Christmas Days of the Long Ago


For this month’s column, I would like to call upon Mrs. Maria S. Remington of Olympia, Wash., to relate her memories of an 1864 Pioneer Christmas in Baraboo. Her penned thoughts have been preserved forever in the Baraboo News, of Dec. 30, 1909. She noted that customs had changed since she was a little girl back in 1864, and that in 1909 Christmas was more of a celebration for the young.       --Bill Schuette

Grown up people then took more interest in the fun and frolic of Christmas time than they do now, when it is, by common consent, almost purely a children’s festival.  Old and young crowded into bobsleds, covered themselves with buffalo robes, and to the merry tune of sleighbells, went speeding along for miles over the creaking snow to attend the Christmas party at the church.  At our first Christmas festivities, it was our custom to take all our gifts, not only for members of our own family, but for our friends as well, to the church, where a committee of ladies took them in charge to be arranged and hung on a Christmas tree.  This trimming of the tree was a very jolly part of the celebration. 

Christmas Tree in Court House

How well I remember one Christmas tree, the first I think, for our church, at the old Court House, at that time our place of worship, forty-five years or more ago.  All day people kept coming with parcels, and the little ones used every pretext to stay and get glimpses of the dolls and toys already in place.  This could not be allowed, for surprise then, as now, was to be an important feature of the evening’s entertainment, and the children were speedily sent on their way. 

In the evening there were songs, recitations and dialogues by the children, after which the tree was lighted up and all was joyous bustle and confusion.  There were exclamations of delight as the children spied some longed for treasure half hidden among the green, and much eager conversation in the excitement of trying to decide which of the beautiful things could be “for me.”  The tree was trimmed, not with the tinsel and gilded ornaments of the present day, but with strings of popcorn and cranberries, and old fashioned cornucopias and other home made articles.  It was heavily loaded with gifts for old and young, toys, books and wearing apparel, bundles and packages of every description, some of which were anything but decorative, from an artistic point of view—very different from the splendidly decorated trees of the present time.  But the company was not critical, and the smell of the pine and the gleam of the lighted candles were a delight to the little ones and to many of the “children of a larger growth.”

Breathless Interest

There was a breathless interest as the master of ceremonies took charge and removed the presents, one by one, reading off the names with great eclate.  The recipient would leave his place and go forward to claim his gift, and there was much good natured raillery in the remarks and comments of his friends as he took his seat, only to be called forward again and again, if his circle of friends was large.  When the very last gift was removed and even the popcorn strings were taken down and thrown to the children, the company became an informal gathering of friends, with hearty greetings and good wishes and a merry social hour.  At last the sleepy children were wrapped in warm cloaks, tightly hugging their new treasures, and the last good byes sounded through the frosty air, and the “Christmas Tree” was over.