Two centuries of Christmas


In 1817, the County was still new and settlers came to make their homes in this new land, attracted to the many rivers and fertile soil. Towns were platted, and homes constructed. Christmas was celebrated by cutting a tree from the woods and decorating with pine cones and berries.

Gifts were hand-made, since there were few stores. A scarf and mittens were welcome gifts along with toys carved from wood. The fireplace might have a yule log and candles or lanterns would provide some light in the evenings.

No doubt, the stories of Christmas would have been told again and again by the parents, so that the children would know the true meaning of the Christmas season.

Perhaps the family would gather round the fire to have the Christmas story read from the Bible, and maybe they would have known a few Christmas carols, some of which are still popular today such as “O, Come All Ye Faithful” and “While Shepherds Watched their Flocks.” Church services would have most likely been held in a neighbor’s home.

One hundred years later in 1917, scarves and mittens were still welcome gifts, but now there were stores where other merchandise could be purchased. Toy trucks and fire engines pulled by horses were made of iron and dolls had china heads with the hair and features painted on their faces. Cloth bodies would have been dressed in the costumes of the day. Sleds and ice skates were a joy for children who loved to play outdoors. A nearby pond would have been watched daily to determine when it would be safe to try out the new skates.

Rail transportation was common along with the interurban which transported residents from one town to another. Some families owned automobiles, but most still drove a horse and buggy. Cars were rare and very expensive costing as much as $400. The Christmas tree might have been purchased from a neighborhood lot, rather than going into the woods to find the best tree.

Christmas cards were becoming a popular method of keeping in touch with those who lived far away.

Father’s new suit would have been made by a tailor, and mother’s hat certainly came from the selection at the millinery store. Mother might have made her own dresses, or had a dressmaker designed her attire. Union suits might have made a wonderful Christmas gift since central heating was not the norm.

The Christmas tree would have been brought into the house and placed in a container of water to keep it as fresh as possible. Hand-blown glass ornaments would have been placed on the tree along with tiny candles and children enjoyed stringing popcorn and berries to decorate the tree. On Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, the candles would be lit for a short period of time to enjoy.

Children would gather around to hear the Christmas story read as had been done for many generations. Carols would be sung and carolers might appear at your door singing favorite songs such as “Silent Night” or “Hark the Herald Angles Sing”.

By 1957, television had come into most homes and Santa had added another reindeer to pull his sleigh, “Rudolph, The Red Nosed Reindeer.”

Artificial Christmas trees were becoming more popular. Electric lights for the tree were usually arranged in several colors. When one bulb burned out, the entire strand would go out, and the search for the errant bulb began by replacing the bulbs one by one until the entire strand was once again lit. Some artificial trees were white as well as the traditional green. Aluminum trees had to be assembled and could not have electric lights. The glow was from a special lamp which provided colors bouncing off the aluminum limbs of the tree.

If you lived in Spring Valley, there was one hardware store owned by Mr. Collett. Located not far from the railroad track, it was the best/only place in town to purchase toys and small appliances for Christmas giving. This was typical of most communities.

Barbie dolls were very popular for little girls. Record players, books, bicycles and sleds still pleased the youngsters. Parents, who had played with Tinker Toys and Lincoln logs as children, bought these gifts for the next generation.

Outdoor lighting was becoming more popular. Those huge Christmas light bulbs which had previously decorated homes were giving way to smaller, cheaper and more efficient lighting.

Today, television sets have very large screens. The traditional telephone has often been replaced by one you can carry in your pocket. Automobile manufactures boast about the special features and better gas mileage for their cars. Christmas cards are still sent through the mail, but often they come digitally, and many gifts are ordered “online.”

Some things don’t change. Churches have special services to celebrate the birth of Jesus and people still greet one another with “Merry Christmas” as a message of good will.

Christmas is a time for tradition. Nativity sets are put in place and ornaments which have hung on the tree for many years are brought out once again. Christmas carols are sung, cookies baked, gifts will be wrapped in colorful paper and most especially, friends will gather to celebrate the season.

The movie “It’s a Wonderful Life” with Jimmie Stewart was released in 1946 and continues to be a holiday favorite and it wouldn’t seem like Christmas if we didn’t hear Bing Crosby sing “White Christmas” at lease once.

Whatever your traditions are, I hope you have a very Merry Christmas.

By Joan Baxter

Joan Baxter is a local resident and weekly historical columnist.

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