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:


  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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The Rumour-monger

stpetersSnippets 139.  In 1854 the American Rev. George Foxcroft Haskins went on a tour of Europe and one of the highlights of his trip was an extended stay in Rome.  Although he had a wonderful time there, he was disappointed to  discover tour guides spreading rumours about the Pope and the Vatican.  The following quote is taken from Travels in England, France, Italy and Ireland, published in 1856.

There is a class of men in Italy called Cicerones. Their office is to accompany tourists from place to place, to point out all objects worthy of notice, to expatiate on the merits of all sorts of things, and to make as much money as they can. The money making I have put last, but with them it is always the first, and the most important thing. Truth, in their estimation, unless it pays, is a useless drug. Falsehood, if lucrative, is a priceless treasure. They are a race shrewd, intelligent, and well drilled. They are unsurpassed in their knowledge of character…

Mr. B., an intelligent and wealthy Protestant gentleman, arrived in Rome during my residence in the Eternal City, whose acquaintance I had the honor and pleasure of making at that time, and who was my travelling companion and intimate friend during many of my subsequent journeys. He went to Rome for the purpose of examining for himself the religious and literary institutions of Rome. One day he was invited by a party of American tourists to join them in a visit to some of the charitable institutions of the city.

They employed a very celebrated cicerone, named Pietro Nobili — the same, I believe, who has officiated in the same capacity for some of our most distinguished tourists. He was recommended to them as a very intelligent man, and a liberal Catholic. Accordingly, the gentlemen of the party plied him very freely with questions — holding their note books in their hands, ready to record his. answers. Every individual of the party, except Pietro Nobili, was a Protestant, and Pietro Nobili knew it. Accordingly, he served up an entertainment suited to his knowledge of Protestant appetites.

He began by abusing the clergy in general — lamenting in most touching language their gross ignorance and shameless immoralities — at the same time assuring his gaping auditors that good men might undoubtedly be found among them — excusing their conduct, at the same time, as well as he could — and pronouncing an eloquent dissertation on the celibacy of the clergy, and the wealth, hospitality, and good cheer of the monks.

“But the cardinals?” asked one of the party; “surely they are not so ignorant or immoral?”

“O, no — by no means. The cardinals are learned men, and very accomplished in their manners. And why? They are princes, and roll in wealth. They grow rich, however, at the expense of the poor; and that accounts for the multitude of beggars that throng our streets and churches.”

“But at least they are moral in their lives?”

“Yes, certainly. That is, as far as it is necessary that they should be. Of course, they are but men, and must —”

“But you do not mean that they marry?”

“No — but you see that large building opposite.” (It was the great hospital of St. Michele, for the education of hundreds of poor children, and for the relief of adult paupers.) “Well, that is an immense seraglio — magnificently fitted up — and it is visited by none but cardinals.”

“But does not such an institution give scandal to good Catholics?”

“O, no; we become accustomed to such things, and only smile now and then.” (Here followed a great flourish of note books and pencils.)

“And the pope — is he a good man?”

“Yes, a most holy old man. We all love the Holy Father. He is a man, of course, and has his little weaknesses.” (A great rustling of leaves among the note books.) “He has a high regard for the fair sex — and” (lowering his voice) “it is said, indeed —”

Mr. B. had been for some time boiling with indignation at this fellow’s impudence and imposture, and he could contain no longer: —

“Look you here, my friend. You may stop that nonsense. You have given us your opinion of the priests and cardinals, and you knew full well that you were uttering falsehoods. I will now give you my opinion of you; and I know that I speak truth. You are an infamous liar and an unprincipled villain, and I should serve you right if I denounced you to the authorities of Rome. For whom do you take us? Is it for Protestants? So we are. But dare you thence conclude that we are fools and knaves like yourself, and the contemptible class to which you belong? Gentlemen, we are acquiring ignorance, and not knowledge, from the services of this wretch. For my part, I came to Rome to obtain knowledge, and I want no such teacher as this.”

The whole party, when they saw the miserable poltroon thunderstruck, pale, trembling, and silent, were satisfied that Mr. B. was in the right, and they applauded his zeal. The fellow was forthwith discharged, and never again employed by any of that party.

The term “cicerone” presumably has its origins in the name of Marcus Tullius Cicero, who was of course a brilliant orator.

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