Children’s Christmas Letters 3

George_Henry_Durrie_-_A_Christmas_PartyChristmas History 30.  Recently on Windows into History we have been looking at some letters from children published in a January 1910 edition of the Iowa Homestead, writing about how they spent their Christmas.  The following is another selection:

Christmas was a very bad day here. It was snowing furiously when I started to my grandma and grandpa’s house in Taylorville, with my sister, mother and father. We had a very disagreeable trip through the snow, but reached there in time for the good dinner they had prepared. In the afternoon we went over to one of my aunt’s, who lives across the yard from grandma’s, where they had the Christmas tree. Several of my aunts, uncles and cousins were there and Santa Claus came and gave us all nice presents. We then had music and played with all the pretty playthings. We returned home about nine o’clock at night, all having enjoyed ourselves very much.


I did not spend Christmas very nicely. I had the chicken pox and did not go out of doors very much. In the forenoon I sewed carpet rags for a while and then I played carom. And in the afternoon I sewed some more carpet rags. After a while I went and played with my brother and his toys. I ate candy, nuts and oranges. That night I played carom again and I went to bed and this was the way I spent my Christmas.


I will try and write a letter to you. I go to the country school and I learn to read, spell and write. I learn grammar and geography and to sing. I enjoy the school very much. I have many friends and playmates. I play with them at recess. We have an organ at home. I have a nice home and I enjoy it very much, I have four sisters and three brothers; two of my sisters are married. We live four miles from town and one mile from school. We have four rooms down stairs and four upstairs in our house. We have fine weather and fine sleighing up here. We haven’t our corn all picked yet; there is too much snow.


I spent Christmas at my uncle’s and had a pleasant time. We had a fat goose for dinner and it sure was fine. I am thirteen years old and I am going to school and I am getting along nicely. We have got a nice teacher this year. We have had him two years and all the scholars like him fine. I am in the Fifth Reader, spelling, arithmetic and geography, and love to play with my playmates. I live in the country with my father and mother, three brothers and two sisters. I like to live on the farm where birds and flowers grow. We have horses, mules, cattle, sheep and hogs and chickens. I like to raise little chicks.


I am a little girl seven years old. I have three sisters. We live one mile from town. I go to the Presbyterian church to Sunday-school. Christmas eve mamma went down to help dress the tree, so she let me go with her. Papa gave me fifteen cents and I got my oldest sister a little autograph album and my little sister next to me a yard of ribbon for her hair. Then I went up to the church and gave mamma the things to put on the tree, then I helped some other little girls go around and get things for the tree. About seven o’clock we all began to go to the church to get our presents and see Santa Claus. The baby class in our Sunday-school all were dressed in their white night gowns and kneeled down and said a little prayer that was in our Sunday-school paper. My little sister, Madeline, and me were in it; she is just four years old and couldn’t learn the prayer, so she just kneeled down with us and I wish you could have seen her. She just drawed her eyes up the tightest and looked so cute. Then after they were all done saying their pieces, Santa Claus came in blowing a horn and was so funny and when I found out who it was, don’t you think it was papa? Christmas day was awful cold, but I went with mamma about seven miles to see a good old grandma that God had taken home to heaven Christmas eve, and an aunt of mine, who is very sick of consumption. So that is the way I spent Christmas.

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Children’s Christmas Letters 2

reindeerChristmas History 29.  Last time we looked at some letters from children published in a January 1910 edition of the Iowa Homestead.  The following is another, heartwarming selection:

Christmas eve we were surprised with a Christmas tree. There were about twenty candles burning, and mamma bought lots of decorations, so the tree looked real pretty. We all got many presents. Christmas Day, as my cousins were over, we all went sleigh riding. We took a long ride and came home just in time for dinner. We were all hungry, so we enjoyed a big dinner. In the afternoon we played games and snowballed. We were having such a good time that we forgot all about how late it was getting until mamma called us to supper. I think that was the happiest Christmas I ever had.


I live in Ohio near a city of about 6,000 population. We have lived here about one year. We formerly lived in Iowa. I will be ten years of age next March. I go to school in the country. I am in the Fifth Reader, Advanced Physiology, third part of arithmetic, primary history, Long’s Language, Primary Geography, and Modern Spelling Book. There are twenty-seven pupils in my school. We had a Christmas entertainment Friday evening. Our teacher gave us a very liberal treat, candy, oranges and lead pencils for head marks. Our teacher’s name is Mr. Geo. J. Christman. Christmas morning I went hunting, but did not get any game, as it was snowing so that I could not find any rabbit tracks. After I came back from hunting I read some in a book that was given to me by my uncle as a Christmas present. The subject was “Grit,” written by Horatio Alger, Jr. In the evening I went to a Christmas entertainment at a church in the city, where I go to Sunday-school. They had a very good entertainment. I saw Santa Claus; he came in at the front door and went up on the pulpit where the Christmas tree was and said a few words and then went out at the back door. There was a little boy in the audience that wanted Santa Claus to stay longer. On account of my little brother being sick I went alone, for papa and mamma could not go with me. I arrived home about nine o’clock. I received a number of post cards, lots of candy and oranges, books, a cap and a pair of overshoes as Christmas presents.


The day before Christmas it snowed and Christmas day the sun shone beautiful. It was a fine Christmas day and everybody seemed happy. Old Santa brought me a boomerang gun, post card album, two books and a toothbrush. I had a fine time shooting the boomerang gun. At dinner time I sat down to a fine dinner. In the evening we all went for a sleigh ride. I am a little boy, seven years old, go to school every day.

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Children’s Christmas Letters

santaChristmas History 28.  In January 1910 the Iowa Homestead published some letters from children, all writing about how they had spent their Christmas.  Be prepared to go “awww”.

This is Christmas Day, and I cannot get out and I thought I would drop you a few lines to let you know that I am well. I go to school in the second room and in the seventh grade. I am twelve years old and a cripple, and can’t walk, and my sister takes me to school. This is a very blustery day here in southeastern Iowa. It is blowing and drifting the snow. I had a hard time to get to the barn to feed my colt which my papa gave me. I attend to it when it is so I can and I have a few pet chickens to attend to. It has been very cold and then I have to keep them shut up all through the snow; they like to be out, but I can’t let them, for they will freeze their feet off. Well, I think Santa Claus had a very bad night for getting along last night, but he came all right, for he fetched me a suit of clothes which I was needing and he fetched my older brother a pair of fur gloves. Well, as this is my first letter I will close by wishing you a merry Christmas and a happy, prosperous new year.


It was the 23rd of December and there was to be a program and a Christmas tree at the hall in this town. We went and the program was fine and the tree was lighted up beautifully, and then came a delightful time when the presents were taken off and given to the people. As we went out to go home each child was given a sack of candy. The next day we were hustling around getting ready for the next day, which was Christmas Day. That night we hung up our stockings in hopes that good old Santa might not forget to crawl in our chimney, and he did come, too. I got for presents, a pair of scissors, ribbon, a dress and other things; too many to mention. Then we just got the house straightened up and our breakfast eaten when a lot of company came for dinner. We had roast goose, dressing, potatoes, jam, Christmas cake, pie, apples, oranges and nuts. After dinner was all over we young folks went for a sleigh ride; we went three miles away from home and then we came back and popped corn and ate nuts. Then as it was growing dark the company departed for home. After we had eaten our supper we went to bed, thus ending our Christmas Day.


I will write you a letter about how I spent my Christmas. I went to my sister’s. My papa, mamma, sisters and brother were there. We had a good time. She had two geese, oranges, and other things. She had a big dinner ready for us. We all stayed for supper and then came home to spend the evening. We had music and games, and all enjoyed the Christmas. I am under fifteen years of age, my birthday is the 12th of July.

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A Magical Sleigh Ride

sleighrideChristmas History 27.  The following quote is taken from Sketches of New England, or Memories of the Country (1842) by Nathaniel Shatswell.  He describes taking a sleigh ride to visit a neighbour, some festivities, and then a moonlit sleigh ride that turns into a race.

If there is snow on the ground, however, everything assumes a different aspect. No sooner is dinner passed, than a project is on foot to drive over to some country neighbor’s, ten or fifteen miles off. The horses are all in requisition; the largest sleighs are procured; the colts are attached to the cutters; and the whole family start off for a merry sleigh-ride. Two hours, at most, are sufficient for the drive, and cheerful faces and warm fires are waiting your arrival. Then comes the merriment of the evening. The young folks hastily arrange the dance, and while partners are procured, and places selected, old Peter Peterson, who has played for fifty years to sires and children, tunes up the violin. Contra dances, cotillons and jigs, come each in their turn, and while the old people crack of marriages and courtships, births and burials, in the corner, or go with the housekeeper to cheese-press and pantry, the others merrily foot it till called to supper. Then comes the clattering of knives and forks, the cracking of the lively cider, the merry laugh, the broad jest, the quick repartee; then the games which country folk only know how to enjoy, some to the rattling gammon, some to the sober whist; others play at hunt-the-slipper, or magic music, or blind-man’s-buff; and sports, rough and boisterous perhaps…

The moon is up over the mountains; the broad mantle of pure white snow is spread over hill and valley, reflecting a whole world of coruscations in the soft, pure light; the trees are cased in ice; the bells ring sharply on the frosty air; the roads are perfectly trodden and smooth as glass; and the horses, eager for home, seem to fly over the surface. Thick buffalo-skins, wrapped about the whole person, afford complete protection from the cold, and the keenness of the clear atmosphere but adds to the excited feeling which the festivities of the evening had inspired. At first, the party proceed in long and rapid train towards home. Soon, some eager aspirant dashes by you in his cutter, to take the lead; others contend his power to do it, and urge on their rapid steeds: then comes the run, — the racing by, — the loud shout,— the cheerful huzza of the successful sleigh load, — the dexterous driving, — the cheering on of the horses, — the crack of whips, — the hearty laugh at the defeated rivals; and last, not least, the glorious boasting of the party first at home.

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The Mischievous Physician

Christmas History 26.  It’s that time of year again!  The following quote is taken from An Historical and Descriptive Account of the Royal Hospital, published in 1805, and is an anecdote about one of the physicians of the hospital at Chelsea, Dr Messenger Monsey, who is described in the book as “one of the most eccentric characters of the age”.

One time when the Doctor was coming from his brother’s in Norfolk, to London, in the Norwich coach, during the Christmas holidays, the inside of the coach was crowded with game, as presents from the country gentlemen to their friends in town. As there was just room for only one passenger, the doctor would gladly have deferred his departure, although it was on particular business, as there were no living passengers; but as they refused, at the coach-office, to return his earnest money, or to permit it to stand as part of his coach-hire to town next day, he entered the coach. When day-light appeared, seeing the game had different assignments, he thought it better to be doing mischief than doing nothing at all, therefore, to amuse himself, he altered the directions; the pheasants that were going to my lord or his grace, were sent to some tradesman — in short, every thing had a different destination from what was originally assigned it. Thus, on delivery of the parcels, an universal confusion took place; and those who, by advice in a letter, expected one thing, received another; but the Doctor observed, that he always took care to send a good turkey to the tradesman.

Here are some quick links to the other Christmas History articles on Windows into History so far, if you would like to take a look:

CHRISTMAS HISTORY

  1. Christmas in an Orphanage
  2. Christmas in the Tropics
  3. Two Christmas Snippets
  4. Plum Pudding and Gambling
  5. Christmas Day in Lapland
  6. Christmas at Sea
  7. Warm Hearts in the Cold Winter
  8. Hawaiian Christmas Gifts
  9. Runaway Sledge!
  10. O Little Town of Bethlehem
  11. Sailing Home for Christmas
  12. Christmas Eve in Rome
  13. Heigh-O! For the Christmas-Tide
  14. A Visit to Bethlehem
  15. A Page of Nonsense
  16. Santa’s Helper and the Queen’s Christmas Gift
  17. Pennies for the Poor
  18. Powerful Plum Pudding
  19. The History of Pantomime
  20. Yule Feasts in Norway
  21. Mince Pies, Plum Pudding and Bustards
  22. The Six Foot Christmas Crackers
  23. Noel in Paris
  24. A Christmas Message
  25. The First Canadian Snows
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Terrors of the Desert Trail

Photo courtesy of Bruce Peel archive.

Snippets 141 / Guest Post 12.  Even today, the great American deserts can be dangerous places. In 1899 when the quote below was written they were even more dangerous with wild animals and often even wilder men to be encountered. This man’s ride with two horses from Fort Macleod in Canada to Mexico City through the American deserts still remains a world record by an Englishman. The description here is from Roger Pocock’s 1904 autobiography A Frontiersman. The photograph of him was taken on the ride and shows his two horses Chub and Burley.

Beyond the Mormon Oasis, I came to the Painted Desert, where the sands have a strange power of refracting sunlight so that the slopes glow topaz, the cliffs are ruby and hyacinth, and the air is like thin, white flame. It was natural in such a place to find a prospector who told me that the voices of the Dead were leading him in search for a cave of gold. That is the madness of the Desert, common enough, for at many a camp-fire one hears of lost mines fabulously rich, of men who went out sane to return as maniacs, of Indian secrets, of guiding charts, of bloodstained trails, of dying miners speechless, laden with gold. A big bright diamond high on the face of a precipice – I have seen it myself, and might be in an asylum but for the slabs of mica by the trail which told me the secret of that shining fraud. A prospector who found real diamonds which look like bits of gum-arabic would throw them away. So I noted, on the long trail, hills of kaolin, walls of oil-shale, bitumen, and asphalt, traces of cinnabar, opal, ruby, corundum, tin. These might be ever so valuable, but the prospector passes them by in his search for the precious metals. Lost gold mines appeal to his mind, not a romance in fireclay.

Out of the heat of the Painted Desert my trail led up a fifty-mile hill into a great forest of pine trees. There is no water. The polecats go mad, and of all the grizzly horrors in that land of death, the hydrophobia skunk is much the worst.

The skunk is a beast the size of a cat, with nice long hair of banded brown and white from nose to tail. He is a natural scent-bottle, and delights in his duty, which is to sprinkle perfume on his tail, then with a sharp jerk spray the fluid upon you…

…And when, poor things, they suffer from hydrophobia, they attack man, catch him asleep in camp, and bite his face. Then the man must go to the Pasteur Institute at Chicago, if there is time; or presently he will dread the sight of water, go mad, and be racked to death with convulsions. Many have died that death. Sleeping one night in the Coconino Forest, I was awakened by a large animal on my pillow, a skunk mad with hydrophobia trying to reach that eager nose which has so often led me into trouble. I shooed him away, and threw rocks, so that, maybe, he also was alarmed.

There are those in America who still wrongly deny that Pocock made this extraordinary ride, but his album with the photographs he took on the ride is lodged in the Bruce Peel Special Collections at the University of Albert Archive, where students can view it. The full biography of Roger Pocock, Outrider of Empire – the life and adventures of Roger Pocock by Geoffrey A. Pocock (the author of this guest post), was published by the University of Alberta Press and is available from Amazon and from good booksellers.

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Thanksgiving, 1833

thanksgivingSnippets 140.  I am not particularly qualified to write about Thanksgiving, as it is really not a thing in Britain at all, but I did find the following quote in The Western Monthly Magazine, 1833, written by a Mrs Hentz.  She was traveling around the time of Thanksgiving when she had an accident with her sleigh, and was welcomed into the community for the big day:

I was travelling merrily along, in a snug, green sleigh, wrapped in buffalo skins, rejoicing in the prospect of a comfortable night’s rest, in the still village which I saw peeping over the hill I was just ascending. It was a clear, cold, bracing winter’s day. The ground was covered with spotless, shining snow, that made the eyes ache from its intense whiteness, and the air had those little, bright, cutting particles of frost, that glance like a razor across the nose and chin.

‘How charmingly I shall sleep to-night,’ said I to myself, nodding in fancy, at the very thought, ‘ when I reach that hospitable looking inn, whose sign-post creaks so invitingly in the wind. How refreshing a hot cup of coffee, and light, smoking muffins will taste, after riding so far in the sharp, hungry air!’ Regaling myself with this vision of anticipated comfort, I suffered the reins to hang a little too loosely: my horse, who was probably indulging in his reveries of oats, and hay, and a warm crib, made a kind of off-hand, sliding step, and with a most involuntary jump, I vaulted at once into a bed of a very different nature from the one upon which my imagination was dwelling.

It was sometime before I recovered from the stunning effects of my extemporaneous agility; but when I rose and shook off the snow-flakes from my great coat, I heard the sound of my horse’s bells at a respectable distance; and I had to walk speedily, and limpingly too, to the next tavern, before whose door I intended to have made such a triumphant flourish. There, I arrived at the mortifying conviction, that my sleigh was broken, that my horse had run, head first, against the shaft of another sleigh, and wounded himself in such a manner, that I should probably be detained several days on my journey. I felt quite stiff and lame the next day, but my landlady — who was a good little bustling woman, walking about so briskly that the border of her cap blew back and lay flat on her head as she moved — gave me so many warm lotions and doses, that towards evening, I felt as if I had recovered my wonted activity. She advised me not to leave the room that day, ‘as it would be a thousand pities, if I cotched cold, after such a marciful deliverance.’

The scene from abroad was too tempting, however, for my philosophy. They may rave about the beauties of a moonlight night in summer — a night of shadows, bloom, and flowers; singing birds and singing rills — but it cannot be compared to the one I then gazed upon — it was so dazzlingly bright! — the virgin snow looked so calm and holy in the clear light that mantled it! The first idea it suggested, was a solemn one. It lay so cold and still, it reminded me of the windingsheet of nature, till the almost supernatural radiance that sparkled from its surface, recalled to the imagination those spotless robes of glory, which are described as the future garments of the righteous. I stood with my arms meditatingly folded, absorbed in these reflections, till the stars twinkled so kindly, with such sweet, beckoning lustre, I could not resist the temptation of going abroad. I rambled awhile down the street, when catching the echo of a gay laugh, and an occasional jovial shout, on the cold, still air, I turned in the direction of the sound, and soon found myself near a boisterous, busy little group, who were engaged in the delightful amusement of sliding down hill. I did not wish to disturb their gaiety, and stopping in the shade of a high stone wall, close to the spot, watched them as they stood on the brow of the slope, preparing to make the grand descent. There were girls and boys without hats, or bonnets, or cloaks — their cheeks looking so rosy and their eyes so bright, it made your own wink to look at them. About half a dozen little girls were wedged closely together on a hand-sled, the handle of which was turned back and held by one who sat in the middle, in the capacity of charioteersman, and one who sat on the right hand, held a stick, which she occasionally stuck in the snow to pilot them on their way. There was one girl, taller and larger than the rest, who seemed to take a kind of superintendence of the band. I never saw such a personification of health, bloom, and rustic beauty. Her hair, which was perfectly black, hung about her shoulders, as if she had just shaken out a confining comb; her face was lighted up with such a living glow of animation, it made one feel a sensation of warmth and comfort to gaze on her; and then her blithe voice rung so musically on the ear, it gave the heart a quicker, gladder bound to hear it. Just as they were about to start on their downward career, there came a dismal screeching from a neighboring farm-yard, that jarred most discordantly with the merriment of the scene. ‘Oh I 1 said one of the little girls, in a doleful tone, ‘the poor hens and chickens! What a dreadful, cruel thing it is, to kill ’em so for Thanksgiving — just, too, as they get nicely to roosting! I won’t touch a bit of chicken-pie to-morrow — you see if I do.’…

Thanksgiving morning dawned — clear, dazzling, and cold. The sun came forth like a bridegroom from the east, unconscious of the slaughtered victims, whose heads lay reeking in the poultry-yard unconscious of his unpitying beams. Thanksgiving day! What ‘volumes of meaning’ in that little phrase! A day when man makes a covenant of gratitude with his Maker for the free bounties of the year; when the fragrant incense of the heart rises up warm and fresh, above earth’s cold, wintry mantle, sweeter than the aroma of summer flowers, and mingles with the odors of Paradise! I went that morning to the village church — a plain, modest building, distinguished by a tall, white spire, that arrested the first and last glances of the magnificent eye of the universe.


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