Martin Luther is credited with beginning the tradition of a Christmas tree. He was walking and admiring nature. He saw the uniform pattern of a tree and the overall structure with limbs and trees. He thought that the tree was a good example of the Lord’s creation. He cut down a small cedar tree and brought it inside. He decorated it with lit candles to shine and further enhance the beauty of the Lord’s creation.
Christmas trees became to be used widely in Germany and other European countries. Settlers from those countries brought that holiday tradition to this county when they moved here.
Pioneer families worked hard. They got up at dawn and fed the cows, hogs and chickens, and they milked the cows. All the food had to be prepared from scratch, planted, gathered, prepared, and cooked. There was no electricity, nor electrical appliances. There was no gas or electric heat. Wood had to cut, chopped, gathered, kept dry, and brought inside. A fire was started to cook on. It had to be watched regularly. If it blazed too high, it would burn the food. If it did not have enough wood, it would burn out, and not finish cooking. The Men worked in the fields and pastures all day. Women cooked, cleaned, did the laundry and cared for the children. There was not much free time. Children helped the parents.
Christmas was simple and plain. There was not much money for gifts. There was not much money anytime. Pioneers sold eggs, butter, and crops, and they sold farm animals for money to buy flour, sugar, and coffee. Shop keepers were small, family-owned and operated. Shops sold most of the things needed for day to day needs.
There was some cloth that could be purchased, but most clothes were made with things around the house like flour sacks and tow sacks. Quilts were made with old clothes and used for warmth, and not decoration, for which they are often made in modern times. It was rare for a woman to have a new dress purchased from a store.
There were few store bought toys. Toys were usually made from local objects. Girls’ dolls were made from corn cobs with black beans for eyes. A boy might get a whistle or a toy carved out of wood. It was a rare and special treat to get a store bought toy or doll.
There was not any fresh fruit available except fruit raised and canned in the summer. Around Christmas, the store might have some oranges brought in from South Texas. It was a treat at Christmas to have an orange or a banana. The availability to get these came in later years.
Store-bought sweets were rare. Most sweets were homemade, and only on special occasions. There was not a lot of extra sugar or a lot of time to make sweets. The farmer took a wagon to town once every few months to get supplies. It took most of the day to go in a wagon several miles to town. If the children went along, they might get a stick of hard candy at the dry goods store. At Christmas, a family might get a sack of hard candy that was a big deal.
Once, a teenager stayed home from going hunting with his friends, because the family had a sack of hard candy that he wanted to share. There was an accident where one of the teenagers that went hunting got shot. The one that stayed home for the candy thought that he could have gotten hurt if he had gone, and he was glad he chose the candy over the hunting.
Dolly Parton has a song about having hard times at Christmas that all the narrator would have would be a hard candy Christmas. The Pioneers sometimes made candy by boiling syrup water and molasses or sugar to make a hard crystal. That was the best that they could do for candy.
The Christmas meal was usually ham or turkey. The turkey was a wild turkey that had to shot, cleaned, and dressed. When the first cold spell of the year came, neighbors would take turns going to each other’s homes to kill and dress the hogs until each had bacon, ham and sausage prepared for the winter. Some meat was dried. Some was smoked, some cooked, and some canned to be saved to use for the winter. There were no refrigerators or freezers. When the first frost came, neighbors would start taking about hog killing time.
The Christmas tree was a cedar tree cut nearby. There were not a lot of pine trees. Cedars are more round than the traditional triangle shape. It was the tradition for a lot of families to put up the Christmas tree on Christmas Eve after the children were gone to bed. When the children got up on Christmas morning, they found the Christmas tree all setup. The decorations were simple. They used strings of popcorn, ribbons, and some home made decorations. They did not have lights because there was no electricity. They did not use candles because candles in a dry tree are dangerous. Also candles were handmade using wax and tallow and were saved to use for light at night and not to be wasted for decoration, because it took a lot of time and trouble to make the candles.
Christmas was not a big holiday. All of the household chores still had to be done. The animals had to be fed and cows needed milking. All the meals had to be made from scratch.
The Brown County Museum of History puts out a display of old Christmas cards at Christmas time.