between Christmas and New Year’s Day, the young men and boys would dress in their costumes and go from farm to farm. The guessing of names would start. If the people could guess who you were, you were supposed to be eliminated and receive no food.

I never knew anyone to be turned down; losers were fed the same as the others. There was always plenty of homemade cakes, cookies, and yes, homemade candy and ice cream. Those days people made all their own goodies.

After eating and singing carols around the old pump organ, we would head for another farm for more food and fun. Three farms were about all you could visit in one evening. Then you would have to fast all the next day to be ready for another evening of food and fun.

Once it snowed all day, and that night we borrowed a sleigh. Very few roads were plowed at that time back in the late twenties.

What a lasting memory riding over the roads in a sleigh with the bells jingling, snow falling, and the North wind stinging your face.

Time has passed along with these old traditions never to be revived again. The young people today will never be able to enjoy the old and true spirit of Christmas as we did. “You always had that fear of where the next meal was coming from. That was one of the reasons I went to the farm.”

It was the Great Depression of the early 1930s that brought teenager Charles Mahone to the Grover Sprecher farm along the Sharpsburg Pike. (Sprecher, who died in 1972, was the father-in-law of Waldo Arnett who operated Arnett’s Garage.)  

His father Alfonzo was unemployed at the time and Mahone realized that “I was one less mouth to feed; that’s the cold hard facts, but that’s the way it was.”

The Depression, however, failed to ruin the family tradition of celebrating Christmas. For Mahone, Christmas was observed at home. “You didn’t get much, but you always had plenty to eat. Some of us managed to get a little candy, and you always went to Sunday School (Grace United Methodist Church in Hagerstown’s West End) on the Sunday before Christmas.

“They’d always give candy and an orange. I always looked forward to that. You know, kids don’t bother about that now, but that little box of candy was a big item!

“You know, that was something, going through that Depression. I guess everybody that went through it was glad they got to experience it, but it was rough! You can look back and see how hard a time you had and how much nicer it is now!”

“Bell snickling” provided a positive memory. “I was young at that time with an enormous appetite; all of us looked forward to it!”

Photo courtesy Phil Haynes

“In Retrospect” is courtesy of the Maryland Cracker Barrel magazine, the “Sentinel of Washington County’s Heritage.” Since June 1971, the quarterly publication has focused on local history and may be purchased at any of the more than 30 sites in Maryland and Pennsylvania or by subscription. Subscriptions ($17 annually) may be obtained by calling 301-582-3885 or writing to: Maryland Cracker Barrel, 7749 Fairplay Road, Boonsboro, MD 21713.

Hagerstown Magazine