"By wisdom a house is built, and by understanding it is established; and by knowledge
the rooms are filled with all precious and pleasant riches." ~Proverbs 24:3-4

Not Just For Kids

An Old-Fashioned Christmas

Celebrating family traditions is what makes families unique and bonds family members together. This is especially true at holiday time. I know of one family that, beginning on December 1, turns off the television and starts making Christmas decorations and presents. Everything in their home connected with Christmas, and everything they give as gifts, has to be handmade. Their tree, for example, has no electric lights. They use old-fashioned recipes to make cookies, candy, and even Christmas dinner. They say they have a wonderful Christmas and even the kids have fun without the TV or video games.

Back in the 1800s, homemade and handcrafted ornaments adorned most Christmas trees. If you are seeking the simplicity and beauty of an old-fashioned celebration, try putting some handmade decorations on your own tree. Cut out and decorate cardboard shapes or cookie dough ornaments. Hang paper chains, aluminum foil chains, or garlands strung with beads or cranberries. Place a traditional nativity scene or wooden train set underneath the tree.

For more ideas, you can read books and interview older people in your community to find out how they celebrated Christmas years ago. My grandmother wrote the following story about Christmas as a girl living on a farm in Western New York State circa 1910-1915.

Christmas on the Farm, by Alice Twachtman Dobstaff

Christmas was always a time of great anticipation. The whole family took part in baking cookies, making fudge, making chains out of colored paper to put on the Christmas tree, making new clothes to put on the dolls. There were no shopping sprees like going to the city to buy presents. We had to make do with that we had, as the farmer had no income during the long winter months.

The Christmas tree was set up in the parlor. The parlor was a special room used only in cases of a wedding or a funeral or at Christmas time, for the Christmas tree. The room was closed off and was not heated, so the tree lasted for a long time and once was left up until Easter. There were no electric lights on the tree. Some other families might have used candles but this was not allowed in our house, as it might cause a fire.

The Sunday before Christmas was a very special day, as everyone went to church for the Sunday School program. After the program each child was given a large bag containing an assortment of nuts, a box of hard candy, and an orange. As a child living on a farm, isolated from all other events, it meant something to look forward to.

As some of us who were in the Christmas program had to travel several miles to and from the church, were invited to have dinner at the parsonage, so that we didn't have to go home and return a few hours later to practice for the upcoming program. It was a great thrill to sit at the large dining room table with the minister and his family. I do not remember anything about the food that was served, except that red Jello was the dessert and up until that time I had never eaten Jello.

On Christmas morning we all rushed to the parlor to see the tree and if Santa Claus had left any presents. One present we could always count on was the flannelette nightgown mother had made as her gift to each of us. Our most important needs were fulfilled by the fact that there was plenty of food available and a warm house and a family living in togetherness and love. ~Alice Twachtman Dobstaff

Discussion Question: Engage your children in a discussion about gift-giving. What are some gifts they were happy to give and to get? If they had a choice, what would they rather have – a room full of toys to play with alone, or one toy and a friend to share it with?

Did You Know…? In 1897, Mr. Pearle B. Wait, a cough medicine manufacturer in LeRoy, NY, invented a fruit-flavored gelatin. His wife, May Davis Wait, named it JELL-O. The four original JELL-O gelatin flavors were strawberry, orange, lemon, and raspberry. In 1899, Wait sold the business to his neighbor, Orator Francis Woodward, for $450. Today, JELL-O gelatin is the world’s most popular prepared dessert, selling over 300 million boxes every year.

Turkish Delight Recipe

This is a special treat for festive occasions. You will need: 6 (3 oz.) packages Jell-O (lime, lemon, orange, strawberry, or raspberry), 1 cup boiling water, and confectioners sugar. Put 6 (3 oz.) packages of Jell-O (all the same flavor) in a saucepan. Add 1 cup boiling water. Stir to mix. Simmer over low heat 5 minutes. Pour into wet 8-inch square pan. Cool and chill until firm. Cut into 1-inch squares and toss them in confectioners sugar. Repeat these steps to make more in another flavor.

Related Resources

During the 1980's food historian Patricia B. Mitchell distributed a questionnaire to family, friends, and readers asking about Christmas menus, gifts, Santa snacks, stockings, parties, etc. Their fascinating responses and recollections are the foundation of the Coming Home for Christmas Cookbook and its companion volume Sweet Memories of Christmas Cookbook.

A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens. (Classic Christmas tale set in Victorian London, which reinforced expectations for Christmas Day as a time of peace and goodwill to all men - and it even put turkey on the menu as the staple meal for many in the Western world.)

A Little House Christmas Treasury: Festive Holiday Stories, by Laura Ingalls Wilder. (Some of the most wonderful stories in the Little House series of books tell of merry Christmas celebrations in the Big Woods, on the prairie, and along the banks of Plum Creek. All of those classic Little House holiday stories have been gathered together in one special volume.)

http://christmas.drawingart.net (This website is dedicated to all people who enjoy an old fashioned way to celebrate the Holiday, with recipe ideas, Christmas poems, holiday entertaining, and more.)

www.history.org/Almanack/life/xmas/customs.cfm (Colonial Christmas Customs from Colonial Williamsburg.)

www.history.org/history/teaching/colxmas.cfm (Colonial Christmas Lesson Plan from Colonial Williamsburg.)

http://womenshistory.about.com/library/etext/whx/bl_christmas_earle.htm (Early American Christmas customs under the Puritans.)

Colonial Christmas Cooking (Colonial Christmas Cooking by Patricia B. Mitchell. This book will assist those wishing to plan a Yule theme dinner, as well as anyone interested in learning about Christmas holiday dining and celebration during the Colonial period. Bits of colonial legend and lore add to the appeal.)

Victorian Christmas Celebration Cookbook (An exploration of the exuberant American approach to Christmas during the Victorian era. Read about Christmas trees decorated with “candy-filled paper cornucopias,” “gilded egg cups,” and/or even “small taxidermied animals,” as well as meals involving such dishes as “devilled spaghetti” and “ginger sherbet.” )

www.victoriana.com/christmas (Celebrate a Victorian Christmas.)

www.biblicalquality.com/Christmas1.html (A Victorian Christmas.)


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