Christmases Past

Enjoy the following newspaper articles recounting memories of Christmases past in Leelanau County. Articles researched and gathered by local historian, Andrew White.

Christmas Festival at Glen Arbor

Under the supervision of Mrs. Wood, we have an Episcopal Sabbath School here, numbering thirty scholars.  On Christmas Eve the scholars and their parents assembled in the McCarty House for an evening of pleasure.  Mrs. W., assisted by some of the ladies, had trimmed the room very tastefully with wreaths, devices and emblems, all beautifully formed of evergreens.  The representation of the Anchor of Hope and the Golden Harp particularly attracted my attention.  For a while all were pleased with the tableaux and acting charades; in fact one would have thought we were all children again, by the merry peals of laughter; but I could see by the wistful glances of the little ones and the whispered – “When will Santa Clause come?” that the center of attraction was the Christmas tree which was loaded with presents; and one after another until all gathered around the tree to look and admire, when “Hark! there he’s coming,” is shouted, as the tinkling of bells announced the approach of Santa Claus.  The door opens and in pops his merry face, all done up in furs to distribute the presents.  Now the little hearts go pitty-pat; the glistening eyes and eager expectant looks on every childish face expresses – “I wonder what will be mine,” as the dolls, birds, rabbits, sugar tour of all descriptions, work-baskets, reticulea, books, and I can not name have the presents were lifted down from the tree.  While the little ones were naming their dollies, and showing their presents to each other, we were listening to the singing of chants, carols and hymns, led by Mr. Smith, our worthy school teacher, with melodeon accompaniment by Mrs. McCarty, that really lifted the soul above earth.  Refreshments were now announced and we all repaired to an adjoining room to feast on the nuts, candies, raisins, apples and snowy white popped corn.  It was an evening that will be long remembered by all.  It is a pleasure, and not only a pleasure but a duty, for every parent to make as many bright spots as possible in the paths of their children so that when the cares and perplexities of matured life surround them they can at least look back with pleasure to their childhood days.            

– The Grand Traverse Herald  January 6, 1864 

FROM PORT ONEIDA – Editor World  The good people of Port Oneida and vicinity celebrated Christmas Eve by erecting a Christmas tree at the Kelderhouse school house, which was heavily laden with bountiful and costly presents.  The house was, at an early hour, filled to overflowing with a large company of very orderly and quiet people, whose pleasant and happy faces indicated great interest in the evening’s entertainment.

Prayer was offered by Rev. J. M. Whitney, who also made some very appropriate remarks suitable to the occasion, in which he spoke of our Savior’s birth, in commemoration of which the 25th of Dec. is celebrated. After which the pupils of the school sang appropriate pieces, conducted by their worthy teacher, W. H. Cornell.  Santa Claus soon after made his appearance, and, to the delight of the little folks, began to distribute his presents with a lavish hand, to the satisfaction of all, old and young.  Many hearts were filled with gladness, and many hands with beautiful presents from loved ones.  How often does the simple bestowal of a gift cause two hearts to glow with warm and filial love, and thereby bind up some imaginary wound.  Pleasantly indeed did the evening pass away, but with it not all of Merry Christmas, for on the next day Mr. and Mrs. Wardrope invited a number of friends to their home, where a sumptuous dinner was served, in which the inevitable turkey occupied a conspicuous place, whose flesh vanished before the crowd like dew before the morning sun.  Mr. and Mrs. Cornell provided supper at about 9 p.m. to which a large company was invited.  Here again the turkey was made to do duty on a table already groaning under the weight of provisions both rich and ample.  All who had any doubt as to the capacity of Santa Claus were very soon convinced that he was as good at stowing away turkey as he was at gift giving.

– Grand Traverse Herald  January 11, 1876

My Christmas in 1885

By Ida M. D. Farrant

Let’s turn back the pages of Leelanau County history a half century or so, and take a peep at some folks who had a very merry Christmas.

This writer can see a little log cabin in a small clearing deep in wooded hills five miles east of Empire village.  A sleigh drawn by a team of dappled-gray horses comes to a stop close to a snow’ laden stoop made visible by a beam of light shining from a deeply recessed square window, and into that shaft flight little figures come prancing toward the open door, between whose portals appears a charming sweet-faced lady, Mrs. Justin B. Doane by name, and “Aunt Liddy,” the children’s friend by reputation, greeting the party with a cheery “Merry Christmas.”

(On the side, she whispers to the driver, “You can put the sacks of potatoes in the shed”, more about this later).

Father, mother, my older sister and my brother were en route to a big party at the new home of the John Dorsey’s near the Narrows of Glen Lake, about six miles distant, where many friends were to gather for a house warming.  New frame houses were real innovations in those days, and many were the oh’s! And ah’s! About the lovely big window that had been built especially for “Elizabeth” (Libby) Dorsey’s beautiful house plants.

Six o’clock supper in the Doane home was very cheerful.  I can almost taste those good baked potatoes with the browned butter gravy, the fried eggs, the strawberry sauce and cup cakes with frosting, and the “cambric tea.”  And I can see that cozy room with its white washed log walls and wide rough board ceiling, which served as a floor for the chambers above.

In one corner there was a spool-spindle wooden bedstead, with a pieced print coverlet of many colors.  Several wooden rockers with soft cushions were very inviting for comfort, a cupboard filled with carefully arranged assorted dishes on shelves edged with newspaper cut in lazy patterns by the housewife, (a lost art today, sine we can buy such multicolored fantastic shelf papers.). In the center of the room was a drop-leaf table which served a dozen purposes by day and by night.  A sort of utility work bench where baking, dishwashing, sewing, studying etc. could be done between meals.  In the opposite end of the room was the large long-legged elevated oven stove, which served all purposes also, from giving heat for the whole house, for cooking meals, heating water, to preparing the pig feed in winter.  Under the stove, there was always a stockpile of drying wood and kindling, replenished occasionally from a nearby wood box, (i.e. if Lewis managed to keep a surplus supply split.). Another of the jobs falling to the lot of the son of the house was to bring in large chunks of clean snow to put into a large wooden molasses barrel which had been converted into a water tank.

After an hour or so of corn-popping after supper, Aunt Liddy took us little girls up the rather rickety stair steps to tuck us snugly in bed.  Somehow I felt an air of mystery pervading the house and just could not go to sleep, and once I had a wonderful urge to peek down through a large crack in the floor where a ray of light stole into our apprehensive darkness.  I slipped out of bed, crept as quietly as the wobbly boards would permit to the forbidden aperture from whence I expected to see Santa Claus or something.  Disappointment, however, rewarded my stealth, wouldn’t it?  If only that crack ran cross wise.  All I could discern was the top of that big black stove, which looked very weird and awesome.  I was almost too frightened to sneak back to the companionship of my two sleeping sisters, but soon the arms of Morpheus enfolded a very tired child.

About 5 o’clock on Christmas morning, we were awakened by the welcome sounds of Uncle “Juck” building a roaring fire in my “ogre” of the night.  And soon there was a scurrying of feet and a rush for the table which overnight had been visited by St. Nick and turned into fairyland.  The tin milk pails that Aunt Liddy had told us to put there in case Santa would come were filled with gifts: new dresses, china headed dolls, cloth story books, games, tin horns, knitted mittens leggings and toboggan caps (almost like they wear now) pop corn balls, mosquito-netting sacks filled with candy and lovely pink-cheeked candy apples, (the forerunner of candy canes).
What a Christmas!

– The Leelanau Enterprise, December 23, 1945