Friday, December 20, 2019

Holiday decorating on the prairie ~ by Kristine Raymond

In modern times, folks have been known to take holiday decorating to the extreme.  Outdoor lighting displays with enough illumination to rival that of a small city; massive trees hauled in from outdoors and stuffed into too-small rooms; animated, musical ornaments that spin and flash and sing adorning the branches of those trees; in some homes, not a single surface escapes a touch of holiday magic.  But it wasn’t always that way, especially for families living west of the Mississippi in the early to mid-1800s.

Long before Santa came down the chimney, celebrations were held by other cultures during the winter months.  In Scandinavia, Yule began on the winter’s solstice – December 21 – and lasted through January.  In Rome, a holiday to honor Saturn, the god of agriculture, began a week before the winter’s solstice and lasted a full month.  And, in Germany, the pagan god, Oden, was honored during the winter months.  Christmas, as we know it, wasn’t even declared a federal holiday in America until 1870.

Stockings hanging from the mantle, visits from St. Nick, Christmas trees adorned with shiny ornaments; such ideas didn’t come into fashion until the early 1800s.  Though the legend of Santa Claus can be traced back to the fourth century to a Turkish monk named Saint Nicholas, his popularity grew in America after Clement Clarke Moore’s A Visit from St. Nicholas was published in the New York Sentinel in 1823.  And, it was Queen Victoria and Prince Albert who introduced to the world in 1841 the tradition of bringing a tree indoors to decorate.  While such customs were quickly adopted by people in the bigger cities, those living out on the windswept prairies had to improvise.

With timber scarce in those lush grasslands, and what little there was needed for shelter and fuel, the luxury of a Christmas tree was just that – a luxury – leaving the settlers to get creative with their ‘decking of the halls’.  Freshly cut boughs of cedar or scrub pine were laid upon windowsills and mantels to add a touch of greenery, and in more than one home, sagebrush or tumbleweeds, strung with paper chains and popcorn, stood in for a tree.  Scraps of colorful yarn or fabric were tied into bows and fastened onto the ‘branches’, while gingerbread cookies and paper angels nestled in-between as ornaments.  Bowls filled with twigs, berries, and other decorative natural materials graced the family table, adding a festive charm.

That rustic décor of days-gone-by holds a charm unequaled by today’s ‘bigger is better’ and ‘let’s add another strand of lights’ mindset.  At least, it does in my opinion.

However you celebrate this holiday season, I wish you the best and brightest filled with lots of love.

~ Kristine

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