Thursday, December 25, 2008
A PIONEER CHRISTMAS
Roberta C.M. DeCaprio
Recently I survived an ice storm here in upstate New York that blacked out some 230,000 residents; many areas were declared a “state of emergency”. For two days I had no heat or electricity, eating oatmeal, soup and hot chocolate heated over an open flame. The driving conditions were made dangerous because of slick roads, fallen tree branches and downed electrical wires. I was one of the fortunate homesteads….hundreds of others were inconvenienced for a week longer.
While sitting (and sleeping) in my rocking chair before my living room fireplace, I began to think of the pioneer days and what kind of Christmas they experienced without the modern conveniences we enjoy today. With no malls to purchase presents and no lights to adorn their trees and homes, how did they celebrate the holidays?
My research found, at Christmas pioneer homes were decorated with green branches. Because homes were small, there was no room for a large tree. Pine cones, nuts, berries and popcorn chains, as well as figures of dolls made out of straw or yarn, cookie dough ornaments and gingerbread men were hung on the tree.
Food preparations for Christmas dinner began weeks ahead of time. The Christmas goose was fattened up and the plum pudding left to age in a pot.
Gift making began months before. Such presents as corn husk dolls, sachets, carved wooden toys, boxes and footstools, pillows, embroidered hankies, knitted scarves, mittens, hats and socks all took time to make.
If there had been a good harvest that year, stockings hung on the fireplace mantle were filled with cookies and fruit.
On Christmas Eve everyone gathered by the fireplace to sing carols and tell stories. Christmas Day the whole family attended church and returned home to a Christmas meal. Then it was time to visit with friends and neighbors.
The holiday spirit wasn’t much different then what most of us do at Christmas now, just minus the ease in which we do it. After spending two days without that ease, I can tell you I’m happy to be born in the century I was.
Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to you all!