Monday, December 2, 2013

A Kansas Christmas Past

I love Christmas! Everything about Christmas, except maybe the shopping. I especially love the get togethers, the warmth of family and friends as laughter bounces off the walls. The remembrance of what the day is truly about. I wanted to know how people celebrated Christmas back in the day and what better way to get a taste of a Kansas pioneer Christmas than to pull excerpts from diaries, letters and stories written by folks living in Kansas. I love the little details that we don't always hear about, like the songs, the dinner, the warming stones, the dances, the mischief, the drawers made out of blankets. 

I hope you enjoy these excerpts from Christmas past as much as I do.

This excerpt comes from a letter written by Kate Bowen to The Republican in 1925 about a Christmas in 1886. You can find the rest of the letter here.
 When Will returned to Kansas - what should he do but see that a copy of the Republican be sent to me every week and a notice I read in it put me in the notion of writing this letter. It stated that an entertainment was to be held at the Kidderville school house to raise funds for the Christmas tree. That sent me to thinking of a Christmas tree and entertainment I participated in in 1886. When the settlers were all new in that locality and most of them were poor. There was not an evergreen tree within a hundred miles that I knew of!
     We had moved from Richardson Co Neb. to Hodgeman Co Ks in the early spring of 1885 and brought a family of five little girls and as Christmas drew near we realized we had brought them away from many things they had always enjoyed at that season of the year. We realized it was up to us to find the best substitute we could. That fall the first district school had began in the little school house!---which was of sod --- and we had a good little Sunday School every Sunday afternoon and preaching every two weeks. Mr. Reed was our Superintendant and it was a union school. We met there to take steps to have a Christmas tree and entertainment We counted our pennies and made our plans, sent Mr. Will Burns to
Dodge City with our money and a list of oranges, candy, green tissue paper (as near the shade of evergreen as he could find). We got a good sized hack berry tree- its top reached the ceiling- and cut the paper in long strips half a finger length and fringed each strip as deep as possible, leaving only a plain margin to wrap around the bare limbs of the tree. We wrapped the whole tree and you who did not see it have no idea how pretty it looked. After the popcorn was strung and festooned around it and oranges fastened on and dozens of little pink mosquitoe netting bags filled with candy and hazel nuts and a pretty red apple for each pupil (the later Were contributed by families who had had them sent from Richardson Co) with an occasional tin horn, picture book and the little school house lighted by the biggest and best lamps the country side afforded. I want to tell you it was a pretty sight. We had a really fine program.
     Some had taken part in programs not so long before in good big Sunday School entertainments and they taught the exercises to our little S.S. One especially comes to my mind, which some of you will remember called "Little Grandpa and Grandma Blackeyes". Little Jimmie Henderson and Little Effie Meyers took the parts and I can see them yet. Each with their sparkling black eyes and dressed for the part, and a little pupil stood between them to recite the piece.*
     There were two cottage organs in that part of the country our own and the Leepers. We put ours in the wagon three times a week and took it to the school house where we met for practice. Ella Leeper played nicely and she was our organist and the songs were the fine old Christmas hymns "Joy to the World" "Low in a Manger", and "Merry, Merry Chiming Bells", and many others that for generations have rung out in the Christmas air and cheered the hearts of God'd people.
     The school house was crowded and not even standing room. Many were there that had never seen a Christmas tree and many were carried back to their childhood and younger days in their old homes back East. Many tender memories were awakened that had long been dormant and as we seperated that night and rode to our homes under the lovely Christmas stars that seemed to me to always shine brighter in the clear Kansas atomsphere we all felt the solemn influence of our Christmas entertainment.
This next excerpt was written by a Marie A. Olsen in 1935. In it she discusses Swedish traditions carried on by Swedish settlers in Stotler, Ks who arrived in 1870-1880.
Old Swedish customs are still deeply cherished by both the old and young inhabitants. When a neighbor woman pays a friendly visit to a Swedish friend, the hostess serves the customary Swedish coffee. The hostess would consider it a breach of etiquette not. to adhere to this practice. At no time are Swedish customs better brought into play than at the Christmas season. Christmas Eve is the beginning of festivities. The celebration on this evening is entirely a family affair. Each family gathers at home for Christmas supper after which presents are exchanged around the Christmas tree. At 5:30 on Christmas morning the people, both old and young, gather at church for Christmas services. The old Swedish hymn "Var Halsad Skona Morgonstund" peals forth from the churches, which are lighted by Christmas candles. The old Christmas story is the text of the morning. These services are the height of the Swedish Christmas festivities. As the crimson rays break forth in the east, the worshippers turn their footsteps homeward. The remainder of Christmas Day is customarily spent in family groups. In the evening the children of the Lutheran Church give a program consisting of recitations and songs. A few evenings later a similar program is given by the Sunday School children of the Mission Church. These programs are the children's affairs and are events to which they eagerly look forward. Christmas festivities continue for about a week, during which time the various families invite relatives and friends to their homes. These much-loved Swedish customs will likely continue to be observed for years to come.
This next one comes from an account written by Adolph Roenigk.

 Christmas at Fossil Creek in 1868 was spent in jollification. A month prior, and from that time on, to the approaching holiday the making of eggnog, Tom and Jerry and other drinks was the main topic of conversation among the boys at the station. I was the youngest of the force, always obliging and accommodating, and was sent to Hays City for the necessary wherewith, a three-gallon jug of whisky.

Christmas morning the making of eggnog commenced. Some was taken straight, and it was not long until John Cook and I were the only sober men on the place. The different qualities of the men’s makeup showed themselves; some began quarreling and I was compelled to act as peacemaker. Not that I cared for any fistic encounters, but in the evening while three of us were sitting on a bench the quarreling was renewed, when a fellow named James Clark pulled out a revolver and leveled it at the other fellow’ head, asking him to repeat what he had said. I was not within reach to grab the gun, sitting at the farther end of the same bench with the other men and right in range of the weapon. I could do nothing better than to keep quiet. I was angry and struck with remorse, as in getting the whisky I felt guilty of being the cause of that man’s death if that fellow had pulled the trigger. But the language was not repeated and the gun was put away. Watching my opportunity, I slipped it away from him, and then gathered up all the guns in the dugout and took them over to Cook’s, telling him of the occurrence.
     I stopped with Cook that night but little sleep did we get, as the boys made the night hideous with their noise until near morning. That was the last time for me to lend helping hand in such a jollification.
From the diary of Luna E. Warner, A Kansas Teenager, 1871

December 22-Louie and I skated up to the cabin.  It snowed before we got back.  Snowed all day. Uncle Howard drew us a load of wood  Alf came from Cawker, brought Ma a letter from Genelia.  She and Mr. Curtiss are going to be married Christmas at Uncle Eli's.  Uncle Howard came over as usual to stay all night.

December 23-Very cold.  The wind blew in the night and drifted the snow very badly.  Uncle Howard started for Cawker afoot at eleven.  Louie and I shoveled snow.

December 25-Very cold.  The coldest still morning there has been.  Uncle Howard got ready to go to Cawker.  We all went with him-Mr. Morse, Gena, Henry, Alf, Arabella, Mr. Wilder, Nellie Ray, Ma, Louie, and I.  We sat in the bottom of the wagon with the hot stones.  Had turkey supper, then the wedding came off and Genelia was married to Mr. Curtiss for life.   Then we all went to the dancing hall.   The hall was crowded.   I went to supper with Mr. Hoffman and danced schottish like everything with Mr. Phillips.  We started for home after five.
From the Diary of Abbie Bright 1870-1871, a school teacher.

Dec. 28--Christmas is past. I spent it at my brothers, with the children--and a plenty of apples, nuts, pop corn, homemade candy and cider. I had a pleasant time.
It was so cold Mrs. Bee [Butler] did not want me to come up Fri., but I was determined to go.
She gave me a pair of drawers to wear, that were made out of a blanket, and they kept me warm, except my feet, which were frost bitten a little. If women rode crosswise like men, how much warmer and better it would be.
Kit seemed to like the outing, and travelled well.
There was no school Monday. I came down by way of Fees Hall in the p.m. When I turned the corner there, a team came up behind me to pass, but Kit would not let them. She started to run, and run she did for three miles, with the team close behind us. A little way from Mrs. Bees [Butler's] they turned off, and Kit slacked up.
That was the fasted riding I ever did.
They say Kit never lets a team pass her.
Except for not going anywhere on Christmas, which stems from my father never being home on the holiday when he was a child, I can't think of a specific Christmas tradition. We used to go to my in-laws on Christmas morning for breakfast consisting of all the fixings including chocolate gravy and biscuits.

What are some of your favorite Christmas traditions that have been passed down through generations?If you'd like, in the name of fun, write your own diary entry of what your Christmas would be like. One commenter will, using, receive a surprise gift.

When she was younger, Christina tried to dig herself to China, loved Three Billy Goats Gruff, and had an obsession with maps. She gave up her dig to China but still jumps at the chance to travel even if it’s just down the road. She loves watching modern takes of fairytales and mythologies on the big screen and still has a huge obsession with maps. The older the better.
Born and raised in Kansas, where she currently lives with her husband and children, Christina loves to read stories with happily ever afters, research,  take photos, knit scarves, dig into her ancestry, fish, visit the ocean, write stories with happily ever afters and talk about her family and Jesus.

Her debut, The Guardian's Promise, releases from Love Inspired Historical March 2014


  1. Hallo, Hallo Ms. Rich! :)

    You might not realise it, but I found you on Twitter! I'm still seeking out other members of the Society on there! I keep getting distracted as I've only been on it for a bit past a fortnight this Wednesday! :O I've missed interacting with everyone on here, but I had a couple of rough months, but thankfully, as Wintry weather started to alight in my life, as did a bounty of blessings that I hadn't expected and for which have enlightened my world with joy! :) Congratulations on having created the Society ONE FULL YEAR ago in December!! :) I have enjoyed being in the background and watching it gain momentum and steam since I first started dropping notes on here wayy back in February!! What a wonderful and beautiful year it turnt out to be!!

    And, most especially congratulations to you, as its the year you became a *published!* writer!! Love your publicity shot! I have to sort out who carries the Love Inspired series so I can run to the store and see it! :) A Spring debut will be lovely, I am sure! :)

    Did you know I've only just taken up knitting again!? I lost interest back in May, but I resumed by knitting at my local library! Who knew!? I have a chance of having a small knitting circle as well, as after the holidays, a few knitters might be joining me for kibitzing and fiber love! :) What do you have cast-on!? I'm still steadily working on completing my original three prayer shawls from mid-Spring!!

    I whole-heartedly adore Christmas myself!! :) Its such a special time of the year,... my local community has really out did itself this year, offering more community-centred events and happenings! I went to my first one today, which celebrated the passion of the holiday and joy of the birth as much as the continuance of faith throughout the year as the days grow more distant from Christmas Day itself. All told through solos, duets, and quartets! Including a special interpretative dance number! Bliss!

    Christmas 1989

    Whilst filt with the joy of the merriment which Christmas can afford to bring her, Jorie was happily engaged in trucking out the holiday boxes from the storage area of the garage! Slowly, one box at a time, the decorations were flittering around the living room in a sea of red, gold, silver, and green bounty! Glistening in the lights were streamers of silver - the most pleasant topping of all, where she gets to whimsically cast her fingers through the tinsel and haphazardly adorn the tree in glittery mirth! The tree itself comes together with a bit of colour to rod coordination as this year's tree isn't fresh cut, but rather the sage-old standby for when the tree lots sell out too quickly! With a hard-working father whose free time is quite shortened and limited, the fact they were a family united as three trimming the tree was enough to eclipse her happiness!

    Ornament after ornament is removed from tissues, bringing with it a hearty remembrance of its origin, date of being brought into the family, and of the significance of its choice. Little stitchings of a family's living history brought to life by a young girl's heart for family traditions. Her parents work beside her, smiles as fresh as the dew with the lingering rustle tusslements of a cheeky cat darting in and out of the bottom branches! Slowly the tree takes shape, guided by the family who breathes their love into its arrangement. Standing back, only one last bit of cheer must be added: the Angel who resides on top, watching over from on high!


    Thank you for the chance of winning a secret Santa surprise!
    Happy Christmas, a wee bit early!

    1. Hi, Jorie, glad to have you back! Love your diary entry.

  2. I love these excerpts and thank you so much for sharing them! My husband and I have three young children, so my parents and grandparents come to our house Christmas morning to watch the children discover their gifts under the tree.

    December 25:
    The children wake early in eager anticipation. Clad in their pajamas, they hurry to see what is waiting under the tree. Shouts and giggles erupt and there has never been a more joyous noise. The adults watch in delight, savoring these moments. After breakfast is served, playing resumes once again. Hearts are full and blessings abound. Thank you, God, for all you have given.

    texaggs2000 at gmail dot com

    1. Great entry, Britney! I love the captured mood. It's like I'm there.

  3. Merry Christmas, thanks for sharing all the Christmas past...loved reading them and learning of different culture and how in earlier times with so little they still celebrated in a big way.
    I have a brother that lives in NE so not far from Kansas I think. I don't get to travel much but sure like to when I get the chance, I have family in Ky and Tx and these are usually the places I go when traveling.
    enjoyed your comments today
    Congrats to all the winners in Novemeber

    Paula O(

  4. This isn't a tradition passed down, but every Christmas, my mom's side of the family all gathers togethers--aunts, uncles, cousins, my grandparents and some of their siblings, and we all have lunch and play games. When I was little, we used to give gifts and my cousins and I would sing Christmas songs after lunch. We would do the same thing with my dad's family (for those of us who ventured the trip to my grandparents) the weekend before Christmas, up until my grandparents' deaths several years ago.

  5. Our tradition is to all gather at one of the children's homes for Christmas dinner, gift exchange, and lots of visiting and laughter. I have a large family so quite a crowd. This is after Santa comes, of course. When the kids were small we would do the same with my brother and two sisters. Never got to be with the grandparents very much because too much distance and not enough time off nor money. Then when I was a child, I remember one of our houses had 2 stories. I can remember when we woke up, we had to wait till dad said we could come down but I had to be first, being the youngest. It was exciting, but there was never much for us. But we were happy kids. I believe people spend way too much now for gifts. Nothing better than homemade gifts or just some little thing you know the other person will like. I would love to be your winner. Thanks for the give-away. Maxie mac262(at)me(dot)com mac262(at)me(dot)com