Christmas is coming! For some people, that means it is time to decorate the house and to cook special foods. In our last post, we talked about traditions or past-times. A tradition is doing something every year the way our parents and grand-parents did. Some families have decorations that they only put up in December every year. Is there a stocking or a wreath at your house every year? Do you have a party at your house or go to a party at school or church?
In the year 1875, kids had holiday past-times, too. Even though it was over 140 years ago! Many Iowa families went to parties at Christmas time. The party could be at their town’s school or their church. The townspeople would decorate a Christmas tree at the school or church instead of in their own home. They might even call the party a “Christmas Tree” party. Gifts for all the school’s children would be on the tree or around it. Decorations for a school or church tree would be made by students and parents. People would thread a needle and string pieces of popcorn, wooden beads, and maybe even cranberries into garland. They could also make paper chains to decorate the tree.
Paper scraps were glued into pretty ornaments and cones to hold candy and presents. At the school party, kids would read poems and sing songs for their family. Do you know any Christmas poems to read? Do you know the poem “A Visit from St. Nicholas?” I bet you do! It starts, “’Twas the night before Christmas and all through the house…” This poem was written a very long time ago in 1823! How about, “Dashing through the snow in a One Horse Open Sleigh”? That song was written in 1857! You might call it “Jingle Bells”.
Wealthy families, like the Flynn family, might invite people to a “Christmas Tree” party at their own house. The house would be decorated with ribbons and evergreens. The family Christmas tree would go in the parlor. In 1875, it was a new idea to have a Christmas tree at your own home. This was a way for the Flynns to show off to their friends. Their tree would be decorated the day of the party or maybe the night before Christmas. Even the Flynns would make some of their decorations for the tree from popcorn and paper. The Flynns also had enough money to buy fancy glass ornaments shaped like fruit and balls. These ornaments were usually made in Germany and were very expensive. They even had a funny name—kugels!
Because there were no electric lights in 1875, Christmas trees had candles on them. The candles were only lit for a few minutes. Everyone stood and admired how pretty the tree looked and the candles were blown out. It was too easy to start a fire if the candles stayed lit for the entire party.
A Christmas party at the Flynn Mansion could include music at the piano, fun games and stories in the parlor, and fancy food in the dining room. A favorite parlor game at Christmas was Blind Man’s Bluff. Everyone stood in a circle in the center of the room. Whoever was chosen to be “it” was blindfolded and placed in the middle of the circle. The other players danced and played tag around this person. The “Blind Man” had to try and catch another player and to guess who the person was without looking.
For kids and adults, a Christmas party was a great place to tell ghost stories! We think of scary stories for Halloween, but a long time ago, people told scary stories at the end of the year at Christmas! Think of stories like “A Christmas Carol” written by Charles Dickens. This story was meant to be a scary ghost story for Christmas!
If you’d like to learn more about how Christmas was celebrated 140 years ago, join us this Saturday, December 6 for our Family Christmas Event!
Caregivers: Living History Farms will be open on December 6, from 4-8 pm for a Family Christmas! Guests can visit the Flynn Mansion, the Church of the Land, and the Visitor Center. At the Flynn Mansion, you can help trim the tree and make a Christmas card to celebrate the season!
In the Church of the Land, everyone will enjoy dancing and music by the Barn Owl Band, and kids can decorate cookies in the church basement. Children will also enjoy crafts and taffy pulling in the Visitor Center. If weather permits, there will be horse-drawn wagon rides between the buildings.