Wednesday, December 25, 2019

A Pioneer Christmas

By the mid-eighteen hundreds, in the settled parts of the country, most of the traditions surrounding Christmas were similar to today. Santa Claus was a mainstay, along with greeting cards, stockings hung by the fire, and church activities.

But for cowboys, pioneers, and mountain men, far away from the civilized life of the east, the holiday was celebrated with homemade gifts and quiet celebrations.

In the wild west, Christmas was a difficult time for many. Prairie dwellers had to deal with December blizzards and harsh winter winds. Deep snows often forced mountain men away from their jobs and down to the lowlands. At the forts, soldiers could be heard singing Christmas Carols while venison roasted in the fireplace.

Laura Ingalls Wilder told of the preparations for the holiday on the Kansas Prairie. “Ma was busy all day long, cooking good things for Christmas. She baked salt-rising bread and Swedish crackers, and a huge man of baked beans with salt pork and molasses. She baked vinegar pies and dried-apple pies and and filled a big jar with cookies.” She let Laura and Mary lick the cake spoon. “That very Christmas, Laura was delighted to find a shiny new tin cup, a peppermint candy, a heart-shaped cake and a brand new penny in her stocking.”

To garnish their homes, the pioneers used whatever was at hand, including evergreen boughs and pinecones, holly, and berries. The fortunate ones even had a Christmas tree, decorated with ribbons, yarn, popcorn, and paper strings.

Cookie dough ornaments and gingerbread men were also popular.

Pioneers worked for months to complete their homemade gifts, including cornhusk dolls, carved wooden toys, and embroidered hankies, and if they were very lucky, a book.

Other popular gifts were knitted scarves, hats, and gloves. Most families spent Christmas Eve singing carols, and on Christmas Day most attended church, had a traditional meal and spent the days visiting with family and friends.

The more things change, the more they seem to stay the same. Merry Christmas to all of you. I hope the holiday and the coming year are the best ones yet.

Our family has spent years collecting unique tree ornaments for each other. What is your favorite Christmas tradition?

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