Christmas Long Ago

No place was lonelier for settlers during Christmas than the frontier. They were far from home and family. Everything they knew they left back East. The wind howled, temperatures were freezing, and they were hard put just to stay alive. The days were long and filled with hard work. There was little enjoyment to be had.

Christmas was the worst time for depression to set in. They missed their loved ones back East and friends they’d left. The smart ones threw themselves into work to keep their minds occupied.

There were certainly few trees in the plains and northern Texas so they had to make do with whatever they could find.

Some mothers were so desperate for Christmas cheer they got a tumbleweed (which were very plentiful) and decorated it in brightly colored paper, ribbons, and whatever else they could find. Candles were not allowed near due to the combustible nature of the dry bush.

Others chopped down other trees like scrub oak, juniper, or blackjack and used those. These settlers were very resourceful. To make it appear it had snowed on the tree, they wrapped the limbs and twigs with cotton. Other decorations were popcorn and cranberries they strung on twine and strings of paper hearts.

The children could also use the foil that separated layers of cigars and make icicles to hang on the tree. That is if their fathers smoked cigars and they could persuade him to save them. I’m sure there were many other things they made decorations out of. Possibilities were endless, including bird nests, colorful ribbon and empty spools of thread strung together.

School age children usually had a Christmas program of some kind and they got a chance to sing or perform in a play. Those were fun occasions.

Food was an important part of the Christmas celebration and sugar was saved for months so there would be enough for the cakes and pies. Oranges were a real treat and kids only got one if any at the holiday.

Fathers and teenage sons usually went hunting for a turkey, a duck, or whatever game they ran across.

Gifts were homemade unless the family was very wealthy. Fathers carved toys, mothers made dolls and knitted scarves, hats, and gloves. Everything was simple with the emphasis on the celebration of the birth of Jesus. Personally, I wish we could go back to these days without all the commercialization.

Tell me about a Christmas of yours that stands out and what made it really special.

Mine was the year my dad suffered third degree burns over much of his body in an explosion at his job on a construction site. He was in the hospital for months and we didn’t know when he’d get out. Back then, kids weren’t allowed beyond the waiting room so Jan and I couldn’t see him. My mom usually sat with him at night and our older sister came and stayed with us while she was gone, so our door would be locked. I was so afraid Santa couldn’t get in and we wouldn’t get any presents. My older sister told me he could come through the keyhole and not to worry about that. The next morning, sure enough, we had gifts even though we had no tree. And Mama had brought Daddy home from the hospital. That was the best Christmas I can remember because we were all together again.

Growing up, we never had a tree except for one year–the year my brother came home on leave from the Army. I was fifteen and I remember how excited I was to have him home and to have a tree like everybody else.

Here’s a picture of me taken on Christmas morning, skinned knee and all. I must’ve been eight or nine.

  

Wishing you all a Merry Christmas!

About LindaBroday

I'm a NY Times and USA Today bestselling author of western historical romance. I love stories of the old West and the people who once lived there. I haunt libraries and museums and can hang out in them for hours. To tell all the stories that are in my head would take a lifetime.

Comments

Christmas Long Ago — 18 Comments

    • Hi Yvonne……..Thank you for coming. I’m glad you enjoy my post and my Christmas memory. That was such a scary time and I was so young and didn’t fully understand everything. Families go through hard times but if they’re lucky they’re stronger for it.

      Much love and hugs!

  1. Linda- Good morning and Merry Christmas. Great blog article, I too wished we could go bk to a down to earth Christmas & not so commercialize, too. In my family we don’t buy electronics or anything like that. We give gifts that we all need, clothes, & then one special gift usually something they collect or really admire. Often it is an old antique since everyone in my family collects old things from the past. It’s fun and we really enjoy it.
    I remember one Christmas I wanted a guitar I was maybe 2 or 3rd grade. I was so excited when I got it.
    But the best Christmas ever was when I was about 5 or 6 years old. I wanted a stuffed purple horse. Everything I had bk then, I wanted purple, LOL. My mom searched everywhere for one, the closest thing she found. so she got it, was a purple bull. She was afraid I would be disappointed but I was thrilled to death when I opened it. I still have that bull at her house, it’s close to 45 years old.
    Have a great day. Love you and thanks for brightening my weekend. I loved all my surprises.

    • Hi Miss Tonya…….How funny! Who knew you’d be ecstatic to get a purple bull. I’m astounded you still have it. Did you ever learn to play the guitar?

      I’m happy I was able to brighten your weekend. You and Rob are going through some real trials right now. I’m praying for you both.

      Much love, dear heart.

  2. I can’t remember one Christmas that stood out more than any other like yours. That was a blessed Christmas for you and your family! My favorite Christmas memories are from my younger years when all six of us kids were alive and we traveled home to Texas and spent Christmas Eve with my mothers side of the family at Nanny and Pa’s and then spent Christmas Day at my Father’s parents. My grandparents homes were on about 12 miles apart. My mothers side of the family was tiny compared to my dads side so of course I enjoyed going to my Dad’s side of Christmas Day the most because there was so many kids to play with. Funny how gifts aren’t even a big part of those memories at all.

    • Hi Stephanie…….I’m sure to a kid, you had the best Christmas ever with two sets of grandparents close. I never knew my grandparents at all. Some died before I was born and the others lived half a world away. But I remember daydreaming several times and wishing that all my relatives lived in the same town. That would’ve been heaven. No, gifts aren’t what we usually remember. I guess that says a lot about us.

      Love you dearly!

  3. I was in my 20’s, I had just moved from Wyoming to Long Island, New York to work for a Jewish family. I knew I wouldn’t have a tree, and I was going with the family to Florida for the holidays. For me it was very interesting to see the Menorah and to learn more about Hannakk, as I knew nothing. Anyway on Christmas Eve, after the family had lit the candles, said the prayers, I was told to close my eyes. When I reopened my eyes, in front of me was a small lit christmas tree, so that I could celebrate Christmas. That meant more to me, then anything, because I was so far away from family, but was given a gift so I didn’t feel left out.

    • Hi Veda……..How sweet of that family to give you what something you missed. If we open our hearts we’re not separated at all. I’m sure that was an interesting job. Thanks for coming.

      Love and big hugs!

  4. Hello Linda. My Father was also burned. His fault though. Drinking and falling asleep with a cigarette. Third degree burns on his back. I remember mom making clothes and dad made me a cradle of wood, which mom made the mattress and blanket for it. I still have it. I find that I don’t remember much from my childhood. I’m not sure why. Cookies and cakes or any kind of treat was few and far between. But treasured for sure. All I know now is that I hold my family close to my heart and treasure every day I have them in my life. Thank you for sharing your wonderful story. Merry Christmas to you all

    • Hi Charlene……..I’m so glad you stopped by and I’m sorry about your dad. That must’ve been really scary. Sometimes all we have is family to keep us going. I’m glad you hold them in your heart and treasure their company and I hope you have the best Christmas ever.

      Much love, dear heart.

  5. Yes, settlers lived very hard lives. Their Christmas celebrations sound fun, though. I love the simplicity of them.

    My most memorable Christmas happened when I was a small child. My family was low income at the time and we didn’t have the money to buy any special food for Christmas. (To clarify, we did have food in the house, but it was stuff like oatmeal, beans, and eggs).

    A neighbour of ours knocked on the door shortly before the holidays. She’d heard my parents were struggling to make ends meet that year, so she went to the store to buy us a turkey and all of the fixings for Christmas dinner. I believe there was even a dessert included (pie maybe?) which was a wonderful treat. We ate like kings that year! Every Christmas I think of her, wish her well, and try to recreate that magic for someone else who needs help. She made our holiday season so special.

    • Hi Lydia……What a special neighbor with a kind heart. I love what she did and I love that still remember it and try to pass the help along to someone else. You know how important it was to you. If everyone did some kindness for one other person the world would be a better place. Thank you for coming and liking my post.

      Blessings and love!

  6. Times were hard for folks back then. People today have no idea what it was like to have the simple wish for food on Christmas, much less anything else. I love this picture of you. It was a good Christmas. You got a new doll, phone and a doll buggy! Wow! I, of course, have no memory of Daddy being in the hospital or him coming home. I was too little. I too, however, remember the year Irvin came home from the Army and that we had a tree! That was an exciting Christmas. Thanks for sharing! Love you, sister!

    • Good morning, Jan………Yep, we had one of our better Christmases that year. I can’t recall what you got but I’m sure it was a doll of some kind. You were very small when Daddy was in that explosion and in the hospital for so long. Aunt Evelyn kept us some and she and Mom took turns going to the hospital. And when Irvin came home from the Army that Christmas, I remember how our house was filled with joy. He brought laughter back to our home.

      Love you dearly, sister!

  7. Beautiful to read these stories from everyone. Linda, the history from then was so moving to read. I could feel your emotions through your words. Thanks so much for sharing. I just keep remembering helping my grandma on Christmas Eve when everyone was visiting and it meant so much to me being in the kitchen with her Cathie

    • Good morning, Caffey…….Thanks for coming! I always love seeing you. What memory to cherish of being in the kitchen helping your grandma. Special times. I can tell you loved her dearly and I’m sure she loved you right back. We cling to these memories and take them out when we need a little cheer. I hope you have a wonderful Christmas full of love and laughter.

      Much love and Christmas blessings!

  8. Thank you so much for sharing, Linda. I just love your blogs.
    I have been very blessed to have been a part of a God fearing family that placed faith and love of family way above all else, especially at holidays. Partly bc most were simply not able to afford more than the simple cost of a family dinner for ALL of us to be in 1 place for 1 meal, but I never knew that as a child. I never knew we were poor. My Dad was military and he and Mom decided from the 10th grade that they would marry, Dad would be AF and Mom his wife and our mother. He held faithful to that commitment to his death bed last month. Because we moved so much, my grandparents homes (very rural area with homes so close you could barely see lights of one thru the trees at night), were where we always called “home” and visited every holiday season most of my life. One year. Our family has spread out thru the years but even to some of my 2nd cousins are still in touch with each other. That is my special Christmas memory for the span of most of my lifetime.
    As a child, close to High School graduation though, I had dreamed of a white bedroom suit all my own, with a canopy bed for all my girlhood. (I always shared a bunk bed/bedroom with my little brother).The last Christmas b4 I graduated, we went home to family. My gift from “Santa” that year was my beautiful canopy bed, chest and dresser, waiting for me at home. I later figured out my Dad had worked 3 jobs to make enough for my Christmas, my High School graduation gown and ring.
    Having just lost my Dad last month makes that particular sacrifice on his part all the more precious and poignant this year.
    May you and all who read your blog, Linda, have a Christ filled Merry Christmas and a new year filled with healing, peace and all that brings the most joy!

    • Hi Teresa…….Your dad and mine didn’t hesitate to take on extra work to give their children something nice. It was way things were done. I’m sure your heart is very heavy but cling to your memories and let them comfort you. I hear your pain.

      Merry Christmas and tender love!

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