Christmas on the Prairie, 1900

In the midst of all the overload Christmas has become, I admit to some nostalgia these days for a simpler time. Sometimes nostalgia for a simpler time is mere wishful thinking—the simpler time did not really exist. But in researching and writing Coming to America about my ancestors who came to settle the plains of Kansas, I did find a simpler, hardly commercial celebration to enjoy and share.

Although some families did have their own Christmas trees, that was not the general rule in Barrett, Kansas where my relatives lived. The tradition there was for a communal Christmas tree set up in the local school house, which in those days was much the heart of the community. There, mostly the school children would present some type of Christmas Entertainment. “There was a Christmas tree over at Barrett in the School house Saturday night. They had a good program and there were many there. They could not near all find seats.”

Christmas presents were exchanged among relatives. In my own family’s case, money was sent to my great-uncle John who was struggling to make a go of a farm he had bought in Missouri. He had two small children and actual presents (useful), sometimes handmade, were given to them:

“Wished to send you a little Christmas present, Two Dollars and a little package by mail but we had sent off for a few things and did not get them in time. Had sent for two pair of stockings for the Babies, but one pair was entirely to[o] large. Mama knit the little mittens some to[o] large too I think. Will send the package with this letter so you will get it during the Holidays.”

At the homestead in Kansas, the family “Had a nice time — a little surprise for everyone besides the nuts, candy and bratzel [a type of sausage they made themselves]. also roasted a pan of peanuts. We did not plant any [this year] but have plenty left over [from the previous year]. It was a nice day, a little snow fell the night before, not near enough to cover the ground, which was soon gone.”

John and his wife Lulu in turn sent products using express services such as Wells Fargo from their farm—molasses, nuts, apples and persimmons, the latter something that would have been particularly special as they could not thrive in the colder climes of Kansas.

About the molasses, my great-aunt Mary wrote “Opened it up. As it ran out looked like honey. Is fine and tastes nice. Is so different from the molasses we have here. . . .

“Mother sais to Thank You very much for the molasses but does not feel like accepting it as a Present as we think you need the money. You did not say how much molasses is there. It sold here for 35¢ and 40¢ per gal. At 40¢ per gallon and freight, would be about Five Dollars, which you will find enclosed and many thanks from us all. . . .”

Full-fledged Christmas cards were not used in those days. What were exchanged were Christmas postcards. At the beginning of the blog are a few from my family archive. Happy holidays to all!


Leave a Reply