Categories
Blog

A Merry Western Christmas

My dear, I hope your holidays have been amazing so far! Christmas is my favorite time of the year and December my favorite month. And of course, since I’m a fan of the Old West, today you will learn everything you need to know of the Old Western Christmas...

...celebrations, traditions, gifts and food of the Wild West during the Christmas period! 

Get comfortable, make yourself a warm cup of tea and join me in the most beautiful time of the year!

Christmas In The Old West?

The Queen's Christmas tree at Windsor Castle, published in the Illustrated London News, 1848, and republished in Godey's Lady's Book, Philadelphia, December 1850 (Image source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christmas#/media/File:Godey'streeDec1850.GIF)

Well, sure! From 1836 to 1890, every state had officially recognized Christmas as the annual religious holiday on December 25th. Perhaps you already know it, dear, but allow me to tell you this: Christmas time was a really hard period for pioneers. 

And why? Because of the weather, of course. Those who lived on the prairies were in huge danger due to the terrible December blizzards and winds. Men who worked at the mines had a really  difficult time because of the freezing cold and the terrible storms. These mountain men had to go and stay somewhere else, way before December arrived if they wanted to survive. Cattlemen could also be stuck in a snowstorm andnd, finally, others could already be somewhere safe and sound, locked inside their homes!

However, the most remarkable thing about all the pioneers was that despite their difficulties and harsh life conditions, they never, ever forgot to celebrate Christmas. Even in the most humble way!

The Christmas Tree?

From 1850, the Christmas tree was one of the most popular traditions, both in the West and East. I think we can imagine how easy it would be for a pioneer to go and just cut an evergreen from his land, take it into his house and decorate it, right, sweetie?

But it’s worth mentioning that not every pioneer house had a Christmas tree inside. In some cases, the house was smaller than the tree, so a huge evergreen would not fit in there. Perhaps a smaller one would work, though...well, it’s a pity that there weren’t fake trees back then!

“Here Is The Tree. How Do We Decorate It?”

People who lived during the Western Era we all know and adore, didn’t have the variety of decorations we have today. Well, an old western Christmas tree would be decorated with many nice things...

Despite the lack of variety and choices, people had the sweetest imagination and the greatest of ideas. They were decorating their trees with many colorful ribbons, paper strings and—wait for it—berries! 

They were also creating dolls and small figures made of straw or yarn. How beautiful is that? This tree couldn’t become more homemade than that.  And this is so touching considering their harsh way of life.

Gatherings To Warm Their Hearts

Back then, exactly like today, people had warming family and friend gatherings. They were having great feasts while exchanging homemade gifts with each other.Of course, every hostess would prepare a meal according to her or her family’s budget. Let’s not forget that not everyone back in those days had the luxury to afford to eat whatever they liked...but I’ll come back to that later. The important thing is that, despite the cold weather, the people of the West were keeping their hearts warm by gathering and eating together, creating a splendid and lovely Christmas atmosphere.

Heartwarming Gifts

Exchanging gifts is—and will always be—a unique tradition when it comes to holidays, especially Christmas. If you ask me, it’s the gesture that counts more! It’s wonderful when your loved ones show their love for you by getting you a gift, isn’t it? Or should I say better, by making it?

As I wrote before, during the western era, there weren’t many options when it came to decorations. Well, the same thing applied for presents too. But homemade is always better, right?

The families were working months before Christmas in order to prepare or make the gifts they were going to give their kids, friends and relatives during their Christmas visits. Corn husk dolls, carved wooden toys, dolls, pillows, embroidered hankies were some of the most common but beautiful homemade gifts!

It was also very common back then, especially for the women of the era, to sew. So other homemade gifts were knitted scarves, socks, hats and mitts. 

Also, if you ask me, a really sweet gift would be a peel from an orange, meant to scent a drawer.  Even a piece of candy was often considered a cherished gift.

It’s worth saying that the well known and very popular today wish cards started their huge success back then. Typography and chromolithography made the printing of multiple cards at a time possible and very easy. With the transcontinental railroad making the mail service easier, people started buying and sending many Christmas cards to their loved ones, or offering them as a gift to their closest people.

Gifts For The Kids

Candies, toothbrushes, cookies and fruits were found inside their stockings. Other gifts for children were homemade figures and dolls, small toys, medicine, gingerbread, books or letters and pens.

The Christmas Western Menu

Now it’s time for food! The big feast, my dear!

Common meal choices for Christmas were pies of all kinds—sweet pies like apple pie, or savory ones like a mince pie, venison meat, bear meat, mincemeat, bacon, plum pudding, bread, crackers, baked beans, cookies and cakes!

Pies and cakes were coming in any shape or form you can imagine. Star, heart, flower or even jigsaw puzzles to fit together. I would love to try and make a few of these...puzzles! 

Oh my! Delicious food combinations, right?

Wanna Add A Frontier Note To Your Table This Year?

Here sweetie, I would like to share a frontier recipe I found while doing my research about Christmas during the frontier era. So please, allow me to present you the Victoria Sandwiches! Well, I’ll definitely want to try this...

Ingredients

~4 eggs (weigh them in their shells)

~Caster sugar, equal to the weight of the eggs

~Butter, equal to the weight of the eggs

~Flour, equal to the weight of the eggs

~¼ teaspoon salt

~Jam or marmalade, of any kind

Recipe

Cream the butter for about five minutes, then add the sugar and beat for about two-three minutes. Add the eggs and beat for three minutes. Add the flour and salt and beat for an additional five minutes.

Butter a 9”x9” baking tin and pour in the batter. Bake at 350 for 20-25 minutes. Use a toothpick to test for doneness. Allow to cool on a cake rack.

Cut the cake in half and spread the jam over the bottom of the cake. Place the other half of the cake on top and gently press the pieces together. Cut them into long finger pieces. Pile them in crossbars on a glass dish and serve.

From Mrs. Beeton’s Cookery and Household Management, Isabella Beeton, 1874, London.

Recipe web resource: https://truewestmagazine.com/christmas-on-the-frontier/ 

Christmas And New Year’s Eve Traditions

Except gatherings, gifts exchanging, cooking and decorating, there was one more very important tradition. In fact two. And they had to do with the spirit and the soul

People of the Old West used to go to church right before their family feasts. After the service they would be happy, having gatherings with their loved ones, singing songs around the fireplace. How lovely!

Best Wishes From Me

My dear, I would like to wish you and your loved ones the very best, with all my heart. Make the most of your Christmas holiday and may the New Year finds you happier than ever, stronger and healthier!

Thank you once again for being here with me and for reading this article. If you enjoyed it, comment below or send me your thoughts through email.

Until then, you have my love!

Written by Cassidy Hanton

  • Very interesting. I’ve always been interested in cooking & baking, learning much from my mother & maternal grandmother. I love western books and some of the traditions
    explained I them. The last couple of years I’ve been unable to do baking as my health isn’t good and I really miss the usual traditions. Blessings to all.

  • I love that you research the periods of your writing. Nothing irritates me more than misinformation. You cannot go coast to coast in a steam engine in three days, it’s a flock of sheep, not a herd and so on. If you write about farming, learn what animals are used. Know how long it would take a horse to ride ten miles. Excuse my soap box complaints

  • I loved the article!! I’m going to have to try the recipe. I wish you and your loved ones a very Merry Christmas.

  • Just amazing that the people of the old west who experienced such hardship during the winter months managed to survive & to celebrate Christmas with simple homemade
    goods made with love to give to family & special friends who visited. I think here in Australia it was a tad different as Christmas falls during our very hot Summer & our pioneers also went through much hardship but did spend time with family & friends, even if it was only the drover’s dog!! I wish all who read this message a wonderful Merry Christmas & a Happy New Year 2020 with all its promise.

  • Thanks for the information I enjoyed reading when my grandmother was alive we still used popcorn and candy canes to decorate the tree .This was how she grew up.

  • The cake sounds good and I make homemade jelly every year….blueberry, plum,muscatine. I enjoyed it and I enjoy making my gifts to give. This year I made fruit cakes and white trash snack mix. Merry Christmas!!

  • A very thorough, wonderfully informative article! I enjoyed it very much! It brought back memories of my childhood, growing up in Alabama as the eldest of 7 children of poor sharecropper parents, almost 80 years! The memories of those years were made easier and bearable by Family and Friends when engaging in festive “fellowship” together! Thanks for the “Walkdown Memory Lane!” Stella POE Sutton

  • Thank you Cassidy. I enjoyed your article very much. Sometimes we forget how lucky we are in this day and age. It does us good to remember how it was in years past.
    MERRY CHRISTMAS to you and your family.

  • Hi cassidy
    On nov 27 i had a mastectomy of my right breast i went to the doctor that does chemo and they are waiting for my my right side to heal i had a whole bunch of tests done i had a genetics test done and since i have a whole bunch of cancer in my family they want to take my left breast this will happen at the first of the year .

    • Thank you for sharing it with us, Susan. It takes courage and you have it! Stay strong and may everything go well!

  • Thank you for posting. I absolutely love reading about this era. The good the bad and the ugly.
    Merry Christmas and blessings for a wonderful New Year.

  • I find this interesting. I think other parts of the country were very similar to this 80 or 100 years ago. When I was a small child, my dad would go out into the country and bring back a small tree that he had cut. We actually had store bought ornaments, but many still used hand made ornaments. I have made ornaments for myself and as gifts for my piano students. Of course, I grew up in a small town that was rather rural. Thanks for the article.