From The Archives – Historic Footnotes by the late Carol Laun (1934 – 2021)

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Originally published December 1982

Christmas Past

Edna Spring Messenger, age 6, 1893. Courtesy of SBHS

(From an interview with the late Edna Spring Messenger)

“I think we fussed more about Christmas in those days (c.1895). On Christmas Eve, Dad would hitch two horses to the bob sled and we would ride to church, the Copper Hill Methodist Church in East Granby. There was always a church entertainment; the children would recite appropriate pieces.

“We did not have a Christmas tree at home, there was a big tree set up at church for all the church families. All the families took their gifts to church and hung them on the tree. There was no fancy wrapping paper then, all the presents were in brown paper. They were the only trimming on the tree.

“The older men would then call off the names on the gifts. There was a sort of a contest to see whose name was called the most times. One neighbor had no children, but used to try to have his niece’s name called the most. We received gifts like sleds, skates, clothes, umbrellas and games like checkers, dominos and Pit. There was always an orange and a bag of candy for each child.

“I think this was just the Methodist method of celebration. We had no big celebration at home, no big family dinner. We did hang up our stockings on Christmas Eve and on New Year’s Eve. I don’t remember why we hung them up on New Year’s Eve. We would find mittens and candy, nuts and oranges in our stockings. On Christmas Day we would play with our new toys.”

Cleaning ice for skating at Riverside Park, Hartford. January 1915. Courtesy Connecticut Historical Society Museum, Hartford

(From an interview with the late Helen Cotton Howland)

“It was Christmas Eve about 1898 when my family went to Granby’s Universalist Church to attend a Christmas service for children and parents. The church seemed filled with children who rendered Christmas stories, verses and songs. Following this, the children lingered around the Christmas tree to receive oranges while parents visited.

“The ride home in the big sleigh was one of the most impressive and memorable experiences I can recall. I didn’t know that the world seemed so big. Perhaps it was the first evening ride I ever had in winter. The pure white crusty snow seemed to cover the whole world. In the quiet of the night with no traffic and nothing stirring, the full moon topped the snow with its golden light, while high above, our eyes encircled the glittering stars which seemed to want to speak. No sounds except for a jingle of sleigh bells and quiet conversation. An illustrious picture to remember through the years.

“The real excitement came Christmas morning. We could hardly wait to run to the Christmas tree to open packages and empty our stockings. We had few gifts, but perhaps we appreciated them more. There were toys we had never seen before and books that held our attention throughout the day. My parents and older half brothers and sisters would get down and play with the little ones. Once my father attached a wire to the ceiling and we had a toy monkey that would climb the wire. We had such fun and played with that the longest time. We also had oranges and Christmas candy canes. We always had a tree and would go back on the mountain to cut it. It was a time of family fun.

Christmas greeting from the past. Courtesy SBHS

“The day’s excitement increased when cousins and aunts and uncles arrived for dinner. Our long black walnut table with many leaves would be set up for Christmas dinner, always very special for holidays. It was big enough to seat 20 or 21 people and there was so much food! We usually had a huge old-fashioned chicken pie and all the additions. How could a day pass so soon?

“I still recall, how in the early evening after company had gone, I stood alone by the long kitchen table admiring the long white tablecloth and the two beautiful lighted kerosene lamps, one a Rochester, the other a Gone With The Wind lamp. I said to myself, ‘Why can’t we have this every night?’ And so the most important day of the year came to an end.”

With thanks to Faith Tyldsley who researched the Salmon Brook Historical Society archives to select this article and photos.