A Christmas Pause During “The Great War” (1914 – 1919)

“No Man’s Land” is the term used by soldiers to describe the ground between the two opposing trenches. Its width along the Western Front could vary a great deal. The average distance in most sectors was about 250 yards (230 metres). However, at Guillemont it was only 50 yards (46 metres) whereas at Cambrai it was over 500 yards (460 metres). The narrowest gap was at Zonnebeke where British and German soldiers were only about seven yards apart.

No Man’s Land contained a considerable amount of barbed wire. In the areas most likely to be attacked, there were ten belts of barbed wire just before the front-line trenches. In some places the wire was more than a 100 feet (30 metres) deep.

The group “Celtic Thunder” sings the story of this World War truce. The German soldiers take a spontaneous pause to sing Christmas Carols and from across “No Man’s Land the allied troops joined in before returning to their fighting in the morn . . . This heart-wrenching music video tells that story.

Christmas Traditions in Our Nation’s Capital

One of my former colleagues posted this article from a pamphlet he picked up at the Mary Surratt House Museum titled, “Christmas of Yesterday: A History of Our Treasured Traditions and Holiday Customs.” (If you recall, Mary Surratt was an alleged member of the Abraham Lincoln assassination conspiracy, and holds the dubious distinction of being the first woman executed by the U.S. government. She was hung for treason in July 1865.)

Some of us who are natives or have lived in and around Washington, D.C. (Congress on July 16, 1790, declared the “District of Columbia” as our nation’s capital). may already be familiar with some stories about Christmas traditions just because of our close proximity to The White House.  Others, maybe not so much.  So this post is intended especially for those of you who may be interested in Christmas traditions  in our nation’s capital during the Georgian (1714-1837) and Victorian (1837-1901) Eras.  I added parenthetical and bracketed information to further clarify the times covered within the quotes from the Surratt Museum pamphlet.

[Our second president {1797-1801} and first vice president {1789-1797}], John Adams, inaugurated the custom of holiday parties at the White House. The Oval Room was decorated with greens, and the tables were laden with cakes, punch, and other refreshments, while the children sang, danced, and played with the Adams’ grandchildren.

“Under Thomas Jefferson [President from 1801-1809],  Christmas parties became adult affairs where his guests feasted on imported cheeses, preserved fruits, and other delicacies and where vintage wines accompanied the meal. His six grandchildren wandered among the dignitaries, Congressmen, and Ambassadors, an informality which shocked many in Washington society.

“When Andrew Jackson came to the White House in 1829, he was in mourning for his wife; but his family put up a stocking on a White House mantel and the morning found it stuffed with small presents – including a corncob pipe. His nieces and nephews also had stockings filled with cakes, candles, nuts, and fruits.

“Because President Jackson had been raised as an orphan, he threw a party for other orphans. Among the treats were ices shaped like apples and pears to eat, and snowballs made of starch-powdered cotton to throw.”

“The first Christmas Tree entered the White House in the 1850s during the administration of Franklin Pierce (1853-1857). This official presidential sanction helped to popularize the custom in America.”

Our 16th president’s young son, Tad, reportedly rounded up street waifs during his father’s administration (1861-1865), and brought them home for turkey dinners.”

“By 1885,  President Grover Cleveland (1885-1889) had added new-fangled electric lights to the White House tree.”

“The tradition of Christmas season receptions spread throughout the area into homes not so grand as the White House.”

“On New Year’s Day, our early Presidents generally held an open house in the best democratic tradition. It was open to all, no matter the political and social differences.”

Even the simplest of homes in nearby Southern Maryland (where I grew up and still reside), could be simply decorated with pine, cedar, crowsfoot, running cedar, laurel, bay and holly from the nearby woods. Ivy and rosemary were, surprisingly, the most prized Christmas decorations of the Victorian era. Fresh fruits from the Washington Markets, abundant osage oranges, and pine cones and pods could all be added to the arrangements. Some accounts of the period refer to cedar boughs being dusted with flour to achieve the ‘snow’ effect that we spray on today.

“Mistletoe, shot from trees, abounded. New Englanders had to pay for mistletoe for it grows only in warmer climes, but Marylanders found it abundant in neighboring woods.”

“The proper Victorian was not too staid to enjoy a stolen kiss! And there was a proper way to kiss under the mistletoe. As the man kissed the lady, he was obligated to pluck a berry from the branch and present it to the lady. This practice continued until the berries were gone. The mistletoe then lost its power of love, and no more kisses could be had.”

Huh. That seems to be the Victorian version of the expression, “if you snooze, you lose.”

“Many a Christmas romance started under the mistletoe and led to a Christmas wedding the next year. The season was a popular time for weddings because family and friends traditionally gathered at Christmas and it was easier to get everyone together. The night before the wedding, a party was held at the bride’s house. The next morning the wedding procession began. The days following the wedding were filled with parties, for the bride and groom of the early and mid-19th century did not take honeymoon trips.”

“But, back to our customs…In the nearby hearth burned the traditional Yule log – or Christmas log as it was called in the south. This had been an English custom, and the Southerners stuck with their English ties.” [The Yule Log was believed to bring beneficial magic and was kept burning for at least twelve hours and sometimes as long as twelve days, warming both the house and those who resided within. When the fire of the Yule Log was finally quenched, a small fragment of the wood would be saved and used to light the next year’s log. It was also believed that as long as the Yule Log burned, the house would be protected from witchcraft. The ashes that remained from the sacred Yule Log were scattered over fields to bring fertility, or cast into wells to purify and sweeten the water. Sometimes, the ashes were used in the creation of various charms…to free cattle from vermin, for example, or to ward off hailstorms.]

“One practice on the plantations called for the Master to allow a Christmas rest for the slaves. The holiday lasted as long as the Christmas log burned, so slaves were often caught sprinkling water on it to keep it burning slowly.”

“A Victorian Christmas was bright and cheerful, and the decorations and parties were as simple or as elaborate as the people cared to make them.”

But, no matter the year, where you live, or how you and yours celebrate this season, let us all not forget, the true meaning and its reason!

Wishing everyone a Very Merry Christmas!

How’s Your Pre-Christmas Spirit?

a_christmas_carolHave You Been Scrooged or Is Family Your Focus?

How’s your pre-Christmas spirit going this year?  Have you just about had it with all the hustle and bustle that leads up to the big day?  Has your focus been on the reason for the season or has societal pressure and extreme commercialism pulled you in?

The focus of our family’s Christmases together for the past several years has been changing.  Bob and I are of the sandwich generation, and fortunately for us,  for the past three years we have had five living generations come together (about 30 of all ages) to celebrate the true meaning of Christmas.

This year, especially, our elders have become more frail and less independent.  As such, our family has pulled together to honor their wishes and to support them in their home. While at times serving them can get burdensome and tire us out, the grace of God and the true meaning of love of family sustains us.  W continue to treasure each moment and each year that we can spend Christmas with most of our family together under a single roof.

A few children and grandchildren have ventured out into the world.  But, most of us remain on the east coast, while others are in Chicago, Texas, and even Italy. But in spirit our family is together and remembering Christmases past.

A 6-Minute Version of Charles Dickens’ 1843 “A Christmas Carol”

So, I thought in the spirit of Christmas, and remembering times from our past, I’d share with you the 6-minute version of Scrooge, or, Marley’s Ghost, a silent film from 1901.  It is the earliest known film adaptation of Charles Dickens’ 1843 A Christmas Carol. The English movie pioneer R.W. Paul produced it.  It is, however, based more on J.C Buckstone‘s 1901 stage adaptation Scrooge rather than Dickens‘ original story.

Like in the play, the film Scrooge is shown the error of his miserly ways by the ghost of his deceased business partner, Jacob Marley—played by a man in a sheet.

Here’s wishing you heartwarming moments with your family and friends–and plenty of laughter to welcome in the new year!

Odd Christmas Customs From Newspaper Archives!

 “Old Christmas fare did not include the turkey, now the modern Christmas bird.  In olden days, a roasted peacock took its place on the festive board.”

Canaseraga 1913-1915 1Last week I wrote about the great newspaper archives at fultonhistory.com.  I promised I would go back and take a closer look.  So I searched on the word Christmas this time.  The interesting article of customs (to the left) across the world from 1913-1915 appeared.  I next googled Canaseraga to see what I could learn about this New York city and the newspaper in which I found this article. I hope you find the customs as interesting as I did.  And now, for some background on the area and the newspaper from which this article came:

Canaseraga, New York

Canaseraga is a village in Allegany County, New York, United States. The population was 550 at the 2010 census.The name comes from a creek that flows past the village, which is reportedly a native term for “lying among milkweed“.

The village lies in the northern part of the town of Burns at New York State Route 70 and County Road 13.

The community was one of the original settlements in the town, but was subordinate to the community of Burns until about 1840. The village of Canaseraga was incorporated in 1892. It was originally called “Whitney Valley”.

As a result of a fire the town is now much smaller than it once was. Many residents travel to nearby communities to shop and attend movies, as Canaseraga is very limited. There is one school, for pre-kindergarten through grade 12. The school offers soccer, basketball, skiing, and baseball/softball), but lacks other sports such as football and track. Canaseraga has a Fall Harvest Festival which offers several activities for families.

Canaseraga Four Corners Historic District is a national historic district at Canaseraga in Allegany County, New York. The district consists of 1.7 acres (0.69 ha) and includes 16 contributing buildings. It encompasses that part of the remaining commercial core that retains a high degree of architectural integrity. It is an intact example of a cohesive collection of a building type and style that characterized rural villages at the end of the 19th century.[2]

It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2002.

Canaseraga 1913-1915 2Canaseraga - Four Corners Historic District

As for the Canaseraga Times Newspaper, it seems to have been in business from Nov. 29, 1873 until Oct. 29, 1942–just shy of 69 years! But, given the business district’s number of fires in the 1800’s and the  area and population decline to merely 1.06 square miles and 550 people in 2010, this makes this a very small place, only 1 percent of its home country, Allegany. That is, Allegany County is over 1,000 square miles and its 2010 population was nearly 50,000!

Canaseraga 1913-1915 3Canaseraga 1913-1915 4

A Renaissance Christmas Dinner – Published 1660

It has become a tradition in our family for the past 10 years or so (passed down from my maternal grandmother, Loretta, my mom, Norma, as they got older) that my daughter-in-law and I shop and prepare food for about 30 loved ones on our special holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas.  Despite her full-time career, our daughter-in-law, Penny, always puts on the best feed bag ever.
And, although mostly women render our meals with love, we also complain about all the shopping, planning, preparation, cooking, presentation, and clean up that goes into less than an hour sit down meal with our beloved family and friends.  I must say that I feel just a bit ashamed after reading Robert May’s 2-course meal!  However, I would put Penny’s extraordinary meals of everyday foods in a match against those of Robert May’s for nobility anytime because I’m sure her delicacies are of equal quality, taste, and presentation. In order words, Penny’s our accomplished cook and master of kitchen arts in Southern Maryland. Not to be overlooked or outdone, our son, Jeff, Penny’s husband, is also a master outdoor cook and captain of cutlery!  And together, they’re the team to beat when it comes to hosting great get togethers.

A Bill of Fare for Christmas Day

Original Article Published December 18, 2013 – 5:00 pm by:  Joy Lanzendorfer on Mental_floss’s FaceBook page:

The Accomplisht Cook, London, England


If the thought of planning Christmas dinner makes you nervous, be glad you weren’t born in the Renaissance. The earliest known published Christmas menu includes pork, beef, goose, lark, pheasant, venison, oysters, swan, woodcock, and “a kid with a pudding in his belly,” to name just a few.

This is according to The Accomplisht Cook, written by Robert May in 1660. May was an English chef who trained in France and cooked for nobility throughout his life. In a section titled “A bill of fare for Christmas Day and how to set the meat in order,” May suggests 39 dishes split over two courses, plus oysters, oranges, lemons, and jellies for dessert. The menu is surprising not only because of its size, but because it contains so many proteins—there are 11 different types of birds alone—and not much else. Well, unless you count pastry. There’s lots of pastry, too.


1. A collar of brawn [pork that is rolled, tied, and boiled in wine and seasonings].
2. Stewed Broth of Mutton marrow bones.
3. A grand Sallet [salad].
4. A pottage [thick stew] of caponets [young castrated roosters].
5. A breast of veal in stoffado [stuffed veal].
6. A boil’d partridge.
7. A chine (a cut of meat containing backbone) of beef, or surloin roast. Here’s May’s recipe:

To roast a Chine, Rib, Loin, Brisket, or Fillet of Beef
Draw them with parsley, rosemary, tyme, sweet marjoram, sage, winter savory, or lemon, or plain without any of them, fresh or salt, as you please; broach it, or spit it, roast it and baste it with butter; a good chine of beef will ask six hours roasting.

For the sauce take strait tops of rosemary, sage-leaves, picked parsley, tyme, and sweet marjoram; and strew them in wine vinegar, and the beef gravy; or otherways with gravy and juice of oranges and lemons. Sometimes for change in saucers of vinegar and pepper.

8. Minced pies.
9. A Jegote [sausage] of mutton with anchove sauce.
10. A made dish of sweet-bread (Here’s a recipe from A New Booke of Cookerie by John Murrell, published in 1615: Boyle, or roast your Sweet-bread, and put into it a fewe Parboyld Currens, a minst Date, the yolkes of two new laid Egs, a piece of a Manchet grated fine. Season it with a little Pepper, Salt, Nutmeg, and Sugar, wring in the iuyce of an Orenge, or Lemon, and put it betweene two sheetes of puft-paste, or any other good Paste: and eyther bake it, or frye it, whether you please.)
11. A swan roast.
12. A pasty of venison.
13. A kid with a pudding in his belly.
14. A steak pie.
15. A hanch of venison roasted.
16. A turkey roast and stuck with cloves.
17. A made dish of chickens in puff paste.
18. Two bran geese roasted, one larded [larding is inserting or weaving strips of fat in the meat, sometimes with a needle].
19. Two large capons, one larded.
20. A Custard.


Oranges and Lemons
1. A young lamb or kid.
2. Two couple of rabbits, two larded.
3. A pig souc’t [sauced] with tongues.
4. Three ducks, one larded.
5. Three pheasants, 1 larded.
6. A Swan Pye [the showpiece: a pie with the dead swan’s head, neck, and wings sticking up from it].
7. Three brace of partridge, three larded.
8. Made dish in puff paste.
9. Bolonia sausages, and anchoves, mushrooms, and Cavieate, and pickled oysters in a dish.
10. Six teels, three larded.
11. A Gammon of Westphalia Bacon.
12. Ten plovers, five larded.
13. A quince pye, or warden pie [pears or quinces peeled and poached in syrup, then baked whole in a pie].
14. Six woodcocks, 3 larded.
15. A standing Tart in puff-paste, preserved fruits, Pippins, &c.
16. A dish of Larks.
17. Six dried neats [calf] tongues
18. Sturgeon.
19. Powdered [salted] Geese.

And you know, nothing says Christmas like powdered geese and jellies.

When’s the Last Time You Expressed Your Feelings Through a Greeting Card?

When cleaning my desk in my home office I came upon a birthday card from my second born son and his wife.  I had set this card aside after initially receiving it in January 2013. When I received it, I couldn’t fully focus on it with others around.  I knew though that I wanted to read and save it with other special memories.  It was vintage pretty and its words had struck a chord in me.  They were telling me that all my efforts as a mom were appreciated and that I had made a difference in their lives–what more could a mother want or wish for from her children?

BDayCard2013And this card reminded me of cards exchanged among family from times past.

Stored away in one of several cardboard boxes in an unfinished attic, I found rare old family pictures and many other sentimental items, including greeting cards from times past.

These cards were not just your everyday “read and toss” cards with envelopes that now cost $4-6.00. No–these were vintage cards measuring about 8″ x 10″. They were made of satin and silk materials, beautiful pastel colors and were padded to add life-like dimension of the adorning flowers. I could still smell the floral scents on some of the cards bringing back memories of when they were given and received. The ribbons and bows were just as perfectly draped and tied as the day they were assembled. And the reason they were in such great condition is because each card came packaged in its own high-grade laminate coated and acid free box or tin.

The dates on these cards ranged from the early 1940’s prior to my parents marriage and into the late 1950’s early 1960’s. The occasions for giving were usually Birthday,Valentine’s, Mother’s Day, or Christmas. All of these cards were bought by my dad and given to my mom. And, always accompanying them was two pair of boxed silk nylons with dark seams up the center backs, and a large, heart-shaped box of chocolates.

Greeting cards from times gone by can be windows into society. We can look at them and think about what the world must have been like at that time and how did people really see themselves?  Everything about each card–its design, colors, typefaces, and printed messages-was indicative of the times in which it was made.

Collecting history

The Museum of American History`s Archives Center has several greeting card collections to document their history. The largest is the Norcross Greeting Card Collection, which the Smithsonian acquired after Windsor Communication Inc., Norcross` parent company, stopped producing cards (about 1980). This collection contains cards and records of the Norcross and Rust Craft card companies, greeting cards from 1880-1900 and a small number of modern cards by other manufacturers from 1920 to 1980.

Craig OrrCraig Orr, archivist with the Museum of American History, and volunteer Ann Behning, former greeting-card shop owner, arranged the massive Norcross collection of cards by occasion, date and serial number, then stored them in more than 1,700 acid-free boxes. Orr estimates the collection contains nearly half a million cards.FathDavisRuffins

Smithsonian Colleague, Fath Davis Ruffins says: “By studying cards that span several generations,” you can detect the differences in society and see changes in people’s styles, attitudes and ideas.”

And I firmly believe that many of the commercial and online greeting cards of today are purchased and sent as more of an obligation or 11th hour thought.  The one exception to today’s sending of Happy Birthday messages might be the barrage of birthday messages that come online from Facebook friends.  It’s amazing how these well wishes pump me up on my birthday.  But for the most part, simpler times of the past are when people really shared their personal feelings through thought-filled tasks and giving.  And now we have come full circle in my story of greeting cards.  And,  I will close by saying that I recognize just how fortunate I am to be a member of a very loving family.  And, if I missed your birthday this year, I just want to say “Happy Birthday, and may you have many more!”

About Greeting Cards – General Facts-  From the American Greeting Card Association:

  • Americans purchase approximately 6.5 billion greeting cards each year. Annual retail sales of greeting cards are estimated between $7 and $8 billion.
  • The most popular Everyday card-sending occasion by far is Birthday, followed by a number of secondary occasions that include Sympathy, Thank You, Wedding, Thinking of You, Get Well, New Baby and Congratulations.
  • The most popular Seasonal cards are Christmas cards, with some 1.6 billion units purchased (including boxed cards). This is followed by cards for Valentine’s Day (145 million units, not including classroom valentines), Mother’s Day (133 million units), Father’s Day (90 million units), Graduation (67 million units), Easter (57 million units), Halloween (21 million units), Thanksgiving (15 million units) and St. Patrick’s Day (7 million units).
  • Women purchase an estimated 80% of all greeting cards. Women spend more time choosing a card than men, and are more likely to buy several cards at once.
  • Greeting card prices can vary from 50 cents to $10 – with a price point for every consumer. The vast majority are between $2 and $4. (Total price per year include boxed cards.) The cost of a typical counter card, however, is between $2 and $4. Cards featuring special techniques, intricate designs and new technologies and innovations – such as the inclusion of sound chips and LED lights – as well as handmade cards, are at the top of the price scale.
  • Seven out of 10 card buyers surveyed consider greeting cards “absolutely” or “almost” essential to them. Eight out of 10 of these buyers expect their purchases to remain the same going forward. Of the balance, twice as many card buyers say they will “increase” their purchasing as say they will “decrease” their purchasing in the coming year.
  • Younger card buyers and those who are more technology savvy are currently the ones most engaged in buying paper greeting cards online.
  • Most people now acknowledge many more birthdays than ever before because of Facebook, but they aren’t necessarily sending fewer cards as a result.
  • The tradition of giving greeting cards as a meaningful expression of personal affection for another person is still being deeply ingrained in today’s youth, and this tradition will likely continue as they become adults and become responsible for managing their own important relationships.