Writing Comprehension Test for 8th Form Students “An Old Time Iowa Christmas” by Paul Engle Every Christmas should begin with the sound of bells! Mine always did, when I was a boy in Iowa. I am an old man now. But I still remember the sound of the bells in the cold morning. They were the sleigh bells on my father’s horses. Early each Christmas morning, Father drove the sleigh up to the front door. Mother came out, with a big Christmas basket on her arm. She climbed up onto the front seat beside Father. We children climbed into the back of the sleigh. The floor of the sleigh was covered with straw. We had a buffalo robe to keep us warm Father clucked at the horses and off we went! we were on our way to Grandfather’s farm, ten miles away The horses broke into a trot. The sleigh flew over the snow. The faster the sleigh went, the louder the bells rang. We children pulled the buffalo robe up to our chins. Under us, the straw made a soft bed. Riding in the sleigh was like sliding over silk. When we came near the farm, Father stood up in the sleigh and cracked the whip. He wanted the folks on the farm to hear us coming. Faster and faster went the horses. Lauder and lauder rand the sleigh bells. “Whoa! Whoa!” Father suddenly yelled. The horses came to a stop at the door of farmhouse. Everyone came running from the house – aunts and uncles and cousins. There was laughing and talking. Dogs barked. The horses snorted and pranced. The air rang with shouts and laughter. At last the women went into the house. But I went with the men to the barn. While they waited for the horses to cool off, the men talked. I liked the smell of the horses and the hay. A barn is a good place to be at Christmas. It makes you remember what Christmas is all about. After a while, we men went to the house. The good smell of Christmas dinner was everywhere. The women were talking and laughing in the warm kitchen. Their faces were red from the heat of the stove. In a corner near the big kitchen stood the tall Christmas tree. On it were real candles, paper stars and balls. There were popcorn strings and homemade candy. The gifts were homemade too. There were socks and ties and lace collars – and even dolls made of corn husks! My job on Christmas Day was to feed the big black kichen stove. Its name was “Smoke Eater”. But what it really ate was wood – lots of wood! I had to make many trips to the woodpile out behind the house. At last dinner was ready. The grownups ate at the big kitchen table. We children had a small table all our own. There was roast goose, with all the trimmings. There was warm bread, just out of oven. There were three kinds of pie – apple, pumpkin and mince. After dinner, we children dragged out our sleds. For hours, we slid down the long hills. It seemed that we could slide on and on, right into the sunset. At last it was time to go home. But first we all sang a song around the tree. Then we children jumped into the sleigh and pulled the buffalo robe up around us. Above us we could see the stars coming out. The horses broke into a trot. And Christmas ended the way it began: with the ringing of bells. Many families have certain customs that they observe. They often have special foods they eat or specific traditions for special days. - Do you think it is important for families to have their own customs? - Does your family have any special activities they do on holidays or birthdays? - What traditions or customs of Ukraine do you especially like?