Volume 2, Number 10, Winter 1966-67
(From Stories of the Pioneers byE. J. and L. S. Hoenshel)
As Christmas is aproaching, and feeling in a reminiscent mood tonight, I cannot but compare in mind, the Christmas of long ago with the Christmas in a great city at this day, with its Christmas tree, its wagon loads of manufactured toys, painted wagons, jumping jacks, railroad trains, automobiles, bicycles, fire wagons, dolls, teddy bears, jewelry and thousands of other things for the little ones; and fine books, diamonds, fine gowns and many other expensive presents for the older ones. Millions of dollars spent for holiday goods and decorations to beautify the home. The happiness and merry-making of today are no more enjoyed than they were then. The greater opportunities of today, as compared to the old-time Christmas are the only reason for this show, as the spirit is the same, but the appreciation of old times was far above that of today.
The old time Christmas is no more. A few days before Christmas the good mothers made their half moon dried fruit pies, with the finger pinched teeth around the edges and fork marks promiscuously dotted their surface. The home-made sweet cake, cut with all the artistic skill of the culinary art of the day to resemble dolls, animals, leaves, hearts, etc., with the kisses cut with mothers thimble, baked in the old-fashioned oven, on the hearthstone by the fireplace. It was the time of our lives to be allowed to help in this work. How willingly the bark was gathered from the fence rails and fallen trees, by the boys, in sweet anticipation of this cooking, which was continued far into the night, after the smaller children were put to bed.
The sausage with its dried home-grown sage and pepper, making us sneeze as it was powdered previous to the making with the well-chopped meat just after hog killing. How we boys used to want to warm our axes so often to keep the meat from sticking, when it was more often an excuse for respite from our work than a necessity. Then the sausage was sewed up in rolls covered with the leaf from the lard, or put up in corn shucks and tied, and all hung up in the smoke house till needed. We had no sausage mills or sausage stuffers, to expedite the work, yet we were happy. The beautiful white lard, stored away in fat gourds holding from 20 to 40 pounds, the tops so cut with a toothed line that they would fit and make a perfect lid. These were set away in the smoke house on clapboard shelves supported by wooden pegs driven in to augur holes in the logs making the walls of the smoke house. The smoke house was closed with a clapboard door of large dimensions, and secured by a peg in such a way as to hold the door well closed. No locks were necessary. The peg was often hung by a string to prevent its being carried away, carelessly by some of the children.
Our kitchen was made of hewn logs as was the big house. The kitchen hearth was of flat stones extending entirely across the room. Sometimes a hot oven was set upon the floor, and many a potleg marks were seen where they had scorched the floor. Sometimes a live coal would roll off onto the floor and burn a little mark before it was noticed. The fire was poked with a dogwood poking stick, and that was set in the corner in the cold ashes to put out any fire that might be on the end of the stick.
When Christmas eve came we hung our socks and stockings over the mantel, and when we got up the call "Christmas Gift" and "I got your Christmas gift" was heard all around. We would always surprise mother with "Christmas Gift" and it was the greatest enjoyment to get hers. Our Christmas gifts in our socks were next examined. We would find an apple, some stripped candy, a few raisinsthese last were always a surprise. There were cookies, kisses, and perhaps a barlow knife, of which we were certainly proud. The girls had about the same with a nice rag doll or two nicely dressed, and we were as happy then as the boy or girl who now receives fifty dollars worthy of toys, which are kept only so long as they please the fancy.
In those old days Christmas eve was celebrated by the merchants donating a keg of powder, which was carried to the blacksmith shop, and the firing of anvils was kept up till near midnight, which was a signal for the neighborhood to asemble and prepare for the subsequent festivities. About midnight all guns were loaded with tow wads, and primed. We had the good old f lint-lock rifles of all calibers, no shotguns were known in that countryall the horns, cowbells, "dumb bells", two skillet lids, one in each hand, to rub together, and every device and contrivance that could make noise were summoned. Then the ser-
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anaders started out and every house in the settlement was visited, after marching around the house for three or four times, making all the noise possible, yelling, blowing horns, ringing cow bells, and the most deafening noise of skillet lids being ground together, firing guns, etc., then all was silent, and the door was opened and the merry-makers invited in, and such refreshments were served as the ability of the household could furnish. A jug of good pure corn whiskey from the still-house on the hill just across from the mill, was set out and those who cared were served. Then to the next house until the entire settlement was visited, as it was not good taste to slight anyone, however poor they might be. Daylight called each to his own house. Everything was good cheer, and all were happy.
The Christmas Day was usually spent at home, where in some families eggnogg and a good dinner were served. No tame turkey existed then, but the woods were full of wild turkeys and other large game. Sometimes in the afternoon a shooting match was held at some central or public place. Christmas night, if not too cold or the weather too bad, the women would gather at some convenient place, not with the pomp of today with card parties, but to have a good time. Frequently a dance for the younger grown-up ones, dressed in clothes made at home, but possessing all the innocent charms with which nature had endowed them. Some old darkey on the plantation would play the fiddle for them till the "wee small hours", while the younger children would play "weevilly wheat", "puss wants a corner", "blind fold", "miley bright", "lost my glove yesterday", "old mother hobblegobble", till all were sleepy when they were taken home.
No hard feelings no drunkeness, nothing but unalloyed pleasure long to be remembered by all participants. Thus was the Christmas of 50 years ago, one round of merry-making and "good will toward men".
(This letter was written December 24, 1909 to the writers mother, who was then living in Kirbyville. The letter is now in the possession of Miss Abbie Michel. Dr. Howard was the first county superintendent of Taney County. He died Christmas day, 1912... EJH)
Copyright Ó White River Valley Historical Quarterly
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